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Seeking Racial Reconciliation

May 31 2018
May 31 2018

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This summer, Redeemer is inviting the congregation into a conversation about the implications of the Gospel for racial divisions in our churches, city and country, and what it looks like to be a church that lives out Biblical reconciliation.

The Presbyterian Church in America has wrestled with this question for years, but in a more intentional way since 2016, when the 43rd General Assembly approved a resolution repenting of the denomination’s sin during the civil rights era. The resolution lamented that some founding fathers of the PCA taught that the Bible condoned racial segregation and discouraged interracial marriage, and many Presbyterian churches who became founding churches of the PCA segregated worshippers by race and denied membership on the basis of race.

The resolution noted that this sin has haunted the PCA’s path forward, limiting diversity in our churches and thwarting attempts to build trust and forge cross-cultural relationships in our communities. The resolution concluded with recommendations, and urged PCA congregations to commit themselves to “forming a vision for a more racially and ethnically diverse church in obedience to the Great Commission.” Read the full resolution HERE.

This vision of openness and warmth has always been part of Redeemer’s vision. Redeemer’s Philosophy of Ministry document, one of the earliest articulations of Redeemer’s priorities, states that everything we do must be done with humility, sensitivity and a listening ear to those who are not yet a part of us.

It is an obligation of the church to seek to make this world a more ‘God-honoring’ place in its totality by taking up the issues of health and healing, education and social issues, justice in the workplace, politics, racial prejudices, hunger and poverty. Central to this commitment is our desire to see Redeemer build bridges into the Mexican-American community of San Antonio.

Senior Pastor Tom Gibbs says these hopes for Redeemer are in keeping with God’s vision for the church.

“God’s purpose for the church is one where groups of people ordinarily separated by ethnicity, economics, education and for other reasons, are coming together because of the reconciling power of the Gospel. We want to be a church where different groups of people who would ordinarily not be in the same room are in the same room because of Jesus. We want this to be our new normal, not the exception. We want to seek this.”

In 2017, the Session of Redeemer created a Racial Reconciliation Committee led by Associate Pastor Victor Martinez to have an intentional conversation about what racial reconciliation looks like at Redeemer. The committee recently concluded after a year of work.

Britton Price, an Army Chaplain and ordained minister in the PCA, was a member of the committee. He says that for Redeemer, a church situated in a city greatly shaped by Hispanic culture, this conversation will look different than for churches in other parts of the country where racial tensions fall more along black and white lines. But that doesn’t mean it will be simple, and the hardest work may be that of coming to see our own hearts clearly.

Many of us believe that because great strides have been made in fighting the most egregious forms of institutional racism, nothing else remains to be done. Civil rights pioneer Dr. John Perkins writes in his book One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race “It troubles me that there is no outrage at our collective failure to rise up to God’s call to oneness.” The racial bias in our own hearts can be the hardest to spot, but it is no less real.

In his own life, Rev. Price, who is African American, says he has experienced the reality that many people still do not have a significant relationship with a person of another race. The fact that daily life in America frequently operates along segregated lines should not make the church content to reflect that separation on Sunday mornings, Price says.

“The Gospel speaks to reconciling, and so because we are reconciled vertically to God, we can be reconciled horizontally to each other. While the world outside might be separate, it should not be here in the church.”

Price, who will preach at Redeemer on June 17th, says the committee’s process yielded good conversations about the ways in which even with a welcoming congregation, unseen barriers may make Redeemer less approachable to visitors. In addition to race, socioeconomic status can be one of those barriers.

“The culture in a church can keep people away,” Price says. “We’re friendly, everyone is friendly, that’s not the issue. Some may think Christianity is most attractive when we put forth a well-to-do, everyone is dressed to the nines image. If you don’t have good clothes, or you have one outfit, that feels bad.”

Some of the committee’s time was spent seeking perspective from minorities in a variety of ways. The committee read portions of Heal Us, Emmanuel, a book of essays from 30 pastors on the subject of racial reconciliation. Committee members attended worship as guests at a majority-black church in San Antonio, an opportunity to experience what it is like to go into worship as a minority and navigate unfamiliar worship traditions or styles. The committee also discussed how Redeemer’s events can become more accessible to the community surrounding our Downtown home. 

The committee assembled recommendations for beginning the conversation with the entire congregation. Among the recommendations was that Redeemer identify a book on racial reconciliation for a church-wide discussion. In keeping with that, Redeemer’s Summer Dialogues in Theology will study Dr. John Perkins’ book One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race. Perkins, now 88, was born the son of sharecroppers in Mississippi. He became a leader in civil rights efforts supporting voter registration and desegregation of schools. He was arrested often and in 1970 was badly beaten by police.

Yet in his long ministry, Perkins has consistently challenged white and minority Christians to pursue worshipping together, and has advocated for churches to embrace a relationship-driven approach to racial reconciliation. In One Blood, he says:

Jesus intentionally brought together disciples who were very different — fishermen, tax collectors — not people who would naturally love one another. But he did this to show us what love looks like in practice. We have the privilege of putting this same kind of love on display as we love those in the body of Christ who don’t look like us.

RPC Associate Pastor Victor Martinez says Redeemer has much to gain if God blesses us with greater diversity in our congregation. As we long for that, Redeemer can work to become more aware of the richness of Christ’s church by pursuing diverse ministry relationships that broaden our perspective.

“We need to become more aware of the broken experience that people from minority cultures and ethnicities have had in our country, not through our own majority-culture lens, but through their own lives and stories,” Martinez says. “Making new friends and learning from them would help us be agents of reconciliation through the Gospel.”

Join us this summer for the start of this important conversation in the life of our church, and be in prayer that God would move in our hearts.

The 2018 Summer Dialogues in Theology: The Gospel Vision and Racial Reconciliation will meet on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. for eight weeks starting June 6th. There will be no meeting on July 4th. You can purchase One Blood on the Redeemer book table or online HERE; sign up for the study HERE to receive communications and a door code.


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