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Hang in here with me, okay?

Every single time I get done speaking to a group of people about the need for diversity and racial reconciliation in the church, someone asks me — every single time — “What can I do?” Sometimes, it sounds like this: “What can I do?” And sometimes, it sounds like this: “What can I do?”

I don’t know your unique makeup or situation or level of awareness or on-boardness. But, I can tell you my story. I can tell you some of the things that have worked for me and some of the things that haven’t. I can tell you where I get the most frustrated and where I find the most hope.

And, I can listen to your story.

I can also tell you this: our racial divisions are not the only places where the church fails to model the oneness we are made for, and that Jesus desires for us.

We have been breaking our backs, setting up walls of stone and drawing lines of division where we should be building bridges. And this, among those who follow Jesus, just like us. The Bible tells us in John 13 they — those who are watching, wondering what this Christ-following business is really all about — will know we are Christians by our love for one another. It doesn’t say we’ll be known by how many people we pack into our sanctuaries, or even by how many cool cups of water we offer to thirsty people, dusty from their journey through life. No. We will be identifiable to the world as people who follow Jesus, because of our love for each other. Even — and especially — the people who make us the most uncomfortable, and who are the most different from us.

Sometimes we get stuck in old patterns that have been handed down to us from one generation to the next. Or, we get our feelings hurt and we lash out and, before we know it, we’ve let our emotions get the best of us and allowed a great chasm to be dug between us and another person (or group of people) in the Body of Christ. Other times, we feel the need to take a stand, but end up with our foot on someone else’s neck — often without even realizing it.

On the night Jesus was betrayed, He prayed for us in the garden before His arrest. His prayer that night, was that we would be one.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent me. The glory that You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and You in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent me and loved them even as You loved me. {John 17:21-23, italics mine}

We wonder why the world doesn’t get it. We wonder why they don’t believe in Jesus or live the way He taught. But Jesus said they will get it when we figure out how to live as one. The ball is in our court. Not theirs.

{Whew! You’re still here! Yay!}

Many people have told me it’s not really a problem. “People go where they’re comfortable,” many have said to me. “I wish it were different, but if I tried to go to a church like that, I don’t know if I’d be welcomed,” others offer. “The Church universal is diverse,” some submit with great conviction.

But, there is a movement afoot in the Body of Christ.

There is a tug at our hearts for something better. There is a desire growing in the souls of those whose hearts beat to the sound of the Kingdom of God. This low hum rises up from the earth — the way radical things tend to do — a grassroots hunger to love in a way that makes the world sit up and take notice. This is the prayer Jesus prayed for us. The story of reconciliation is a golden thread, woven through the Good News, and connecting Genesis and Revelation and everything and everyone in between.

As William E. Pannell puts it“Reconciliation is the ministry of the church.”

Oneness in the Body of Christ — the tearing down of all the walls we build up to keep one another at a distance — is our inheritance.

Would you consider sharing your thoughts? Over the next few months, I’ll be working on a book about oneness and reconciliation. And, while the book will touch on racial reconciliation, it will also explore other areas where we find ourselves divided. As Christians, how do we live out the gospel in a way that bridges those divides? I’d love your input. I’d love to hear your stories and your thoughts. Have you found your entry point to this conversation? Have you been wondering about some specific aspect of the conversation, but you’re afraid to ask, for fear of what people may think about you, or whom you might offend? What, in your opinion, is missing from the conversation? And, why does this conversation matter to you? 

