As the leader of a global ministry in over eighty nations, I rarely comment on local or national issues, especially when politics are involved. Our regional leaders are usually in a better position to speak pastorally and prophetically on behalf of Every Nation in their contexts.
However, sometimes a local or national event has a global impact. Because the video of the ruthless and unjust killing of George Floyd by a white police officer and the ensuing civil unrest has gone viral globally, this is no longer simply an American story.
Pastor Brett Fuller, our Every Nation North America Regional Director, has posted several videos that provide grace-filled pastoral ministry, seasoned prophetic insight, and wise apostolic leadership to Every Nation pastors and congregants in the USA. I am grateful for Brett’s leadership and friendship. We have worked and walked together for more than thirty years.
Pastor Brett and I, along with Kevin York (Every Nation Executive Vice President), had a long phone conversation this morning about racism, justice, injustice, the power of the gospel, and the ministry of reconciliation.
Rather than addressing these issues prophetically, pastorally, or politically, allow me to address them relationally, with a real story about real people—people I know and love.
Chelsea is six years old. My granddaughter Josephine is also six. Jo and Chelsea are best friends. They know each other through school and church, and because their parents are good friends.
Chelsea is black. So are her parents. Josephine is white. So are her parents. I am sure Chelsea and Josephine notice differences, but they don’t seem to care. They are just friends who love to talk, giggle, and plan “Fancy Nancy” adventures together.
As much as parents try to protect young children from disturbing news stories and images, after back to back ubiquitous news cycles about deadly violence against unarmed black men—Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd—little Chelsea was worried about her dad and had to ask him a question.
“Daddy, if you were doing something that didn’t look good and the police saw you and were coming to get you, but what they thought you were doing wasn’t what you were doing, would they let you explain yourself?”
Her dad responded with gut-wrenching honesty, “I don’t know. Probably not.”
Before typing this letter, I called Chelsea’s dad, Justin Gray, to make sure I was telling his story correctly. He texted me the details and ended with this: “These are the conversations black people have to have in America.”
The fact that Justin has to have this conversation with his sweet daughter brings tears to my eyes (and that doesn’t happen to me very often).
I was born and raised in Mississippi, and I never had a conversation like that with my parents. I raised three sons overseas as white kids in a brown world, and we never had that conversation. My sons and their wives are raising their children in Nashville, and, so far, they have never been asked about the possibility of unjust police violence.
But, “These are the conversations black people have to have in America.”
I don’t know what you think about when images or stories of George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery appear on your TV screen. I think about the injustice, not only of what I am watching but also how unjust it is that my black friends are forced to have conversations with their kids that white parents never have. I think about six-year-old Chelsea’s conversation with her dad. And that breaks my heart.
The conversation is necessary because the typical black experience of the American Dream has been less free and less equal than mine. Less free and less equal goes all the way back to 1619 when African slaves first landed in Jamestown, Virginia, to work the useless but lucrative tobacco crops. After much bloodshed, the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery but did nothing to end racism. Describing racism, NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabar says it is “like dirt in the air. It seems invisible—even when you’re choking on it—until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.”
As long as we have sinful humans on earth, we will have racism, but we keep shining the light. Admitting this is not surrender, but drawing the battle lines. Yes, laws need to be updated, and institutions need to reform. These will help. But because racism, like all sin, is a heart issue, a new heart is the only solution.
Multiple times over the past few days, my sons and I have talked about and grieved the inhumane unjust violence inflicted upon George Floyd by a white police officer. We hope and pray that justice will be served. We have also talked about the injustice of destroyed businesses, depriving owners and workers of their livelihood. Again, we hope and pray that justice will be served.
Yes, Scripture speaks much about justice. But justice is not something individuals can execute. Justice is the domain of civil authorities and ultimately of God himself. Sometimes God executes justice in time and space. Sometimes we have to wait for time to end before God’s justice happens.
Yes, we should prophetically preach justice, pastorally call people to repent and forgive, and politically march for the reformation of unjust laws and oppressive institutions.
Yes, we need prophetic, pastoral, and political leadership. But we also need relational leadership. Unlike justice, reconciliation is, by nature, relational. It requires proximity, honesty, compassion, a whole lot of conversation, plus heavy doses of repentance and forgiveness.
Every Nation pastors and leaders, we have been reconciled to Christ and to one another. We have been called to the ministry of reconciliation. We have been entrusted with a message of reconciliation. Now is not the time to retreat from our multi-ethnic churches and relationships. Now is the time to pick up our cross and follow our Middle Eastern Lord and Savior.
When I watch the hatred and violence that fills the news, reconciliation seems like a hopeless ideal. But when I watch Josephine and Chelsea laugh and play together, I see the power of the gospel in high definition, and that gives me hope for a better future.