White Christians, Race, & Hope

I am convinced that learning about race and racism, and participating in discussions of these matters, is an entirely hopeful prospect for white Christians. I say this based on my understanding of how Paul envisions the gospel and how he configures Christian identity,

When I refer to how Paul envisions “the gospel,” I am not talking about a 3-minute sales pitch about how to get Jesus into my heart and secure an eternal heavenly destination. I am talking about the cosmos-transforming, present-evil-age shattering, dead-raising, world-changing, redeemed-community-creating, life-altering, slave-liberating, dead-heart-enlivening, eye-opening, relationship-renewing, sin-forgiving reality that sets us in a new cosmic location in Christ and liberates us from enslavement to Sin and Death, unites us to God and to one another, and sets us on a path toward resurrection and universal rule at the day of Christ.

This robust gospel reality results in a Christian identity that sets us up perfectly to engage discussions of race. It reconfigures the situation from one in which we back into it with fear and trepidation, and frees us to engage with a heart opened wide, eager to listen and to learn, and to commit ourselves to a pathway of renewal.

This long-term project of learning and discussing is a hopeful one because it opens the possibility of getting more of Jesus Christ in our lives.

I’ll be autobiographical.

I have come to know the liberating power of Jesus Christ mostly through painful experiences of loss, relational struggle, and ministry difficulties. I have learned to see these experiences as opportunities to put more and more of my life on the cross—my dreams, expectations, plans, hopes, and fears.

And I’ve discovered that just as God poured out resurrection life on Jesus when he went to the cross, God has poured out resurrection life on me, my family, my relationships, and my community as I have put more and more of my life on the cross.

Discussions of race, then, are awesome opportunities to get more resurrection power in my life.

I have had a lifelong discipleship in what it means to be a white man in America according to corrupted American racial, ethnic, and gender values. I am just beginning to learn what “whiteness” means, what “white privilege” means, what “white fragility” means, and how all that has affected my life, my family, my community, and those whom God says are my sisters and brothers in Jesus’ one new family.

This is exciting for me because it opens up the opportunity for the cross to do more work in my life. It allows me to see that there are yet more areas for the cross to claim and to liberate.

And it will be painful. The cross is a shattering reality, just it shattered Jesus’ body.

But I can’t resist that pain, because the cross is the only location on earth where God pours out resurrection power—power to sustain, power to propel me on toward the day of resurrection, power to continue to break down my defensiveness and pride, power to enable me to identify and name false constructions of myself as a white man, and power to enter the process of seeing who I truly am and can be as an in Christ white man in America today.

And this sustaining power carries me as I do my part in the necessary engagement with the truth about our national history and the mistreatment of black people in America—the terrors of slavery, the breaking up of families, the torture of black men and the rape of black women, the injustices of Jim Crow in the South and of housing policies in northern cities, the sustained program of terrorism through lynching, the shattering of black families through the persistent degradation of black men, mass incarceration, and the policing practices that signal that black bodies do not matter like white bodies do.

God’s sustaining power carries me as I continue to learn about our shared national history. It carries me as I own it, name it, lament it, confess my part, and continue to do the work of rooting out corruption in my heart, discerning corrupted cultural dynamics, and understanding how I can play a part in God’s public justice.

While this is painful, I find that my heart is filled with a deep joy and a profound satisfaction, because I am engaging with the truth and I am fellowshipping with the sufferings of Christ. And I have discovered the joy of learning that the family I have been baptized into is a far bigger one than I thought, a far richer one that I imagined, and I am infinitely more blessed than I formerly knew.

And all of this is because of my identity in Christ. It allows me to discern how I have known a falsely constructed identity as a white male so that I can shed that as part of the old humanity that has been put to death at the cross (Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22). And I can begin to understand the true person that I am in Christ, a white male as part of God’s new humanity (Eph 4:24).

This project allows me to see how I am a gift to the church, and it opens my eyes to the rich gifts God has given to me in my sisters and brothers. It’s an exciting prospect to spend the rest of my life discovering the wonders of just how richly God has gifted me by making me part of his new family in Christ.

So, to my fellow white Christians, what God has done in Christ sets you up perfectly to engage discussions of race, racism, and whiteness. Take deep breaths and listen and commit to learning. Let the cross do its work of claiming your defensiveness, your objections, and your fears. Learn to ask questions when you don’t understand. Sit and ponder.

Above all, consider your place in Christ and draw upon that power to become a joyful participant in the program of God’s justice, by God’s Spirit, for God’s glory, for your good, and for the life of the world.

5 thoughts on “White Christians, Race, & Hope

  1. sicklyman

    just curious why you would want “necessary engagement with the truth about our national history” but only go as far back as the mistreatment of black people. It strikes me that if you used the term that I believe is more appropriate these days (although we all know that today’s appropriateness is tomorrow’s anathema) i.e. people of colour, you would keep going back and engage with the foundation of the nation and its mistreatment of indigenous North Americans. I suggest you start with Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee if you haven’t already read it. If you have read it, my curiosity will deepen further. Peace.

    1. timgombis

      You’re exactly right. Americans have yet to reckon with the historic treatment of African people brought to this land as slaves, as well as what we did to the original inhabitants of this land. We have a shameful history and much from which to repent. I use terms “black,” “African-Americans,” and “people of color,” in line with how these are employed in the literature on race. This post is only on present racial realities, but our national sins are indeed many, and I have written about others in previous posts.

      1. Mitchell McClure

        Tim, you say “[Americans] have a shameful history and much from which to repent.” I agree, our history is ugly and difficult to stomach. However, I am curious to know what Biblical evidence you have for declaring a need for present repentance for the sins committed by generations past?

      2. timgombis

        Repentance involves turning away from sin and destructive patterns of behavior and toward obedience and life. Any culture has a long history, going back generations, and there are destructive and unjust cultural patterns that result. Christian people living today didn’t set these, but we inherited them, and we can turn from them and cultivate life-giving and just patterns of corporate conduct.

  2. Lonnie Arnold

    Thank you for your honest and Christ-centered article. It’s encouraging to me as a Christian who is a Black pastor and leading racial reconciliation efforts in Washington State. I’d love to engage with you more on this subject.
    While this problem has plagued America for centuries, I believe God calls each generation of Christians to apply the gospel to it, and now it’s our turn. Will we shrink back or will we lean in and be the multi-colored church described in Ephesians?

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