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The story of reconciliation is woven through—from Genesis to Revelation, and everyone in between. {Tweet this!}

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  • Tami

    Hi, Deidra! I’m an American living abroad who summers in the USA every couple of years. I always look forward to your posts on here!!! I can’t wait for the every tongue, tribe, nation stuff to happen seamlessly in worship before the throne, and really appreciate when it is happening even a little bit here and now! Please keep working for it!
    One hiccup we came across last summer was gender division in the children’s church session at church. My littlest, an 8 year-old girl (who likes sports, star wars, lego; she’s like me when I was young–likes the things that her big brother likes) was discouraged that all the games were girls against boys. They even split the seating so that girls were on one bleacher and boys on the other (for every session). After attending one time, she asked to just sit with my in my Sunday school class for the remaining two Sundays we spent there, despite her older sister being in children’s church. Aargh. How about applying some Galatians 3:28 to that!!?! I did share quietly with one of the workers there, and she was receptive and agreed to talk to the leaders about it. Then, she invited my daughter to come to her sons’ tai kwon do class which was a huge mix of ages and genders that I think brought glory to God! :)

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      We should make a new hashtag: #galatians328it Ha!

      Thank goodness for that Tae Kwon Do class, though! And, how cool is it that your daughter noticed the division for herself? I know there are different schools of thought about men and women in church and navigating some of those doctrinal differences is such a challenge. I’m glad that leader extended such a lovely invitation to your daughter.

      • Tami

        love the hashtag idea–or could it be a chapter title?? ;)

        • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

          now there’s an idea…

  • http://sunnyand80.org/ Meg Bucher

    Wow! This is brave and bold! God is speaking a great truth about reconciliation through you, and it’s something I don’t think about in light of these issues. REally good.
    I love, “It doesn’t say we’ll be known by how many people we pack into our sanctuaries, or even by how many cool cups of water we offer to thirsty people, dusty from their journey through life. No. We will be identifiable to the world as people who follow Jesus, because of our love for each other. Even — and especially — the people who make us the most uncomfortable, and who are the most different from us.”

    We all know someone who gives of themselves but does not “get it.” Some of the most kind and generous people…but at the sound of Christ’s name they roll their eyes. What causes that eye-roll? Accepting of everyone but Jesus… It’s a puzzler, for sure, but don’t get to caught up in it. There are some in the world who still do not know enough to roll their eyes. That’s the mission…until every ear has heard.

    Happy Saturday!!!
    Megs

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      I always love to hear the questions people are asking in these conversations! Thanks so much for sharing, Meg!

      That question you’ve raised, “What causes that eye-roll?” is such a great one to sit with before Jesus. After all, he’s seen that eye-roll, over and over again, and he knows what’s at the heart of it. I wonder how he’d answer?

      • http://sunnyand80.org/ Meg Bucher

        Me, too! Fascinating to wonder …because His reactions are always fair and just. You’re right, it is a good thing to pray on and hope for Him to reveal some clues…
        Happy Sunday :)
        Megs

  • shelly

    The conversation matters to me, as it should matter to everyone alive, because I live on this Earth.I am no better or worse than any other creature of God. We are all equal in God’s eyes.
    It matters because I am raising children. And they deserve to live life fully and free from hate.
    It matters because I am raising a white teenage boy and I am allowed to not have to tell him some things about his physical safety. A mom raising a black teenage boy does have to issue these warnings, and this fact is inherently wrong. My child is no more valuable than hers, but society does not always reflect this truth.
    It matters because I am a servant of God, willing to reflect his glory, and closing our racial divide is necessary for glory to shine.

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Yeah, I want to leave this world a better place. I often think about the fact that I probably won’t live to see the full resolution of all our divisions—racial, political, doctrinal, etc.—but I do think we can make it better. And, then, our children can pick up where we leave off, if they are so inclined. We belong to each other; all of the each others.

  • Anna Smit

    Some interesting thoughts here, Deidra. I’m a New Zealander (Kiwi) by birth, spent 6 years of my childhood in Germany, the remainder in NZ before departing for Europe as a 19 year-old, living in Germany (18 months), Switzerland (1 year) and for the past 11 years (with a year’s stint back in NZ) in the Netherlands. In my own experience, building bridges in our differences takes effort, grace and openness. Effort: discouraged in how it is easy to feel “lost” in a big Dutch-speaking church, I’ve actively sought opportunities to get to know people in smaller settings and encouraged our church to set up mentoring support from older Mums for younger Mums. Grace: as a Kiwi I’ve yearnt for others to invite me in as the “new” person, but have come to accept this is not the norm here and so, in grace, have sought to see things from a Dutch perspective. Also, the Dutch can be incredibly blunt: but I’m also learning to receive this as grace (you know what you’ve got with such honesty!). Openness: in stepping into my church, the biggest welcome I received was in the gift of openness: church members openly share of their struggles and failings here…it has made me feel so much more at home to be amongst a people who see themselves as living in the grace of God.

