This is Trip’s talk from the ERLC Summit on the Gospel and Racial Reconciliation. Below is the manuscript from that message.
This evening, I’ve been asked to speak about millennials and racial reconciliation. And I feel privileged to stand here and serve as part of this amazing effort towards unity in God’s church.
As a rapper, I’ve been a part of a lot of concerts over the years with lots of millennials and people of all age ranges. And I’ve seen that music really has a way of unifying people. There are some concerts where there is only one demographic of people: maybe it’s all soccer moms and white suburban teens, or all urban college students, or all southern baptist pastors wearing khakis (Alright, maybe not that last one). But there are also many where there are all kinds of people— young and old, black and white, and many other groups. And people who observe it often marvel at the diversity, and I think it’s a really good thing as well.
While I do think that’s cool and wonderful, I do not think it’s as impressive as some make it out to be. Every day there are concerts like this all over the country. There’s nothing that unique about getting different kinds of people to gather together. It happens all the time with concerts, or sporting events, etc. When an artist or a sports team is the center of attention, the people there are brought together by their love for that music or that team. Those people don’t really have to be unified. They don’t even really have to get along. They just have to tolerate each other for a couple of hours.
That isn’t the kind of unity and reconciliation that we’re after. That kind of unity isn’t lasting. It doesn’t produce anything. These people aren’t really serving one another. And it doesn’t really point to the glory of Christ and his Gospel in the same way.
The kind of unity we’re after is more lasting and more substantial— more loving.
The kind of unity we’re after can’t be produced by mere common musical or cultural interests. The kind of unity we’re after can only be produced by the Gospel of Jesus.
And that of course is why we’re talking about the Gospel and racial reconciliation, not just racial reconciliation.
Consider these words from John 11:
…he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
That’s the kind of unity we’re after:people who were many and diverse all becoming one.
Our end goal is not just getting black and white people in the same room. Jay-Z can do that. Our goal is to proclaim the peace and unity that Jesus has already accomplished and calling people into THAT. We want people to enjoy the fullness there and proclaim it everywhere they go. And we want that for every generation. But it can only come through the Gospel.
Transition: The millennial generation is of course those born in the early 80s to the 2000s. And we (millennials) are good at that first, easier kind of unity. But what about that deeper, more substantial, and more difficult kind of unity?
If you are a millennial like myself, then I want you to consider ways we can continue to fight for reconciliation. And if you’re not a millennial (aka you’re old), then perhaps you can take note of how to call millennials to this big biblical vision. That goes for pastors, church members, parents, friends, etc.
There are some challenges to thinking about racial reconciliation and this generation. It’s not easy to call people both to be reconciled and to encourage them to call others to the same. Here are three unique obstacles I think we have in calling millennials to this:
1. Some millennials think racial tension is our grandparents problem.
Of course things are very different now in this country than they once were. My grandfather has told me stories that I can not believe,my father protested during the civil rights movement, and my mother tells me stories of remembering being denied hotel rooms as a child.Those aren’t quite my experiences. Legalized segregation is no longer a reality. And stuff has changed.
So, many of us assume that we’re in such a completely different time, which makes race relations no longer a relevant conversation. One rapper said, “There’s no racism with the Internet. Racism only was—it’s probably like five generations ago…Racism is for—I wouldn’t say generations. Yeah, like five generations ago. Racism been over. It’s the old people that keep on holding on to it…”
This is what many millennials think….“We’re now in a post-racial society. There are lots of interracial marriages in our generation. And of course we do have a black president. It’s all in the past.”
Sadly, some recent studies have shown that millennials do give more lip service to equality than past generations, but we’re still basically just as prejudice as our parents were. Yet, we think we’re post-racial, which is a dangerous combination.
Of course, recent events even like racist chants among the Oklahoma fraternity show that racism is alive and well in our generation. But sadly, unless it’s that blatant, we deny its existence.
Racial prejudice is often more subtle, but that doesn’t mean it’s less sinful. It just means it’s more sneaky than before. And that can make it tricky to fight.
