“God is not simply in the business of saving souls; he is in the business of tearing down walls and creating a new family.”
On my pilgrimage through the book The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas, the second value he outlines—working towards racial reconciliation—was the one I was probably the most nervous about engaging with (and blogging about).
That’s because this is a BIG, emotive issue in the world (particularly the United States) right now. It’s always been a difficult topic in the land of my birth, South Africa.
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in Apartheid South Africa, and this had several consequences for me. Firstly, I was infected by ‘whiteness’ – the idea that white is better, more attractive, more trustworthy, safer. The seeds of discrimination are still embedded in me and I’m constantly having to identify them, call them what they are—sin—and allow God to weed them out.
Secondly, I benefited from being White. I had a better education than most of my fellow Black South Africans, which gave me opportunities that many of them didn’t have. I still live with the privilege given me by an evil system.
Although I knew these things, Rich’s two chapters on racial reconciliation gave me a fresh perspective on how important it is to be a part of the dialogue and change still needed in our society with regards to racial reconciliation.
I always thought it was enough to deal with my own biases and leave the transforming of justice and institutional racism (how power is used) to the activists. But Rich reminds me uncomfortably that one look at the Old Testament prophets shows us that God’s love is not just a private affair.
“Justice is what love looks like in public*. To do justice means that every person is taken seriously as a human being made in the image of God. There can be no true reconciliation without justice. For relationships to be fully restored, things have to be made right.”
Rich outlines several racial habits to deeply form us. These include the habit of remembering (facing our country’s history), listening deeply to the stories of others, lamenting existing injustices, praying into racial issues, examining our assumptions and biases, renouncing ‘whiteness’ (acknowledging the lens with which we view the world), as well as confession, repentance and forgiveness.
I found these chapters challenging and there is still much work for me to do personally in this area, but I am grateful for the gentle, soul-shifting way Rich addressed this topic.
At the Renovare Book Club’s live webinar, I got to ask Rich how to navigate the guilt I feel that I am the recipient of privilege. I loved his answer, which was that guilt is an unhelpful emotion because I am censoring myself from the conversation. Rather, he said, I should ask how I can steward the gifts (privilege) entrusted to me.
In summary, Rich reminds us that racial reconciliation is an issue for every Christian:
“In the midst of all the confusion and anger that persist due to the racial tensions in our country and the world, the church must lead the way in proclaiming a message of hope, justice and reconciliation.”
Ultreia et Suseia. Further and Higher.
* quote by Dr Cornel West