    I cannot speak on the racial divide. I’ve grown up in and lived in a multicultural environment (around Sri Lankins, Egyptians, Koreans, South Africans, Maori…) and have always seen it as an enrichment to be gifted with stories/perspectives from another tongue and culture. May God bless you as you continue to step out in faith to build bridges.

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Thanks for sharing this perspective, Anna. Effort, grace, and openness are so very important for pressing past our divisions. And, you’ve reminded me that sometimes frustration is a great motivator!

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Deidra,
    If someone would have told me 5 years ago that I would be so intimately involved with Redeemer Christian Foundation, Inc. and building Christian schools in countries like Pakistan, I probably would have told you, you don’t have both oars in the water. Honestly, I was a little afraid of the Middle Eastern culture and Middle eastern people. My fear was based on ignorance and not knowing. Pakistan is less than 1 % Christian, but my brothers and sisters in Christ in Pakistan are very much like me. And I am like them. Yes, there are cultural differences, but when it comes to matters of the heart and faith, there are more similarities than differences. Those who don’t know Christ in the Middle East are lost, just like those in the US who don’t know Christ are lost as well. Like you said, we will not be directional arrows pointing to Christ through our righteous acts, no, it will be through loving others as we love ourselves. Actually, I can’t wait until I can get on a plane and put my arms around these precious children in Pakistan. That’s what love can do….if we let it!
    Blessings to you in your endeavors to build bridges, not walls,
    Bev xx

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      So amazing, right? If God put a timeline in front of us, showing us who we would one day call friends, and brothers and sisters, we’d think He was crazy, right? He is a master at tearing down walls and getting us to step across the lines of division we draw. And, when we let him, the results are amazing! Thank you for the work you’re doing, Bev. Thank you for taking a risk and pressing into the fear. I’ll be waiting to hear stories from you about that visit to Pakistan!

  • A

    Hi Deidra! Thank you for sharing these workings on your new book, how we all need to be there loving each other as one body. I have belonged to a small, rural church for a couple of years and while friendly, they hold those not from this area at arms length, sometimes for years at a time. Having been in various parts of the country and in contact with cultures from other countries, it is sad to be a part of a beautiful community that does this and I wonder how many have left or remain uninvolved because of it. It’s a quiet form of discrimination that is cultural and I pray that the Lord helps me to understand and love in the midst of the loneliness and sense of division it causes for me and others that I have talked to. As Anna Smit stated, its building bridges in the love of Christ. May the love of Him who loves us draw us close as one body in Himself. May your new book be one of those bridges in His love and grace :) Thank you for doing this work, this call in His grace :)

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Hello, A! Thanks for sharing this. It must feel like such a disappointment to confront this division on a regular basis. Thank goodness Jesus prayed that prayer for us! He knew we’d be suspicious of one another and uncomfortable with people who are different, so he prayed that pre-emptive prayer, all those years ago. We have the hope that prayer will be answered in full, and we get to be part of God’s plan to make it so. My prayers are with you as you gently and peacefully love that community into which you’ve been placed. I pray you will see glimpses of God at work in your midst, healing division and bridging divides. I pray for a desire for oneness in that congregation and community, and I thank God for your faithfulness right in the place he’s designed for you. Peace to you!

