Loving Christ: What’s Race Got To Do With It?

May 2012
by Pamela Brown-Peterside and May Yang

On the evening of March 28  over 800 individuals participated in a dynamic conversation on race, where Anthony Bradley, Timothy Keller, and John Piper, addressed the gospel’s role in reconciling America’s racial divide. Crossway sponsored the event, which was hosted by Redeemer’s Grace and Race team.
 
The impetus for the event was Piper’s book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian, in which the author effectively points to sin—namely, “the problem of exalting ourselves over our maker… and over others”—as being at the root of racism. In his presentation that evening, by emphasizing redemptive grace, Piper challenged evangelicals to root their identity in Christ over their race.
 
Piper’s talk was complemented by Keller’s call to acknowledge corporate responsibility and recognize systemic evil as a critical aspect of the problem of racism. Invoking passages in the Old and New testaments, Keller pointed to the notion of corporate responsibility as a central pillar of our faith, and pivotal to the Christian understanding of sin, redemption, and salvation. As such, he reiterated the need for us each to gain an understanding of racism beyond individual responsibility and conscious intent. 
 
Bradley, an African-American scholar who moderated the discussion, responded to both talks by urging whites to create venues where they listen to non-whites “who communicate the ways in which they have been impacted and affected by race.” Bradley added, “Discussions of race have to be led by people whose perspective is different.” More importantly, he reminded us all that we must frame this discussion around love. We are called by Jesus’ own words to love each other the same way that God loves us. So as we grapple with the racism in our hearts and in our congregations, we must honestly ask: do I/we view that group that is racially different from me/us as worthy of being loved? 
 
In discussing the challenges of leading multi-racial congregations, Keller and Piper, both pastor-scholars, exhorted white evangelicals to engage in racial dialogue, despite the potential pitfalls. Bradley invited the audience during the Q and A “to ask deeper and more penetrating questions” with the caveat that “we cannot talk about racism without talking about white privilege (the ways whites benefit from racist systems just by virtue of being white) and about micro-aggressions.” By micro-aggressions, he referred to everyday situations in which people of color are viewed with suspicion or stereotyped, like the assumption that Bradley is a salesperson in a store because he’s wearing a suit and shopping in midtown during the afternoon. Keller acknowledged white privilege and ways he’s benefited from it, but with his characteristic wit he added, “I’m not going to feel sorry for myself because that is a very white thing to do.” Piper admitted that though he knew he’d be criticized for writing this book, but he also felt a need to own his brokenness before God and not live out of a place of racist self-righteousness. 
 
We hope that conversations about race will continue at Redeemer, where over 50 percent of its congregants are Asian or Asian-American. The talk, followed by the Q&A, can be viewed online at:www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/now-available-race-and-the-christian


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