The Disregarded Door to Racial Reconciliation – Irwyn Ince

Humanity has a deeply rooted desire for peace. Vocalists sing about it. Poets express their longing for it. Nations fight wars to secure it. Yet establishing peace between individuals, communities, and nations often seems like an elusive dream. It’s so difficult to achieve, in fact, that we can be fooled into believing we have peace so long as we don’t experience strife.

But when Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9), he’s not calling his disciples to be content with merely strife-free relationships. The peace given to us in Scripture is the presence of well-being, wholeness, and harmony—things as they ought to be. This is what we long for. True shalom.

Nowhere, it seems, is our inability to secure shalom more pronounced than in America’s ongoing racial divisions and hostilities. What is the way forward for peace in race relations? Mark Vroegop charts a path in Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial ReconciliationGod gives his Spirit to those who turn to him through faith in Jesus Christ, empowering us to demonstrate supernatural familial unity across lines of deep division.

Yet Vroegop—a fellow TGC Council member and lead pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis—rightly points out that “our culture is not marveling at our brotherhood across ethnic fault lines. No one feels the need to create a new name for Christians because of our otherworldly unity.” The journey of lament Vroegop paves prevents Christians from rushing to declare “peace, peace” where there is no peace. Weep with Me is an invitation into passages of Scripture that guide our journey in learning how to pray prayers of lament over racism and racial injustice, and how to examine our own hearts even as we trust God for the renewal of all things in Christ. 

Leading with Love

Lament doesn’t solve all the problems in our pursuit of racial reconciliation, Vroegop admits. It’s only a starting point. Where he really begins, however, is with love.

Nowhere, it seems, is our inability to secure shalom more pronounced than in America’s ongoing racial divisions and hostilities.

Christians are called to pursue peace rooted in Christ’s love. This love for neighbor isn’t based on mutual attraction. In fact, what makes it supernatural is that it’s a love that overcomes divisions and reconciles contraries. “The church should be involved in racial reconciliation because of what we believe,” Vroegop writes. “We love the same Savior. . . . Racial reconciliation flows from this Christ-centered identity. Christians start with love because of the gospel.”

What Vroegop lays before us, in the call to pursue reconciliation from our common identity in Christ, is the need to embrace the unavoidable pain and messiness of lament. Just as God’s love moves him to hear and respond to the cries of his people, love should move Christians to listen to the groanings of their brothers and sisters. 

Lament and Majority Christians

I’m encouraged to read how Vroegop points us to listening not just through the psalms of lament, but through African American spirituals. As James Weldon Johnson proclaims about the unknown black composers of the spirituals, “They sang far better than they knew.” Thus, they’re a fitting way into the empathy necessary for true lament. Because “the experience of the African American church is marked by this sorrow song” in ways majority culture Christians might miss, these songs are “vital parts of the racial-reconciliation process.” 

Just as God’s love moves him to hear and respond to the cries of his people, love should move Christians to listen to the groanings of their brothers and sisters.

These spirituals, Vroegop explains, provide majority Christians with a broader view of history and a way into respectful listening, helping us honor the depth of pain and sorrow experienced by minority Christians. Vroegop laces the book with rich and robust stories from congregants in the church he pastors, showing the practical ways they’re trying to walk together toward racial unity.  

Lament and Minority Christians

More challenging to me as an African American is Vroegop’s counsel for minority Christians.

I’m grateful for the humility with which he approaches this section. While the counsel he offers is informed by African American members of his congregation, he admits nervousness about broaching the subject. I expect many African American Christians with experience in majority white ecclesial contexts will experience a bit of distress in this section. When Vreogop writes of a hopefulness that minority Christians would continue to lean into reconciliation—modeling a biblical response for majority Christians—it puts minority fatigue in bold relief.

Very often, minority Christians embrace the mindset of modeling forgiveness and perseverance in majority white Christian spaces. The challenge for minority Christians is the ongoing vulnerability required to endure in taking “the risk to lament about their sense of exile.” This is a hard ask—one that’s impossible apart from the Spirit’s work. “Believers never exhaust the supply of God’s ability to help them” is the bold and encouraging pastoral word Vroegop gives to his minority readers.

Shalom and Racial Divides

In her reconciliation poem, “Wreck What You Know,” spoken word poet Mazaré writes, “The work is more hug than curtsy, more embrace than hat tip.”

Weep with Me ushers us beyond courteous curtsies and tips of the hat into the deep well of grace, available to us as we pursue true shalom across our racial divides.