  • Grace

    As I sit here thinking about what divides in a church or in a community, so many things come to mind. Racial division, gender division, age division, education division, economic level division…sometimes we’re even divided because of the clothes we choose to wear, or the people we know – or don’t know. I think living out the gospel to build bridges involves a new set of eyes. I’m Caucasian and I have a Chinese daughter. When I look at her, she’s just my daughter. I see her with “mom eyes”. She’s my daughter and I’m her mom. Even though we look very different. And we’re both wildly loved by Jesus, it doesn’t matter what we look like! So maybe if we started looking at everyone with “Jesus eyes”, we’d stop focusing on the differences in skin color, age, education…whatever the difference. Because it really doesn’t matter, we’re ALL wildly lived by Jesus!

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Perspective is a major factor in some of our conversations. So true. Our perspective even impacts the way we view the bible. Thank goodness for the love of Christ, which is able to break every chain and heal even our deepest divides. Let’s pray we have it in us to love so well that the walls fall down.

  • Debbie

    Hi Deidra and thanks for allowing us to share our stories with you and I hope this one helps you with your book.
    I grew up in New Orleans, LA in the 1950’s & 60’s. The racial divide was very broad at the time but I knew nothing of it. I was a little white girl living with alcoholic parents and raised by a wonderful black Lady named Viv. I loved her very much and she loved and cared for me more than my Mother did. I sometimes went home with her to the projects and spent the night, played with her Grandchildren and ran up and down the halls and stairwells without a thought of being different. When my Father, a wealthy businessman, died I was 8 years old and my Mother and I moved closer to downtown New Orleans. She went through his money quickly and I was often left alone to fend for myself. I had many black friends and their families were wonderful. They fed me, watched after me, combed my hair, washed my clothes and treated me with so much love. The first encounter I had with racism was when I was about 10 yrs. old and I was riding a Street Car. It was packed with people and an older black Lady entered with several bags and a purse. She stood there and not a single young man or lady gave up their seat for her. So I jumped up and asked her to sit down. She said no I can’t. I kept offering my seat to her and she said No, honey, I will get in trouble if I sit down up here in the front. (so glad Rosa Parks sat in the front that historic day) I did not understand until I moved to Central Louisiana where hatred and racism was the norm. I was shocked and appalled to see people who called themselves Christians and went to Church every time the doors were open who taught their children to hate ALL black people. I’m telling this story because I am a firm believer that racism and hatred of others is a learned behavior and it will only stop when we come together and teach children and adults that everyone is the same, no one is any better than anyone else…no matter their color, religion, age, gender, status…etc. and we must LOVE ONE ANOTHER as CHRIST told us to.

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Thanks for sharing your story, Debbie. It’s amazing how we are shaped by our surroundings. And, it’s amazing how much children observe and internalize. This love of which you speak is no ordinary love, is it? It is something we can barely grasp. But this love—of God, and our neighbors, even the neighbors who scare us or irritate us—has the power to change the world, right where we stand. I’m praying I can be a better practitioner of this kind of love, in all of my thoughts, actions, and encounters of every ordinary day.

  • MamaJoyful

    I’m entering this conversation with a bit of caution because the way this article related to me personally was from within a body of believers where racism and other societal prejudices are not an issue. All’s good on that end. Even though the church I attend is in a small community in the midwest, there are people from all over the world meeting together each Sunday. The issue that touches my life is the lack of love for each other in the body of believers we meet with. For years the lack of love and respect for others in the church has been a major challenge for me. To be honest, if there was another body of believers in the area who walked in the love of God with each other, my family and I would join them in a heartbeat, no matter what their denominational creed. We are that hungry for the love of God to be working in the church body where we attend church. The only thing we have known to do is make certain that we continue in the love of Christ with everyone and do what we know pleases Him all the while trusting Him to work everything out to His pleasing. We’re all in a process and none of us can fix anyone else, only the Love of God can do any of it. It sounds so passive when I read it, but we haven’t known what else to do. I have spent many tears of anguish and grief over this very issue: the absence of God’s love for one another. Thank you for stepping up and addressing this.

