It was four years ago and I was with my family getting a few laps in at the Rec Center Natatorium. The election was polarizing the country and the latent racial embers of our country’s great sin was being stoked back to life.
In the bleachers were two little boys talking. They seemed to be about ten, one black, one white. They talked easily, and in the several minutes that I stopped to watch, there were no awkward pauses. No hint of unfamiliarity. Their faces were relaxed and comfortable, as if they had been friends for more years than their age. As I watched I was struck with the thought that these two embodied our country’s future, and that the recent rise in tensions was racisms last stand; that this rise was it’s last desperate and futile attempt to regain it’s lost supremacy.
Four years later, America is responding to one of the most disturbing pictures of racism we’ve seen in decades, and my hopes were fading. While the nation erupted, the church fell silent, or so it seemed. Then I began to hear, out of disturbing corners of the faith, the unfathomable denial of systemic and institutional racism in America. These are so undeniable to the black community, I would have thought that only ardent racists, in bad faith, denied it’s existence. And yet it was coming from within the church.
Equally disturbing, I also heard an unwillingness to say George Floyd, Central Park Karen, and Ahmaud Arbery were about and has always been about race. My hope was fading. I had real concerns about whether the black community would be able to forgive the damage and hurt inflicted by the denial.
The church of Jesus Christ was birthed in the unity of the Spirit, as the Spirit made the two hostile ethnic groups, Jews and Gentiles, into one new man. I believe deeply that the greatest witness for Christ in this country is our ethnically diverse and unified church. I still believe this should be an area that the church should be leading the nation. But we have been one of the last institutions to change.
In my community, our children go to diverse schools, we shop together in the same stores, we share the same rec center, YMCA, library, and coffee shops. We sit together and cheer for the same sports teams, but on Sundays we commute to our ethnically segregated huddles for worship. Since God seeks to be glorified by every nation, people, tribe and tongue, surely we should have been first and have begun to worship together. Yet we remain unintentional about diversity in worship, and so my hope fades.
As the images of the protests began to flood the news and social media, my hope began to return. Maybe the church is leading the way. On the streets all across the country are throngs of young, passionate, ethically diverse young people. Blacks and whites, side by side, walking together in agreement. White youth are standing with their black brothers and sisters with signs affirming that black lives matter, at a time when we need to hear it most.
Maybe the love of Christ compels them to be agents of reconciliation; agents of change. Maybe the mustard seeds of faith are growing in the streets and not within the walls of the institution. Wouldn’t it be just like our God who inaugurated the greatest change in a manger? Maybe the Lord is not interested in a local congregation’s outreach ministry photo-op, or a celebrity pastor grabbing the headlines. Maybe the remnant is in the streets, lead by the Spirit, braving the danger to demonstrate their love of righteousness and justice; loving their neighbor.
I’m not counted among the young any longer. Before this epiphany I wouldn’t have trust the youth with our future. But while we old heads were having old debates that should have been put to bed long ago, the next generation was living it out on the streets of America. My hope surged and my chest swelled. I am so proud of them.
They must nurture their gains. They must guard against the ancient forces that keep systemic racism alive. Guard against the “leaders” who did not participate but who believe they know how to fix what they have never been able to fix. And just as the two boys in the rec center bleachers were leading the way four years ago, so we are being lead today, by the young. They are my reason for hope.