Not Optional

A Preface from Pastor Jay

Jay Thomas, Lead Pastor

Friends, in this tumultuous historical moment, we need to process together what it means to be God’s people in the world. Our blogs are a means of thinking Scripturally about that very thing. Though tumultuous, indeed, these days are in God’s caring hands. I do believe He has coalesced certain realities such that His purposes might be fulfilled. One of those purposes is for His people to represent and bring about His kingdom purposes in our land with regard to ethnic unity and, dare I say, glory.

The elders of CHBC believe this is a God-given and clearly Biblical priority and we want to shepherd this body in pursuit of that mission. We are responding to the providential events of late but we are not reactive. This is not about hype. This is not about a bandwagon. We believe the Spirit of God is on the move and we want to respond in obedience. 

To that end, over the next weeks and months, you will see blogs written by some of our members regarding their sense of Biblical reflection and discipleship action with regard to ethnic unity and healing. But, this can be a controversial topic, can’t it? Therefore, I thought it wise to pen this as a preface of sorts. I need to be careful. I don’t want to mute, nor do I want to unduly endorse everything written. I am not sure if I will capture that balance by writing this, but my hope is to simply say that the things written here will be within the bounds of orthodoxy and wisdom. However, that does not mean everyone will agree, at least with everything written. The views of each author are not to be seen to represent the official position of the Chapel Hill Bible Church on matters that are not Biblically central or clear, at least as the church has interpreted Scripture through the centuries. But, nor will anything be put here that our leadership would object to as opposed to Scripture and wisdom. You will likely read positions from various viewpoints. Let us be careful not to categories or label too quickly without deep reflection and perhaps even dialogue with the author or fellow members who feel similarly. I especially want us to avoid binaries and dichotomies between liberal vs. conservative; Marxist vs. gospel; sound vs. irrational. Nothing will be put to print that is not orthodox, somehow helpful, sound, or within the bounds of evangelical convictions. 

My first hope is that we will all share fundamental and Biblically clear convictions that racial prejudice is profoundly sinful, even though we may disagree how racism plays itself out in our world. My second hope is that we will also use these blogs as a way to think, dialogue, and measure against the Scriptures like the Bereans. If you find something curious, troubling, interesting, hard to hear, or inviting, I encourage you to seek out the author and talk about it. Talk about these matters with your family, friends, life group, and other believers. 

The church of Jesus Christ has always cared about its world. It is not of this world, but it is in it and it wants to be a blessing to it. We have cared about orphans, the elderly, the unborn, the dissipation of rampant alcoholism and other substance abuse, sex trafficking, and many other social ills. It is my prayer that the Spirit of God convicts us of the social ill of racism in our land, that we all care deeply about it, and that we will grow together in making a difference in our spheres of influence to see the church reflect the kingdom, first and foremost, as we see the kingdom break more and more into our world. The church is not a social justice non-profit, in a secular sense. But we are a God’s justice people, armed with the Spirit and the Word, called to be a hallmark of Divine justice for the world. May we be of one mind on the main things, of complementary mind on the less main things, and gracious in all things as we move together. Soli Deo Gloria! 

— Pastor Jay Thomas (Lead Pastor)

An Open Letter to Our Church from Fellow Lovers of Jesus

In the past months, the unjust killing of innocent black men and women has laid heavily on our hearts – yours, ours, our African-American brothers and sisters, the Lord’s. There has been a smearing of God’s image through these deaths; not to mention the generations of systemic racism, socioeconomic and health disparities, and segregation both in implicit and explicit action. 

We have been thankful for the church’s initial response to engage with these topics , and prayers and counsel in this time have kept our hearts hopeful and strong — but there is more for all of us to do. The sermon series on James has reminded us that faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26). We have felt strongly convicted that now is the time to engage with discomfort, to face it up close, to grapple with the hard questions. And perhaps to push fellow members to do the same, as opposed to sitting in the comfortable space of prayer and silence. We feel like now, the Lord is telling us to, simply, not remain silent or passive. To not ask “how can we avoid sin?” but rather “how can we actively love?” Similarly, we strongly believe that the church is not supposed to remain silent or passive; this is a time for His light to shine, because the only truth that can unite is in the gospel itself. 

