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Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church Paperback – May 5, 2016
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The Presbyterian tradition has, like every other family of churches, had its bright moments and its dark ones. In terms of bringing reconciliation between blacks and whites, fighting for racial justice and equity in the church and in the general culture, its track record has been very mixed, and rarely as faithful as it could have been. At times, the Presbyterian Church has hurt more than it has helped. There have been sins of omission and sins of commission. Too often the church has stood by, indifferent or worse. To our shame, elements in the church has been active agents of racial cruelty.
In the past few years there has been a growing understanding among many in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) that injustice in our culture and in our churches lingers, and must be rooted out. There's also been a growing sense among many in PCA that for healing to happen there needs to be a frank, open, clear acknowledgment of past sins, and a willingness to seek forgiveness from its victims and their heirs.
This book is a bold attempt by both black and white pastors (about 30 or so, making up almost 1% of all the active clergy in the PCA) to see this happen in a larger, deeper way. The essays are very diverse. Some are basically anecdotes and stories. Some are more scholarly reflections on theology of culture or exegesis of Scripture. They vary in tone and quality. But all are thoughtful and heartfelt attempts to deepen our understanding of the problem.
I have to say, this is probably the most painful book I've read on the subject of race since God's Long Summer. At times, I had to put it down. At times, it made me weep. It will be truly haunting for any Christian. The section in Rev. Ward's essay on the misinterpretations of Scripture in the public writings of one the denomination's founding fathers (Morton Smith) -- that alone is cause for deep grief.
But I also find great hope in its pages. It is very clear to me that if America's racial problems are going to heal, it will have to happen around the Gospel. The Gospel truly embraced can do things that protests, laws, education, fiction, film, art, and every other religion can not really do. Because in an age ruled by cynicism, trust is always qualified. And in age of moral relativism, the foundation for racial justice can only be based ultimately on power struggles. But the Gospel, the real Gospel, the true message of Scripture is based on unearned grace. Of all the religions and philosophies and worldviews in history, its the only one that says your life is not justified by your keeping some rules, or measuring up, or proving your worthiness. Only the Gospel says that God on the Cross has paid the price we all owe for our faults. None of us deserve the mercy we are given. And when we know that, its destroys the superiority narratives of every race and ethnicity and class and nation and political party. We've been loved and rescued by God through unearned grace and so we have nothing to brag about, nothing to feel superior about toward others. We embrace that and we can truly embrace all others made in God's holy image.
As Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince puts it (p. 238): "In Christ, ethnic, social, and gender distinctions are not obliterated. Rather, what is done away with is the sinful inequality that separates us from one another." In the Gospel we can celebrate our differences, diversity, and distinctions without elevating them over unity in Christ.
30 (mostly) outstanding chapters, each worthy of deep reflection. Essays include: Rev. Dr. Tim LeCroy "A New Lens for Race, Media, and the Gospel," Rev. Sam. Wheatley "Overcoming Made in America Racism," Rev. Dennis Hermerding "Back Friends," Rev. Mark Peach "Privileged to Serve," Rev. Jon Price "Silence Far Too Long," Rev. Walter Henegar "All in the Family," Rev. Kevin Twit, "Forming Friendships Through Music," Rev. Doug Severn "I Am A Racist... Also chapters that especially cut to the heart: Greg Ward, Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince, Rev. Dr. Mike Khandjian, Rev. Scott Sauls, Rev. Joel St. Clair, Rev. Dr. Sean Lucas, Rev. Dr. Bobby Griffith, Rev. Russ Whitfield....
Anyone in the PCA will recognize those names as sort of a who's who of the more thoughtful and dynamic ministers in the denomination. They represent PCA churches black, white, and mixed, very small and very large, established and fresh plants, urban and suburban. But these authors (and most of the others) represent some of the most interesting ministries in the classic Reformed world.
Truly, if I were somehow limited to reading just one book this year, it would select this one. I've already purchased 6 more copies for friends, and plan to re-read it before General Assembly this summer. More importantly, I pray the Lord uses these reflections on his Church to provoke me to new and deeper repentance. And to intentionally seek positive ways to be faithful to the Gospel, as provoked and challenged and encouraged to in this book.