by Aaron Earls
At the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the African-American pastor slain in the Charleston shooting, President Obama ended his eulogy by singing the John Newton penned hymn Amazing Grace.
But the strains of the familiar hymn written by the former slave ship captain will fade from our minds. Charleston will stop being a trending hashtag on Twitter. For most, it will soon become another tragedy that only occasionally comes to mind.
For Trip Lee, the church must not allow this moment to slip away without engaging in what he says are necessary conversations about race, racism, and what it means for the church to respond.
“If racial reconciliation is going to happen, if we are going to get this kind of unity, then it has to be something we actually fight for,” Lee, a church planter in Atlanta and rap artist on Lecrae’s Reach Records, says.
Lee maintains that racial reconciliation is not the main mission of the church. “The main mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus,” he says, “but at the heart of the gospel is the idea that it is for all people. Christ has removed those dividing walls.”
For church leaders seeking to address issues of race within their congregation, Lee outlines three main ways to respond.
1. Talk about the issues.
With other recent events, Lee says people were still hesitant to discuss race, seeking to ascribe other motivations. “But this particular situation is so abundantly clearly about race,” he says, “there is no way for us to avoid the conversation.”
And he believes that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the tragic nature of the Charleston shooting, the author of The Good Life and Rise says this affords churches an opportunity to address issues centering on race and culture.
“If we don’t have these conversations,” Lee says, “we will get in our comfort zones and drift to where we are comfortable.”
He asserts churches must be intentional in talking about how to have unity in the midst of disagreements and differing perspectives that often arise from people in different cultures coming together.
2. Call out the evil of racism.
“One of the main ways we respond is by calling sin ‘sin,’” says Lee, “by not avoiding pointing out when we see evil things happening.”
Lee says racism is “obviously not condoned by Scripture as everyone is made in the image of God and everyone has equal value and worth.”
In noting the uniqueness of the church, Lee calls the diversity within the body of Christ “one of the beautiful things about the church.”
“When the gospel goes forth, Christ’s call goes to everyone. Anyone can repent and believe no matter who he or she is. So our prayer is always that God would bring people from different financial backgrounds, different ages, even different races into our church.”
3. Fight for unity.
Because of our tendencies to drift back into complacency, Lee says churches must be intentional about racial reconciliation and fight for the unity of the body. “There have to be conversations now because we will forget about this once again,” he says.
“We want the church to be distinct from the rest of culture in that there are all kinds of different people united around Jesus who have found a way to have deep unity and deep family in the midst of a world where there is such division and hatred,” says Lee.
But for that to happen, Lee says churches must fight. “If racial reconciliation is going to happen, if we are really going to get this kind of unity, then it has to be something we actually fight for.”
How has your church fought for unity in the wake of the Charleston shooting? What practical steps are you taking to increase diversity in your congregation?
Read more about the value of multicultural churches in the cover section of our issue “United by the Gospel.” The Time to Speak event brought several evangelical leaders together for a conversation about race and the church. Last year, Trillia Newbell shared how the church can lead the charge against racism.
Findings from LifeWay Research say Americans believe race relations have improved, but there is still room for more improvements, and most churchgoers are OK with their mostly segregated Sunday mornings.
Trip Lee has been in Facts & Trends twice before. He spoke of how he reads for spiritual growth. And in “Leaving Room for Grey,” he shares how Christians can engage with media without compromising their faith.
“Turning Tables: Flipping the Rap Conversation to the Gospel” profiled Lee, Lecrae and other rap artists who used the music medium to present the gospel. Last year, Reach Record label mate Lecrae became the first artist to top the Billboard 200, Gospel, and Christian music charts with Anomaly.
Trip Lee’s discography:
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.
photo from Reach Records