Michael Martin serves in the Christian community as a pastor, counselor and mentor to pastors. He is known as a personal, marriage and family counselor and a retreat speaker. He is the lead pastor at Stillmeadow Community Fellowship in Baltimore, MD.
Our Two Conversations
Addressing all of my brothers and sisters with truth and love in a Church increasingly divided by racial lines
For some time, I’ve had two conversations with two very different groups of my Christian family. One is with white Christians and the other with African-American Christians, both mostly evangelicals, although many of the African-Americans don’t use that label. Most often the conversations are in the larger church community rather than in the church I pastor.
These conversations remind me of the marital counseling I typically provide because there are often things I might say only to the wife and other things, only to a husband. And so it is with these conversations in the Church. Here, I hope to share everything I have been conversing about in the presence of both “members” of the family.
With my white Christian family, I increasingly talk about how Samaria in Acts 1:6-8 applies to our multi-ethnic relationships. Though we are clearly commanded to be people of justice and goodness who understand and practice the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31), something isn't right. I wonder if my white brothers and sisters understand that the progress in justice and freedom experienced by African Americans over the last 60+ years—in the workplace, in the marketplace, in neighborhoods and schools all over this country—that progress is not associated with the white evangelical church.
I want to know whether it’s bothersome to them that Jesus’ teaching that we are to be known by the way we love one another lacks any real traction in the way America perceives the white evangelical church.
Our nation’s marketplace of ideas is not populated with challenging soundbites, discussions, podcasts, dissertations and published books from the white evangelical church. This country and especially the Church have long been thirsty for leadership in this area. Where is the substantive evangelical argument for America to do right by its Black neighbors? I’m afraid the world may perceive they can figure out this race thing without the help of the white evangelical church.
And after the outpouring this past year of protesters from seemingly all corners of the U.S. and the planet, do you think the next generation, your children and grandchildren, may be coming to that same conclusion?
The continued lack of “love one another” leadership is affecting the witness of the Church.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea…and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Do you think I am dramatic or harsh when I say you have not witnessed well in Samaria? If Samaria is near and familiar yet uncomfortable, then is it far-fetched to accuse you of hardly using John 13:34-35 to witness by partnering with these distant relatives, the Samaritans? Can you see a white evangelical missions history of great witness to brown and black across seas and oceans, but hardly in your own city, town and nation?
It is the low-hanging fruit: displaying the transforming power of the gospel by seeing your own Samaria as an unavoidable component of the “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Don’t you think it illuminating that Jesus named Samaria? It’s near, familiar, uncomfortable, unresolved and complicated. I wonder how it would benefit our global evangelism efforts and what type of spiritual revival might sweep through our land if you were courageous and humble enough to bring “as I have loved you, love one another” (John 13:34) along with “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39, emphasis mine) to all of your Samaritan relationships.
With my Black Christian family, I’ve humbly broached conversation around the effectiveness and holiness of gratitude. I express concern for giving a thankful heart its proper voice in our personal and public discourse. The current voices saying, “Enough,” “Our lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” etc., are timely, necessary and led with a heartfelt urgency and outrage by mostly a younger generation.
Are we, as the Black Church’s baby boomers, being courageously faithful to God’s glory by pointing out that in the U.S. over the last three-plus generations, much progress has been made?
I believe there is an easy case to make that we have so very much to be grateful for and thrilled by. Shouldn’t we avoid the example of the post-Egypt Children of Israel who had a damning pattern of experiencing God’s hand of blessing in multiple ways, yet frequently responded to Him with temporary thanks followed by repeated requests for more?
Being grateful for things being as well as they are is a thing!
We need to make a lot more noise around the amount of amazing progress in the U.S. in this area of race and freedom. To be honest about the greatness of God, the prowess of evil, our agony at the hands of our enemies and the power of God to orchestrate freedoms and victories for us is a very Davidic pattern throughout Psalms.
We have witnessed a historic response by our country to the moral necessity of catching up with its documented value of “all men are created equal.” It would be unholy and untrue to minimize and skip over this truly unprecedented progress, simply because of the awful truth that our daily lives (especially those of our poor) are still mired in blind and racist responses.
I want to be free to thank God for things being as well as they are. We are grateful for the many mountains He has moved. The progress our people has experienced and its benefit to all groups of people in this country and around the world is worthy of continued praise!
My appeal is that we would never allow our perpetual desire for a full reckoning of the stated values of this country to rob us of the courage to lead others in exercising the power of gratefulness and thankfulness.
Being thankful is a gaining of ground, not a loss of ground. We are certainly mature enough to honor both our Lord and our ancestors by unabashedly bragging about the tremendous movement in our country over the last 60+ years, while at the same time continue to righteously lean into what else needs to be done: what is still unfair, still unfinished and still unchristian.
Gratitude is a brilliant tool that can improve hearing and perception; embolden fence-sitters and create an invitation to courage and strength for the weak and afraid. And mostly, we can’t ignore that it’s important to our God.
So, the whole family has now heard both conversations. And much like in my marital counseling sessions, finding equal things for people to work on is not a truthful solution. The truly holy action is this: concentrate on the block of wood in your own eye.