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Oh, thank you for sharing this. So much about the local fellowship is so very challenging. God used race and racism to introduce me to the concept of division in the church, but our divisions are multiple, aren’t they? Our individual pain, our grief, our sadness, our skepticism—we bring all of that with us, wherever we go. It’s hard to know why some of us find it more difficult to show love to others, even in our local places of worship. Know that my prayers are with you and your church family. I pray God’s love breaks through in an astonishing way. I pray his love settles deep into the fabric and the DNA of your fellowship. I pray it’s what you’re known for in the days to come. And, I pray for your steadfast faithfulness as you follow God’s direction. Peace to you.

  • Corena Hall

    There is a definite divide financially

  • Nancy Roe

    Love this! I hope to gather my thoughts and organize some input to contribute to this most critical issue.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Deidra,

    I just knew you would write a book abuot this someday (I’m soooo excited!!), and I’ll be praying for your writing time. I truly think (from what I know having met you, communicated personally, and through your writing), that encouraging reconciliation is your purpose in life. (Of course, only you know that from the Lord, but He surely has you working tirelessly, passionately, and prominently in this area). Because I have shared my views on this subject a number of times on your blog (mostly responses and then my guest post about Myrtle), I thought that rather repeat my thoughts, I would simply ask that you define love. You know me well enough to know I am not being flippant. I think it’s something worth identifying as a part of this discussion. I wouldn’t have thought to ask until I read your comment here: ” It doesn’t say we’ll be known by . . . how many cool cups of water we offer to thirsty people, dusty from their journey through life.” One could be motivated to offer those cool, brimming cups as a way to carve notches in their spiritual belts. On the other hand, love connotes compassionate action, and one very tangible way to express love would be to reach out to others with the kindness of Christ and with physical help in their times of thirsty, dusty need. Actually, I think such an act is a pretty significant way to show love. People can say I love you, they can sit next to each other in church and say I love you and sing “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” but are they getting tangibly involved in others’ lives and meeting their needs–or even asking what they are? Of course, there are many ways to express Christ’s love, but especially in light of this discussion, because you (and others–and I) feel we Christians are not doing such a great job, it might be good to know exactly what we mean.
    Sending you much love and God’s blessings on your journey of healing and reconciliation.
    Love
    Lynn

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Great question, Lynn! As always!

      I hope it didn’t sound as if I was saying there’s no benefit in cool cups of water and the like? Yikes! So, thank you for gently raising this very important point.

      And, I don’t know that I’d say we aren’t doing such a great job of loving, although I’m also not saying that we are. But the love thing is so big and vital and compelling, isn’t it? We can always do better. And, we can always think about the places where love of something else—safety, country, power, etc.—can trump our love of others. All others.

      I’m always grateful for your wisdom and your perspective. Thanks so much for helping me think this through. xoxo

  • Kris

    Hi Deidra. I’m similar to Tami. I’m an American (Montana), but have lived in the UK for the past 20 years. I’ve just returned to Montana amidst discussions of the refugee crisis. It feels to me that there is a divide within the American Church. One side is fearful and seems to want to protect the American way and themselves from anything different. They see threats behind every news story and are focused on doing whatever is necessary to protect themselves from outsiders. There are people I respect and value on this side of the fence, including members of my own family.

    The other side seems to be seeking reconciliation and peace with outsiders, sometimes to the extent of ultra-liberalism and accepting anything goes.

    I personally am struggling in finding a faith community here. I believe a fearful attitude does not reflect Jesus’ teachings, so reject the side that is focused on protection. Instead, I seek reconciliation and peace…understanding and loving those who are different, even if I don’t agree with their faith. But at the same time, I’m having trouble with some of the ultra-liberal facets I’ve seen on this side.

    I love what you are saying, though, about being known for the love we have for one another. I have seen many people try to convince others to change their viewpoint, but it never seems to work no matter how much effort is put into it. I think we need to choose to love one another, despite the differences….to honor and respect our fellow Christians, even when we don’t agree on doctrinal issues. Doing that seems to require that we actually know one another.

