As our church moves forward in the wake of the Conversations Series, we are reminded of the words of Jesus in the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This series has challenged us as a church and leadership team in how we can practically love our neighbors as we love those in our local body. This letter closes out the elder review of the Conversations Series committed to in Pastor Bob’s letter to the congregation dated July 11, 2020 and titled, “Perspective on the Conversations Series.”
It was mentioned in our last Conversations letter on September 1 that terms and concepts that surfaced during the Conversations Series, such as “White Privilege,” “Whiteness,” “White Fragility,” and “Silence is Violence,” were undergoing diligent study by the elders from a biblical framework. After reviewing the terms, the elders have some general observations to share about these racism-related terms and concepts, a few additional thoughts on the biblical concepts of justice and reconciliation, and an initial strategy to move forward as a congregation in unity.
General Observations on Terms and Concepts Related to Racism
First, as is often the case with terms and concepts that originate from the culture rather than Scripture, the racism terms have their strengths and weaknesses. The terms are a part of the current national discourse, so it seems best to understand the terms well and be open to respectful, positive discussion on the issues they raise. The goal of our conversations on racism (or any other sensitive issue of our day) should always be to build trusting relationships, point people toward Christ, and pursue biblically grounded solutions to personal and societal problems caused by sin.
Second, the terms have become inflammatory to a significant number of people in our society and can tend to shut down dialog (intentionally or unintentionally) between those who think differently on racial justice issues. For this reason, the elders feel it is best to focus on biblically grounded terminology whenever possible and be appropriately cautious when discussing or using cultural terms on sensitive issues like racial justice.
Third, it is important to always be charitable with everyone when racial justice issues are discussed, especially when exchanging ideas on the subject with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The primary truths of gospel that unite Christians (including both its root/salvation and fruit/sanctification aspects) have far more eternal consequence than even the most important issues being debated in our society.
Finally, the elder board has decided it would be unfruitful at this time to attempt to comprehensively define shifting, inflammatory and culturally-based terms. Instead, the board has decided to 1) focus on biblical terminology as outlined in the next sections of this letter, and 2) host a forum based on unifying resources on the topic of racial reconciliation. More details to come.
As part of the process of laying a biblical foundation for pursuing racial reconciliation, it is helpful to briefly review what the Bible says on the topics of justice and reconciliation. In the Bible, we find that God clearly cares about justice and mercy for the oppressed and marginalized. For example, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the Lord called upon the leaders of Judah to “…administer justice and righteousness. Rescue the victim of robbery from his oppressor. Don’t exploit or brutalize the resident alien, the fatherless, or the widow…” (Jeremiah 22:3a). Our responsibility as followers of Christ is to administer/manage/direct justice and actively participate in the rescue of those being exploited. In our culture, applied to the subject of racism, this means we need to understand the racism issues well enough to correctly identify where individual or systemic racism still exists, and apply the strengths of the Church in addressing them in love.
In the New Testament, John tells us that Jesus traveled through Samaria, an area normally avoided by the Jews because the Samaritans (who were half-Jew and half-Gentile) were considered corrupted by the pagan practices of surrounding nations. Not only did Jesus travel to Samaria, but in His interaction with the woman at the well, He extended mercy and upheld her dignity. In response, she told her own people about Christ and “many Samaritans from that town believed” (John 4:1-42).
James reminds us that the “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27a). James also strongly condemns rich people who exploit the poor, show favoritism, discriminate, or simply live unaware of the plight of others (James 2:1-13, 5:1-6). In the same way that James called the early believers to care about orphans, widows, the poor and the oppressed, as believers today, we should also look out for the needs of those in our society who are in distress. When our culture cries out for justice and mercy for the oppressed or marginalized, we should be in full agreement (as long as it aligns with biblical truth). This is the reason our church places a high value on being the hands and feet of Christ in our region. The work done by the congregants of Oak Pointe Church to faithfully and sacrificially support the Cody Rouge community and various other Detroit communities through Life Remodeled, 707 Detroit Mission Trips, Central Detroit Christian, CRU Inner-city, and Angel Tree are tangible examples of how our church is living out the heart of Christ in our society.
There is much to unpack in the passages briefly summarized above (and many other like them in Scripture) which can’t be done in the limited space of this letter. It is important for now to simply acknowledge that the Word of God has much to say about justice & mercy and we should diligently study these passages and others like them, to understand and appropriately apply them to our present circumstances.
Racial Reconciliation from a Biblical Framework
When we look at our society, it is evident that while progress has been clearly made, there is still a long way to go in reaching the goal of racial reconciliation. To address the racial issues that remain, the Bible calls us to a different framework than the culture. The Christian framework is that 1) we are all created in His image with equal value and dignity, 2) sin causes everyone to be separated from God and one another, 3) reconciliation to God and others can only be accomplished by Christ’s atoning death on the cross, 4) all who have been reconciled to God are then adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5) and by implication, those who have been reconciled to God are brothers and sisters in Christ, and 5) our personal salvation always works outward in our societal relationships as we live up to our calling to be the salt and light of the world (Matt 5:13-16).
While this framework does not instantly erase racial tension in our nation and world, it does mean that believers of all ethnicities and races should no longer view one another as opponents but rather as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible gives us guidelines on how to treat one another, such as “love one another (John 13:34), “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4), and “love is patient, love is kind … love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4a, 6). This love for one another also extends beyond believers in Christ to the world in which we live.
Christ’s model of humility, love, and forgiveness enables us to commit to the well-being of others above ourselves. Only then, can we build trust and have honest dialog with one another that leads to reconciliation. To a world hungry for answers, the “good works” of racial reconciliation will serve as a model and bring about God’s glory (1 Peter 2:12).
Final Thoughts on Pursuing Unity at Oak Pointe Church
As many of you know, we have received much feedback regarding the Conversations Series. Some of the feedback has been positive and fully supportive; some has been positive while raising constructive concerns; and some feedback raised concerns while revealing a more serious rupture in the relationship between the church and its members. As part of the process of repairing the rupture, we believe it is important for you to know that the elder board was supportive of the Conversations Series in general, has worked out the issues and concerns raised about the series, and fully support Pastor Bob and his leadership of Oak Pointe Church going forward. In addition, the elders sense the time is right to hold a forum to allow an opportunity for the congregation to ask clarifying questions to Oak Pointe Church leaders regarding their views on race and biblical justice issues. As we move forward in unity as a leadership team, our prayer and confident hope is that continuing dialog will restore complete unity in the entire body.
We are thankful and supportive of Pastor Bob’s passion in addressing injustice where it is found and we share his strong conviction that the church should be at the forefront of the discussion by offering hope and help through the gospel of Jesus Christ to those in distress. As we move forward at Oak Pointe Church, we are expectant and confident that God has great things prepared for our church. We are eager to see how we can partner with God in the work that He is doing and be a voice for unity in the region. We ask that you continue to pray for Oak Pointe, our family of churches, and our leadership.
The Elders of Oak Pointe Church