But, before we act we must examine our hearts, discerning which mindsets require interruption in order for us to be active advocates for racial justice. In this post, we wanted to first share two personal stories. Chris shares an example of self-reflection playing out in his personal life as he addressed the question below, and Monica considers experiences that convicted her of the importance of church engagement in such matters.

What Is Stopping You From Advocating for Black Lives Matter?

— Written by Chris (Medical Student at Duke University)

Before I jump in, I think it is important to clarify that I am advocating for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) sentiment, not the BLM organization, recognizing that there remains controversy around certain principles endorsed by the BLM organization. In this post, we hope that you can appreciate the nuance in which we are attempting to navigate these realities. Here, I am focusing on the heart behind BLM as it relates to racial justice, keeping Jesus, prayer, Scripture, and our faith communities at the center.

I think many of us agree that words matter. For those of us who hear phrases like Black Lives Matter and wonder how this relates to right theology, you are in good company. 

In a recent sermon on James 3:1-12, Pastor Jay talks about a boulevard vs. side-walk metaphor as a way to speak into the present moment. The boulevard refers to what the Bible is clear on: racism is sin, racial injustice is sin. The side-walks are the gray areas: racial theory, economic theory, political theory. 

As a black man, I have been troubled by Facebook posts and comments filled with debates about Black Lives Matter vs. all lives matter. They have been troubling not because these debates aren’t worth having, but because this moment begs us to think about the boulevard, not the side-walk. Whether the phrase is Black Lives Matter or all lives matter, the intent behind them both is that racism is sin. 

Saying that racism is sin is not enough. After all, we are in this present moment with laws that in theory protect against racial discrimination, yet we see the systemic sin of racism evident in our healthcare systems, prisons systems, and also trickling down to the biases/assumptions we make about the “other”. So, not only must we think about the boulevard, but also Pastor Jay challenges us to examine the heart – “It is impossible for us to tame our tongues, but God specializes in taming our hearts.” 

I’ll give you an example. First year of college I had this same debate about Black Lives Matter vs. all lives matter. That time, I was arguing for the phrase all lives matter as more applicable than Black Lives Matter. My words fell short as I listened to the words of my black sisters permeate my heart. We began this debate during my first year in response to a noose being hanged on our campus, a historical symbol of oppression for the African American community. My words fell short because I realized that the desires of my heart were the same as theirs. And Black Lives Matter was simply a reflection of the anguish my community has experienced in response to the systemic sin of racism that we still confront to this day.

Pastor Jay also reminded us to speak words of grace. So, let me say that I am not judging you for questioning Black Lives Matter. Heck, I did the same thing six years ago. I would just challenge you, as my sisters in Christ challenged me to do that night, to think about your heart. Think about what the Bible is clear on. Think about the boulevard. And, no matter what God reveals to you, may you remember what He says about you:

“In those days and at that time”—God’s Decree;
“they’ll look high and low for a sign of Israel’s guilt—nothing;
Search nook and cranny for a trace of Judah’s sin—nothing;
These people that I’ve saved will start out with a clean slate.”
– Jeremiah 50:22

Are you asking “how can I avoid sin?” or “how can I actively love”?

— Written by Monica (Medical Student at Duke University)

From being raised in a Hindu family in the Bay Area to my undergrad education in Houston, my faith communities have screamed diversity of ethnicity and perspective. My best friends in Durham consist of one Caucasian woman and three African-American men. Many of our conversations center around their own lived experiences spattered with prejudice, hurt, and how we can reconcile a loving God with our own suffering. I joined CHBC when we were in the middle of the Racial Unity series. As I looked around, although I could see that there was courage in facing this uncomfortable ground — the discussion never really expanded beyond the church walls for me. I learned Biblical arguments for racial unity, and agreed with them in the depths of my heart. But, truly, I didn’t know what else I could change about my life to better serve this desire of Jesus.

