Session 6c: Important Discoveries by Keith Reynolds

All right. Well, first of all, it’s terribly difficult to bottom line one’s thoughts and impressions about a topic as complex as this in a matter of 10 minutes. All the more difficult is it for someone who was shaped in my … Inspired by the Black church and so I could do a warm up in about 15 minutes and not even get to one point, okay? So all that being said, I do want to say much of what my brothers already said would be what I would say about the topic at hand, when it comes to racial justice.

Clearly we are situated in a time of active polarization. Polarization is never benign, it’s active, but there are times where it’s more aggressive than it is in other times and we’re clearly situated at a time of active, aggressive polarization, where conversations like this are being made to be taboo. And so I commend you for coming here and the courage you’re demonstrating and just leaning into the conversation. I would just say this practice is really, really important going ahead. It’s the degree to which you converse about these complex issues, it’s the conversation that helps your ideas get embedded in your DNA and percolate from your head to your heart, and eventually you’re animated by it.

Gone are the days when we can subscribe to lofty definitions and historical points and walk away with the solution of, “We get it.” Clearly we do not, especially as it relates to racial justice and inequities. We’ve got a problem Houston, and why do we have a problem? Well, there’s a few learnings for me that have kind of bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness over the past year, and I’m going to present them to you all in the form of questions, and so I would ask you to consider these questions for yourself and implied in these questions are some learnings that I think we need to consider for ourselves, you, me and everyone else.

The first one is this. To what degree do we see the issue of racial justice as a gospel imperative? It has amazed me over the past few years, and I’m coming from it from my own vantage point as a Black man and how these things impact me as a man, as a father, as a husband, are unique to my skin, and my lived experiences in this land as a Black person, and coupled with my commitment and devotion to the gospel. For me, it is not a moot point. This is absolutely a gospel issue, but I think for each of us here, the question for us to grapple with is to what degree is it for us? For some, issues of racial justice are socio-political problems that cultural and social engineers and politicians have to trifle with. For some, as it relates to the gospel, this is really the call for the Christian community, is mostly about evangelization, helping people to realize the goodness of the gospel, and have their behavior modified. Those are two distinct things. My question for you, my question for me is to what degree are efforts at social justice a gospel imperative, such that when we imagine Paul saying, “I am constrained by the gospel,” we also see that that implies doing work for social justice or racial justice. That’s one question.

The second question is to what degree are we willing to courageously and sincerely vet our conclusions and assumptions about matters of race? Whatever your notions are about race matters, are you willing, as he said, to be active in your curiosity about what you have been taught about what is, and everything in between? To vet your ideas would require you to consider your ideas along three lines, three fronts at a minimum, okay? The first would be your educational journey. What were you taught or not about history and the development of Western civilization? The second would be your worldview, your ideas about God, about yourself, specifically about humanity, more broadly about culture, sin, and redemption, your filter for how you perceive all of life and reality. Then third, would you be willing to consider your pedigree? What actually constitutes family and hierarchy, and what does it mean to be a neighbor? Can we be the kinds of people that would be willing to bring our ideas along those lines under the gaze of Holy Spirit and be proven wrong in some cases, affirmed where we need to be? Can we do that? Clearly we’re in times where this kind of action is required.

Then third question would be, are you willing to bring your life, as I said a second ago, under the gaze of Holy Spirit via community? Why do I say that? I said this last week when I was here at Pillar, the confrontation between Paul and Peter, when you remember the story, you remember the episode, I am in a company of folks that read their Bible and exegete scripture, so I don’t have to give you the backstory, but you know the problem that was happening in that situation, it was a clearly a climactic moment where Paul got tired of Peter’s hypocrisy and he confronted him. The interesting thing about it is that Paul was not talking to him about the ideas that he had given mental assent to. He calls Peter on his hypocrisy, his manner of behaving, the degree to which he was or wasn’t embodying the truth of the gospel as evidenced in the way in which he lived and loved in the face of, clearly a controversy, having to do with the Gentiles.

I say that because I don’t think there’s any person in here, and most hard conversations that I’ve had with people, most would say that they are not racist, most would say that they are egalitarian and all about equity and diversity. Most would say they consent to those. It sounds poetic and rhythmic, and right. The question is to what degree does your life compliment your confession? That’s a question for each and every one of us. That’s the hard part of this journey, is the degree to which your life reflects what you actually believe. Belief is not disembodied behavior and I think over the past year, we’ve had a reckoning. We’ve heard the church talk about a gospel of inclusion, we’ve heard the church talk about missional engagement and redistribution and relocation and living in blighted sections of the city to ensure that Shalom is manifest. We’ve heard about it. To what degree are we actually living in light of it? I’m not the one to judge motive or behavior, but I think if you’re honest, you would say along those lines, we’ve got a problem.

I would encourage you to consider those three questions as you grapple with the issue of racial justice, and I’ll just recite these questions one more time. To what degree do you see racial justice as a gospel imperative? Are you willing to courageously and sincerely vet your conclusions and assumptions about race, which involve hard conversations about your beliefs and your experiences along the lines of your education, your worldview, and your pedigree. Then finally, are you willing to bring your life under the gaze of Holy Spirit via community and let others assess you and speak truth to you? If you’re a parent in this room, one of the most disturbing conversations you can have is to ask your kids, “How am I doing as a father?” in my case, or mom. “This is my way of loving you, injurious as a way of loving you, a catalyst for ongoing development,” and to sit and hear your kids say, “Dad, you do well in this, but in these areas not so much.” If you can steal yourself enough to have a friend, a good friend, speak truth to you about the way in which your life reflects your confession as relates to racial justice, it could be an incredible life-giving, life-learning experience.

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