Racial Reconciliation

The Valley of Lament

WE HAVE AMPLE reason to weep of late: war in Gaza, crisis in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, the slaying of five unarmed black men in one month at the hands of U.S. police officers, and the demise of congressional immigration reform.

Scripture calls us to cross over into the valley of lament at times such as these. Yet most of us are more comfortable on the plateau of rage or the plain of apathy.

I once led a training on lament and racial reconciliation. Twenty college students sat in the living room of a ministry house as I recited a lament from Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (9:1).

I spoke of the impact of racial injustice in our nation and on our campuses. I recounted slave narratives to the students—stories that had brought me to tears privately. Yet, when the last word was read, the students sat silent with glazed eyes staring back at me.

I didn’t get it. The whippings of human beings, the children separated from their mothers and fathers, the hands, feet, and lives lost in the midst of America’s darkest hours—these things happened. How could we not lament?

My new book, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, co-authored with Soong-Chan Rah, Mae Cannon, and Troy Jackson, opens with teachings on the value, purpose, and practice of lament and confession (see excerpt, page 46). “The church tends to view itself as the world’s problem solver,” we suggest. “This belief ... results in a diminishing of, or a blindness to, lament and the necessary confession that is inherent within it.”

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The Church, Racial Reconciliation and Ferguson

After the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, I read a letter from the Rev. Jim Wallis titled “Lament from a White Father.” In it, he stated that he is convinced that if his 14-year-old son Luke had left the house, on the same day, dressed exactly as was Trayvon Martin, to walk to the store in the same neighborhood, he would have come home to his mom and dad that night unharmed.

ON Scripture: Preaching Reflections on Michael Brown and Ferguson

Hundreds of Baltimore residents gather to show support for residents of Ferguson

Hundreds of Baltimore residents gather to show support for residents of Ferguson, MO. Image courtesy Ian Aberle/flickr.com

Editor's Note: In light of this week’s events in Ferguson, Missouri, several writers at ON Scripture took a few moments to reflect upon what they would/will be preaching on this Sunday. To continue the conversation, join on Twitter at #onscripture.

Eric D. Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary: St Paul, MN

The last thing a preacher wants to do on a Saturday night is to log into Facebook.

I exaggerate, of course, but I found myself scrambling last week when I learned of Michael Brown’s shooting last Saturday. My sermon for Sunday morning was ready to go. But I had to reassess all my work when I heard the witness of so many African American friends in particular as the news from Ferguson began spreading across social media. The frustration and disbelief, rage and disappointment, resignation and passion I heard moved me. But even more convicting was the fact that so many others were simply unaware of this event at the moment and unfazed by its repercussions.

In certain communities, no one had to pay attention to Michael Brown. In certain communities, his death did not resonate with significance. In certain communities, no one would confront the preacher and ask why she did not respond to the death of this young person.

And yet in other communities, his death was a touchstone, a cause for prayer and lament and righteous anger and faithful expectation.

These distinct reactions are a raw reminder that our communities of faith remain largely segregated. Though we worship the same God, the contexts within which we seek God’s face are radically different. In such a divided context, what does it look like to love your neighbor? What does it look like to be “one” church even as we are profoundly divided?

Donald Sterling: Facade, Fiction, And Forgiveness

I almost felt sorry for Donald Sterling when I listened to the original recording of an alleged argument between him and his ex-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, released by TMZ Sports on Saturday. The argument centers around Stivianio's friendship with black and Hispanic people. The desperation in Sterling's alleged voice is palpable as he tries to scurry like a cockroach exposed by the light, but doesn't get away.

Punishing Donald Sterling Is Good, But It Doesn't Mean Racism Is Dead

The ugly racial statements of the Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling sparked a series of hopefully historic events over the last several days. The press conferences on Tuesday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and the player’s representative in this crisis—are worthy of deeper reflection.

Pentecostal Groups Agree to Bridge a Century-old Racial Divide

Pentecostal leaders Thomas Barclay and George O. Wood, center, stand together. Photo courtesy of Jorge Tobar/RNS

When he was a boy, the Rev. Thomas Barclay noticed a difference between the worshippers of his small Pentecostal denomination and churches he visited of the larger Assemblies of God.

“Why are they all white and we’re all black?” he asked his father.

After a racial divide that lasted for nearly a century, the two denominations, the Assemblies of God and the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, have agreed to a new partnership.

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