Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rebuilding Racial Bridges in a Divided Church


Now that the historic 2008 election is over, we need to get busy with the work of reconciliation.

During the seemingly endless 2008 presidential campaign, scalding rhetoric spewed like hydrochloric acid from both sides. The harsh words from both Republicans and Democrats were often vicious. Hillary Clinton attacked Barack Obama. John McCain took shots at Clinton. Everybody and their grandmother went after George W. Bush.

After the party conventions the media declared open season on Sarah Palin while McCain accused Obama of being a celebrity without leadership skills. That prompted Paris Hilton to describe McCain as “that wrinkly, white-haired guy.” Obama, meanwhile, criticized rural voters for clinging to guns and religion. The mudslinging got nasty.

I’m still sore—and almost deaf—from the noisy political ruckus we witnessed this year. Sometimes the constant shouting matches between pundits on Fox News and CNN forced me to turn off the television—especially when Joy Behar of The View suggested that McCain might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll admit that woman put me over the edge a few times.

"I am concerned that an ugly breach has occurred within the evangelical church. This divisive election took its toll on us."

Because I voiced my opinions during the campaign, some people got mad at me too. Some called me a racist because I raised questions about Obama’s views on moral issues. Others condemned me to hell because I applauded Palin’s faith.

Thankfully the contest is over. The national mood became more civil after the votes were counted. Obama became our 44th president and delivered a historic speech in Chicago that moved our nation to tears—especially civil rights leaders who never thought they’d live to see this day. McCain was humble in his concession speech and President Bush was a true Texas gentleman when he offered Obama and his wife a tour of the White House a few days later.

We can all be proud, not only that our country has put a person of color in the White House but also that the transition of power from one leader to another was this peaceful.

The verbal bombings have stopped, at least for now. All of us, in both red states and blue, have calmed down a bit and are looking for some common ground. More people are smiling on the evening news shows, partly because they are actually getting some sleep.

But I am concerned that an ugly breach has occurred within the evangelical church. This divisive election took its toll on us. Bridges that had been built between racial groups are in shambles. They collapsed under the strain of this election.

We are like good friends who stopped speaking to each other after a heated argument. Communication is strained. Grudges are festering. We don’t understand each other. We viewed this election through different lenses.

Many African-American Christians saw Barack Obama’s candidacy as a chance to right the racial wrongs of the past. They felt his victory on Nov. 4 was a direct fulfillment of the dream Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed 45 years ago. And they believe that his commitment to help the poor is an embodiment of Christian principles of justice.

Many white evangelicals, on the other hand, couldn’t embrace Obama because of their commitment to a pro-life agenda. They feared that Obama would appoint pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court and actively push for gay marriage. They also worried that Obama’s ties to a liberal Democratic agenda might invite terrorism or encourage socialist economic policies.

What do we do now? Do black Christians gloat while white conservatives lick their wounds? Do we just keep our distance? Do we keep Sunday morning segregated?

The Bible is clear that God does not encourage sulking or segregation. He calls those who are offended to go to their brothers and make things right. He expects us to work out our differences with sensitivity and mutual understanding. He has given us “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18, NASB).

He commands us in Matthew 5:23-24: "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (NASB).

Reconciliation is intentional. We don’t wait for the offended party to come to us—we go to them. Right now there are serious offenses on both sides of this political rift. The temptation is to justify our own positions. We say to ourselves, “I’m right; he’s wrong—this is his fault and I am waiting for him to apologize.”

But God is not concerned about who had the right political opinion. His burden is for our reconciliation. If we allow racial or political walls to divide us, then all of us are grieving the Holy Spirit.

I am begging black, white and Hispanic leaders today: Let’s come to the table. Let’s be more intentional than ever before about understanding each other, walking in each other’s shoes and enjoying true fellowship. Let’s resist the spirit of offense. This could be our greatest hour if we will link arms, wash feet, share our hearts, worship together and pray in unity.

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.

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