2. Some millennials think social media activity is enough.
Social media is an incredible gift. We’ve even seen social media challenge and mobilize people in light of the recent racial issues in the U.S. But my generation can easily fall into the trap of thinking it’s enough to simply share good things on social media. Some people call this slack-tivism:to retweet activists, preachers’ quotes, and blog posts on these matters, and to stop there.
That’s not enough! We have to actually take action beyond that. Talking about this online or even amongst our friends is very good, but it’s not enough. And having social media friendships with other ethnicities and cultures is good, but it’s definitely not enough.
3. Some millennials don’t think that God’s Word is sufficient in our day.
For millennial Christians, we live in a day where the Bible is not respected as it once was. And because of that, our own confidence in the Bible is shrinking. In Dr. King’s day, people responded to scriptural truth, but not in ours. It’s a divider. They argue that what we really need is a different, more inclusive message. And how is a message supposed to make a real difference any ay?
We don’t need more Christian Gospel proclamation, many suppose. To them, all we need is Christian action —as if proclaiming the Gospel isn’t an action. We definitely need more than preaching, but we can’t abandon preaching the Gospel, or we’ll only have the kind of light momentary unity I talked about above.
Well, those are three obstacles I think we face with calling millennials to racial reconciliation. So, then what are we to do? If we are church leaders or members of churches or even parents, how do we address this in the lives of my generation?
Here are three simple solutions. I think each of these addresses all three of the above problems. And the main thing I want to press home is that only the Gospel produces the kind of unity we’re after.
Solution #1: Preach the Gospel of Reconciliation
I know that seems obvious, but it’s too important to be assumed and looked over.
I’ve just moved to Atlanta to help plant a new church, but before that I was on staff at a church in D.C. and a member there for four years. During my time there, I saw the church grow tremendously in diversity, and it was a beautiful thing to see. There were more and more black members, Chinese members, older members, and younger members. It was great to watch baptisms where there was this crazy diversity among the people God was saving.
It wasn’t perfect diversity, but it was beautiful. And I think it happened, not because the church spent most of our time talking about racial reconciliation, but because we spent most of our time talking about the very message of reconciliation.
Why does diversity happen?
Jesus says in John 12:
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself
Jesus said when he’s lifted up, meaning when He would die on the cross, he would draw all men to himself. He didn’t say some kinds of men, but all men. He doesn’t discriminate here. When the Apostle John uses the word “all,” it doesn’t mean every single person, but all people groups. More than just Israel, but all other nations as well. God created diverse peoples, and Jesus died to draw diverse peoples to Himself.
This is the heart of our conversation here. The thing that separates us is sin. The root of racism and racial tension and racial separation is sin. And Christ has already dealt sin a death blow for all men. We have to proclaim that message.
Otherwise, we’ll waste our time trying to create a different kind of unity rather than embracing the unity Jesus has already created. Revelation 5 says Jesus, “…purchased for God people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.” This has been God’s plan all along, and we get to tell it!
I wonder if you’ve been relying on that message in your ministry. It’s our primary weapon.
Gospel unity goes much deeper than many of us realize. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about this deep unity. Note all the times he uses the word “one.”
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6
That’s much deeper than the other unity we’re used to. And the Gospel is needed to reconcile us in that deep way.
We millennials need the same Gospel everyone else does. And it produces true unity. So, let’s continue trusting it and proclaiming it, even if our culture doesn’t want to hear it. In the wider culture, we want to see legislation, and we want to see justice. But let’s not forget about what the Judge of all has already handed down.
Only the Gospel can create this kind of unity. Ok, so what other solutions are there beyond just proclamation?
Solution #2: Fight for Gospel love and understanding
We’re all very familiar with the words of Jesus in John 13.
Look at John 13:34-35. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
But what does this mean, and what does this really look like? This love he talks about here is a holy affection for somebody and an unselfish commitment to their good. We should have that holy affection for one another. We should be committed to each other’s good. We should want one another to know Christ more, grow more, and to flourish. Every interaction we have with one another should be characterized by love.