    I heard of a quote by Abraham Lincoln once, and it has stuck with me for years. He said something like, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” To me, this means that knowing a person better helps us to accept them more easily, particularly if we don’t agree.

    There have been times when I’ve been very angry at people in church or employment leadership. It was very easy for me to be angry at them personally when I believed the decisions they made were very wrong. Yet at the same time, these were people I knew and respected. So, if I made myself look at my disagreement from a personal perspective…incorporating the personal integrity and principles that I knew each person had…it was impossible for me to be angry at them. I still disagreed with their decisions, but without disliking them personally.

    This has rambled a lot…I’m sorry about that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal, since returning to the US. God Bless.

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Not rambling at all, Kris. Thank you so much for sharing. That quote is priceless! I’m grateful you’ve shared this story, as well as your honest frustrations and hopes. I wonder how we can rise above our arguments about issues and allow more grace for the journey, as you’ve described in the way you incorporated what you know about a person’s character into a situation. Again, thank you.

  • Jacqueline

    Deidre, I’ve never lost a parent or a child or a sibling. Friends of mine, just recently have lost a parent and sibling. I’m having a tough time connecting. Not a tough time having compassion, but what do I say. As a women secretly we laugh when our husbands think they understand ever so slightly what it is to be pregnant, or having a baby. I said all that to say, racism is one of those things that know one understands unless they’ve gone through it. I’ve become disilussioned with how the church has become utterly silent with speaking about racism, reconciliation, repentence and forgiveness. Really all of them will need to be spoken about in order for the church to go on. The only way we are reconcilied back to the father is through death, repentence and forgivenss. If we are to reconcile, the same thing must happen. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but if we don’t have the conversation we will go along as we have, and think it will go away. The scripture says your sin will find you out. I remember going to a children’s ministry conference over 15 years ago. A white gentleman went to a black women and repented for slavery. I was taken aback, shoot it was uncomfortable to me, I’m sure it was uncomfortable to him, but he did it anyway. Repentence is so freeing there’s nothing like it. Keeping silent is the same as showing that other lives in the body really don’t mean anything there lives don’t matter. The good samaritan didn’t think that way, he saw Christ in the less than, not if they had less money, but they were in need. We’ve turned our back on people who don’t look like us, who don’t worship like us, we’ve wallowed in our tradition. It just saddens me.

  • Ann

    So glad to hear that you are opening dialogue on such an important topic. I am from Canada and don’t find the racial divide as much as you describe, but do feel a burden for the age divide that is happening. I feel that our society divides us into groups by age/situation in life (single, married, parents of young children, empty-nesters, retirees etc.). The church is one of the few places left where all of these groups interact and yet we still seem to be divided in the programs/ministries. While there is definitely a place for that, I would love to see initiatives that allow for the complementary roles of the wisdom, experience and energy each of those groups have to offer the others.

    • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

      Thank you so much for this insight, Ann. There is a beautiful richness in our differences, and you’ve pointed out an important facet of the body of Christ. I am always thrilled to be in a church service with everything from children running up and down the aisles, to the elements of communion being served to older members who can no longer make the trip down that same aisle from the pew. It is like an icon to remind us of God’s presence and blessing in every phase of our journey through this life.

    • Beth Williams

      Ann
      I totally agree. I see programs for singles, older, widowed, men, women, etc. and while that is alright. I think we should bring all groups together so we can mentor each other!! We have all gone through situations and may be able to assist others going through similar Things.
      Blessings :)

  • Nancy Roe

    Diedra, I have written a few pages on this topic. How would you like me to get it to you? Thanks so much for starting this conversation!!

  • Beth Williams

    Deidre,
    Prayers for your book and the important writing time you will need! We need reconciliation in this country big big time! No one seems to want to understand each other we want to criticize and belittle those not like us! If we would all get to know each other and walk a mile in their shoes then we may have more compassion for them!
    Blessings :)