What could it look like for CHBC to actively engage with communities, with discomfort, with doubt, to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? This is likely the situation for many others – the desire is there, without clear next steps for further engagement. Below and in a subsequent post, we hope to provide some ideas for further engagement. 

We humbly and faithfully walk beside you, church body, as we try to better love our neighbor — emphasizing that our current response is insufficient. Engaging with these issues is not a choice for many brothers and sisters, and therefore it should not be a choice for the unified body of Christ. It has felt like we’re playing it safe, while Jesus has called us to radical love. 

What Should We Do Next?

— Contributions by Michael, Mallory, Shantal, & Dana (Post-graduate students at UNC and Duke)

As Chris and Monica have demonstrated, self-reflection and self-correction are natural first steps in this journey. Though these are not comprehensive, we hope the following questions may help begin this process:

  • What are ways in which your racial identity affects your daily interactions (or have you never noticed an effect)? How might you have advantages over other groups of people?
  • Do you regularly interact with people of different backgrounds? What are these relationships like – are they surface-level only? If so, why might that be?
  • Are you uncomfortable talking about race? (This is normal!!) What feelings are involved in this discomfort? Guilt? Anger? Detachment?
  • When you think about racial unity, do you categorize it as a social, secular issue? Or a heart, sin issue? (Of course, there is room for intersectionality in your response.)

Another action step to take, no matter where you are in your journey of pursuing racial unity, is furthering your education on the subject. As opposed to a momentary response, we favor a long term dedication to educating ourselves by incorporating racial unity into our daily routines. Diversifying our media consumption and including racial unity in our devotionals are practical first steps on our journey to becoming actively antiracist followers of Christ. If you have been overwhelmed by the wealth of resources or are unsure of where to start, we have five recommendations:

  1. “Jesus is Not Colorblind”: Cole Brown’s article in The Gospel Coalition outlines the dangers of adapting a “colorblind” mentality when it comes to discussing race. 
  2. Be The Bridge Bible App Plan: The Bible App (YouVersion) offers hundreds of free devotional plans. We recommend this 5 day reading plan by Latasha Morrison that focuses on what it means to be a “bridge builder” and the church’s role in reconciliation. If you are interested in participating in a prayer and discussion group related to Latasha Morrison’s “Be the Bridge Model,” please complete this survey.
  3. 16 Tips for Beginners: In addition to a bestselling book and phenomenal Bible App plan mentioned above, the Be the Bridge website offers several resources for education and action. Consider reading over their BTB101: “16 Tips for Beginners for White People” pdf and praying that we can approach this topic with humility, justice, and love. 
  4. Racial Justice Seminar: UNC’s Veritas Forum hosted Lecrae and Dr. Esau McCaulley (NT scholar) for a discussion on Christianity’s role in racial justice. The forum is an hour long and is available for free on youtube.
  5. Movies: Next time you have a movie night, consider streaming Just Mercy (free through the month of June to rent on Amazon) or a selection from the Black Lives Matter collection on Netflix. 

We believe that theological education, while not sufficient on its own, is necessary for theological formation. It moves us to become people who care about the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Our hope is that these five suggestions begin to form us into people who become doers of the Word by actively fighting for racial reconciliation in our daily lives and activities. If you would like a more comprehensive list, please refer to this list of resources compiled by Debbie Yamauchi and the Racial Unity class.

As you learn and introspect, begin to consider – what tangible actions can you take in your community?

Feel free to reach out to us if you would like to discuss together or desire help in finding more educational resources.

Additionally, please reach out to Pastor Ryan if you feel that you need pastoral support in this time. 

Bespoken: Stop & Listen (Parts 2 & 3)

This blog article is published in parallel with our Bespoken series, “Stop & Listen”. In Part 2 (July 10) and Part 3 (July 17), Pastors Jay and Ryan sit down (over Zoom) with four of the above graduate students to listen to their perspective on Black Lives Matter and racial inequality. No matter what side you find yourself on around this debate, we are inviting you to STOP & LISTEN.