But Jesus doesn’t just say love one another; he specifies how we are to love one another. The how: Like He loved us. Wow! He became poor for us, endured a sinful world for us, and laid his life down for us. And He says we should love each other in a similar way. And that’s how people will know that we are his disciples.
This loving one another fleshes itself out in a number of ways. The rest of the New Testament puts a little but of flesh on what this love looks like.
Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens
Ephesians 4:32 – Be compassionate to one another
Philippians 2:13 – consider others better than yourself
Hebrews 3:13 – encourage one another daily
James 5:16 – pray for one another
1 Peter 3:8 – Love as brothers
That’s serious love.
Don’t ignore part of who I am
Here’s the thing, if we’re going to love one another, we have to know each other. We have to understand each other. How can I bear my brother’s burdens, if I don’t know what his burdens are? How can I be compassionate towards you, if I don’t know the pressures that weigh on you? Understanding each other helps us love one another well. (repeat)
“I don’t even see you as black.”
A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine who happens to be white.We were having a mushy brotherly love type of moment. And he said to me, “To me, you’re just my friend Trip. I don’t even see you as black.” Now I appreciate what he was trying to communicate to me. He wasn’t going to love me any less than any of his other friends. But on the other side, I think that’s an unhelpful way to view others. It would be like me saying to one of my single friends, “You know I just see you as Johnny. I don’t even notice that you’re single.” Well, he is single. And many of his struggles, desires, and challenges are going to have something to do with the fact that he’s single.
And so I encouraged my friend— not to think mainly about my blackness every time he talks to me— but also not to pretend like it’s not there. Because it is, and it does affect my life.
1. Because I am black. I like being black. And God made me this way.
2. There are unique experiences that come with being black, or being a student, or a mom, or being single.
My black experience
Some of us don’t have to think about our ethnicity much in our daily lives. And that’s fine. But there are others of us that do. And I can only speak for myself and my black experience. I can’t speak for everybody.
There’s an extra burden that I, and many black people, have to carry. We carry the burden of knowing the oppressive history in our country: that blacks weren’t considered full people, that some of the figures on our currency owned black people like property, knowing racism still exists, and being a recipient of that racism sometimes.
An awareness of this changes the way you love someone.
There have been many times when things have been assumed about me(that are not true) just based on my appearance. Many occasions, it’s been assumed that I’m a criminal whenI couldn’t be further from that. Many occasions it’s been assumed that I’m dumb and uneducated. Many occasions it’s been assumed that I’m inferior to my white peers or that I’m not as good. And the people who think that have made it clear to me. Not to mention people referencing my loved ones in hurtful ways. Like hearing people say, “Your sister is kinda pretty, for a black girl I mean.” As if black is less beautiful. There are patterns of this in my life and in the lives of many. I’ll have to have a talk with my son, just like my dad did with me, warning him to be careful and that there are people who won’t like him just because he’s black. And it is an extra burden that I have to carry.
Why does experience matter?
But why does this matter? Why am I telling you all this? Because of that command to love one another. Just like you love your mom in a unique way, and your elders, or less-fortunate people, you should love different ethnicities in unique ways. We have unique joys, burdens, and experiences, and you can not love others well if you dismiss or ignore their unique experiences.
I remember talking to a Chinese sister who was joining our church. She had only been in the states for a short period of time, and as she talked about her experience with the sermons, she explained how difficult it had been for her to follow. I never would have thought about it that deeply otherwise. It totally changed the way I viewed the experience of sisters like her in our church, and it helped me to think more carefully about how to love them.
Only the Gospel can produce this kind of sacrificial love. So, we need to go back to Jesus to work it in us. It will be hard, which brings me to my last point.
Solution #3: Don’t Assume It’s Easy
Diversity shows the beauty and truth of the Gospel. When someone comes to our church, and they see diversity—a kind of diversity they don’t see in the world—it gives them a glimpse of the glory of the Gospel. Scripture says anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved—not just one group of people—and it’s beautiful when that’s able to be displayed in a local body.
