An Open Reply to Jemar Tisby and “The Downside of Integration for Black Christians”

A response and a desire to reason together on this aspect of the racial issue.

In the church, putting shared culture over shared faith has always had destructive ends. It’s what created the sinful divisions and lack of charity in Acts 6, it rebuilds the wall of separation that Paul said Jesus had broken down in Ephesians 2, it leads to the introduction of things into worship that are culturally common and pleasing but which have no redemptive value and point us back to the world, instead of to the Savior.

 

Dear Jemar,

I recently read your article entitled, “The Downside of Integration for Black Christians” which was posted on the RAAN Network on August 21, 2017 and I’d really like to engage you more on this particular subject. All too often there simply isn’t any “reasoning together” going on when it comes to racial issues, and as a result existing positions just become more entrenched and emotive by the day.

I believe I “get” what you’re saying about wanting to spend time alone with people from the same race and culture and I understand it to a certain degree. Everyone tends to prefer to spend time with people they have an affinity with. It’s one of the many reasons I’m happiest on a Sunday – I get to spend all day with the people I share genuine communion with, and with whom I’m looking forward to sharing eternity with. We all have a common experience of the love of Christ, shared ways of thinking about reality, a (broadly) common world and life view, and the same values and hopes. I have an even greater connection when it’s a gathering of pastors, and then an even greater connection when the pastors are like minded. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference so much, I’m sharing time there with ministers who understand what it is to pastor from a Puritan and Reformed viewpoint. For me, that’s the highest level of affinity possible. Meeting with the men from a British cultural background just adds the cherry to the top.

In hindsight, that’s one of the reasons we formed a weekly lunchtime bible study many years ago when I worked at a publishing company in Washington D.C. The experience of spending so much time with worldlings, many of whom hated Christ and Christianity and ran it down continually was grinding for the believers at the company. Those moments praying and reading the word together with my brothers and sisters in Christ were like springs in the wilderness for my soul and a weekly reminder that there was a day coming when sin, separation, and division would be over forever. As it happened, I was one of only three white people who showed up for those studies and one of only four men. The majority of the other members of the study were black and Hispanic women, but I felt closer to them than I ever felt to the people who may have looked like me and had similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but with whom I had no communion whatsoever.

And that gets to the heart of what I don’t understand and simply don’t think is biblical…

When a black brother in Christ tells me, as I was told a couple of month ago, that he feels alienated among white evangelicals but completely at home marching with black BLM supporters, most of whom he admits are not Christian (and many of whom are socialist materialists) I just don’t “get” it. Personally, I don’t feel at home or comfortable in the world, even among people who look like me, vote like I would if I could, come from the same region, wear the same clothes, read the same secular stuff I read, listen to the same music, and drink the same beer. I can have enjoyable conversations with them, laugh, and even learn, but at the end of the day, there’s a distance between us that nothing but regeneration could ever surmount. They aren’t fellow citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20, Eph. 2:19), and after a while I develop the same old longing to be with my true countrymen. I flee from those who have a similar ethnicity and outwardly similar culture and find my comfort with those who have the same hope and the same chief end.

In the church, putting shared culture over shared faith has always had destructive ends. It’s what created the sinful divisions and lack of charity in Acts 6, it rebuilds the wall of separation that Paul said Jesus had broken down in Ephesians 2, it leads to the introduction of things into worship that are culturally common and pleasing but which have no redemptive value and point us back to the world, instead of to the Savior. It’s what led to all of the cultural syncretism in Ancient Israel, Medieval Europe, and modern America. It leads to actual splits as when the Ebionites, uneasy about the influx and eventual numerical domination of Gentiles in the church, split off and formed exclusively ethnically Jewish congregations that eventually rejected the deity of Christ, or when Koreans, alarmed at the influx of Anglos and the growing lack of Korean-ness in a church my wife and I attended, left for more culturally and ethnically Korean congregations, leaving those who remained hurt, disappointed, and impoverished.

When we say, “I need to be with the people from my culture” and go off by ourselves, we deny the one body nature of the church and say in essence, “I’m sorry but that stuff about the body of Christ being the place where, ‘there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all’ sounds nice in theory, but not in practice.” So we need to have the Greek church, the Jewish Church, the Barbarian Church, the Scythian Church, and of course the Black and the White and the Hispanic churches as if the kingdom of heaven will be a strictly segregated community.

I hate to say it, but at that point, as one minister commented, it sounds like we have to admit that Kinism isn’t only a problem white Americans have, but something that afflicts Christians of every race.

Andy Webb is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Providence PCA in Fayetteville, NC. This article is used with permission.

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