Diversity makes things harder
Diversity is a beautiful thing; but it’s not easy. Every church—even if people are of the same ethnicity, age, background— has issues because we’re sinners. But diversity can cause its own unique issues. We all bring our own backgrounds, experiences, presuppositions, biases, and baggage along with us. And sometimes that creates conflict.
Scripture is not unaware of this conflict. Even in the early church, there were divisions across racial lines (as recorded in Acts). So, since it will be hard, here are a few random tips for how to work through those difficulties:
Practical Tips for Racial Reconciliation
1. Don’t treat people who are different too differently.
Their differences aren’t primary. Seek to understand, but still interact with them normally. I can think of a time when I was back in Philly, when a professor would always talk to me differently. He would greet other students with a, “Good morning,” or, “Good to see you.” But he would see me and all of a sudden say, “What’s up dog?” or “What’s going on my man?”
He could’ve been aware of my differences without feeling like he had to talk to me in a different way.
2. Don’t assume stereotypes.
Ethnic groups, age groups, etc. are made up of individuals. People’s experiences are different. Some stereotypes are funny and harmless, but others are offensive. Get to know each individual as an individual.
3. Try not to only flock to people who look like you.
Intentionally build relationships with people who don’t look like you. Fight the temptation to only spend time with the folks you would most naturally connect with. After church, purposely talk with people who are different. Not as an assignment, but because they are a gift to the body just like those people who are more like you.
4. Intentionally seek to understand people.
Go deep relationally. Ask questions. Listen carefully and sympathize with people’s unique experiences. Even if you’re skeptical of something someone says, before dismissing it, listen to them and seek to understand
5. Persevere through difficulties and growing pains.
Diversity is hard, especially when we start talking about race/ethnicity. Some conversations can get tense. Be gracious with one another. Always assume the best and not the worst. If someone seeking to understand you offends you, be gracious to and patient with them. They’re trying. Don’t put walls up and make it impossible for people to get closer and understand. It’s a two-way street.
When seeking to understand someone, don’t be afraid to ask questions or say something wrong. You should choose your words carefully, but you’ll have to take risks and expect your brothers and sisters to be gracious.
Don’t give up when it’s hard. That leads to a mere tolerant diversity instead of unified diversity.
6. Ask yourself if you have assumptions about other races/ages/socioeconomic groups.
That’s a question we should all be asking ourselves. Work to think more biblically/fairly. We should all question the way we think about people who are different than us, including different culturally and ethnically. What comes to mind when you pass someone on the street? What comes to mind when you see them in the store? We should question ourselves and strive to see people the way God sees them.
7. Keep the conversation going.
This should be one of many conversations. This is not by any means a comprehensive discussion. This is meant to start other discussions. Unity in diversity doesn’t happen on accident. And if we never talk about it, we won’t be aware and work towards it. Share concerns and struggles, but labor to make sure you have these conversations with compassion, sensitivity, grace, and love.
If we don’t talk about it, we run into the danger of continuing to assume that this problem has already been dealt with in the past. And when problems are there, but we’re unaware, it’s like electrical problems in your house. You could wake up one day to fire! We need to be aware enough to fight well.
8. Meditate on scripture and pray God will give you a passion for unity.
Unity is a big deal, so we should pray that God would grow our passion for it. We’re commanded to have one mind. We’re commanded to realize the reality that we’re one in Christ. This is not a concept we created. Look at Ephesians 4. Look at God’s global promises to Abraham in Genesis. Look at how it all ends in Revelation. And pray God would give you a passion for this kind of unity.
But, as we’ve said many times already, only the Gospel can produce this kind of sacrificial love and unity.
Show The World
We want to labor to put this Gospel on display for the world to see.
In an age and time that seems more divided than ever, the Lord can use this. God’s Word is sufficient. And God’s people are like an illustration God uses to make his Word plain. One He uses to make His Gospel shine brighter.
Not just blacks and whites in the same room, but blacks and whites in the same family.
That deeper, truer unity.