20 Quotes on Lament and Racial Reconciliation – Matt Smethurst

I (Matt Smethurst) recently read Mark Vroegop’s timely new book, Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation (Crossway, 2020). The following 20 quotes caught my attention.

The church at Antioch wasn’t Jewish. It wasn’t Gentile. It was both. That was new. Regardless of ethnicity, these believers united around their common belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unity in the gospel flourished in the church. Culture and ethnicity no longer separated them. Their allegiance to Jesus and love for one another created a countercultural community. The world had no category for them. (20)

I’m sure you’ve heard that “the most segregated hour in America is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.” Tragically, the effects of hundreds of years of slavery and the legacy of segregation created canyons of pain and distrust. Additionally, the political, social, and media landscape fossilized our divisions, creating echo chambers of information and opinions. Instead of building bridges toward one another, it feels as if racial fissures are growing wider and deeper—even within the evangelical church. On the whole, churches in America don’t look like Antioch. If we’re honest, it’s hurt our witness. 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. (21)

John Perkins, civil rights activist and author of One Blood, believes the church is the best place for racial reconciliation. He writes: “There is no institution more equipped and capable of bringing transformation to the cause of reconciliation than the church. But we have some hard work to do.” . . . Lament is where we can begin. (24)

When Christians from majority and minority cultures learn to grieve together, they reaffirm their common bond as brothers and sisters in Christ. Lament enters into the deep emotions of sorrow, hurt, misunderstanding, and injustice. When it comes to racial reconciliation, I think we should approach the conversation as we would if a dear friend experienced a deep loss. Our first step should be to sit beside the grieving individual. Love the person. Listen. And lament with him or her. (33)

Race, in American history, is a social construct. In other words, our society created the term and defined it. Race deconstructed ethnicity (European, African, Asian, etc.) into two categories merely related to the color of one’s skin: white and black (“colored”). White became an all-encompassing category based on the color of one’s skin—not ethnicity. What’s more, the creation of the term was associated with superiority and white supremacy. (35)

The church is a great place for racial reconciliation because we have an identity underneath the most painful categories in our culture. (37)

When it comes to loaded subjects like racism or ethnic tension, too often believers fall into the familiar ditches of denial or despair. Some people think that talking about racial reconciliation only makes things worse. . . . There are others who are weary and feel hopeless. . . . But lament offers a way to vocalize frustration and sorrow that is not only helpful but also biblical. Lament provides a place to go with the pain of racism and prejudice. It’s a prayer path for talking to God and to one another about the brokenness of the world. Lament gives us a way to vocalize the complicated emotions connected to racial reconciliation. (49)

I’m sure every kind of church—both majority- and minority-culture—needs to grow in lament. But I think it’s helpful to know that there is a significant difference in American church history related to lament. The experience of the African American church is marked by this sorrow song in ways that many of us might miss. (59)

For reconciliation to happen, we have to acknowledge that the problem is not that we’ve talked about racial reconciliation too much. We’ve not expressed our love, taken time to listen, embraced the language of lament, or put ourselves in a position to learn from our minority brothers and sisters. If we’re honest, too often white evangelicals are known for retreating from the conversation— sometimes even spiritualizing disengagement. It’s part of the reason for the deep division that still exists in the church. (95)

Lament is how people to talk to God and one another when pain or indifference tempts them to be silent. . . . Lament could be a way to end our silence. (97)

The reasons behind the silence of majority, white Christians are not clear to our minority brothers and sisters. They wonder which issue creates the silence. . . . As I’ve engaged my minority church members, I’ve learned that silence on the part of the church is not just deafening; it’s deeply hurtful. It raises legitimate questions that are painful and loaded. This is the trap the enemy has laid for us. It’s why the discussion about race is so hard. And it’s why change is so slow. (100)

While we cannot repent of others’ sins, we also must not ignore our own. Rather than bear others’ burdens, we blame them for having burdens. We would rather ignore evil that does not harm us than help those who are being harmed. We are selective with the sins we grieve over. We gloss over attitudes, assumptions, and prejudices that grieve you. Far too often we have been unlike Jesus. He entered into others’ pain, yet we flee from it. (123)

It’s one thing for a member of the majority to feel lonely, struggle with relationships, or experience isolation regarding taste in music or some other issue. But it’s another thing to feel “other” when both history and society tend to reinforce that painful isolation. And it’s hurtful when church isn’t a refuge from the sense of racial inferiority. (130)

Lament humbly expresses the pain of exile, lovingly protests injustice—in whatever form it appears—and prophetically calls people to love, listen, lament, learn, and leverage. (143)

Psalm 94 acknowledges that our depravity is more than an individual concern. Injustice can be framed by statute. Sin slithers its way into the halls of power, legislation, and our culture. (153)

Asking boldly moves from “what is wrong?” to “what is true?” . . . Lament drops an emotional anchor in the character of God. (155)

Lament helps with perspective. This is part of the reason why Sunday services in the African American church have been so important and lively—a tradition that remains to this day. Sunday is a refuge from the unfairness of the culture. Perhaps you grew up in a traditional church where services were long, dressing up was the norm, and titles (“Deacon Jones”) were important. Sunday in the African American church meant dignity, worth, and value—a time to reconnect with the truths underneath the hard experiences. (155–56)

The enemy desires the church to remain divided. He’s working to create new misunderstandings and hurts. It takes courage and godliness to pursue reconciliation, especially if you are the one mistreated. And while lament doesn’t fix everything, it can help. (159)

Lament isn’t a destination. It moves you from where you are to where you need to be. Lament is necessary, but it is never enough. Isaac Adams, the host of the United? We Pray podcast, says, “When it comes to racial reconciliation, we must do more than pray; but we cannot do less.” (182)

We don’t need to wait until heaven for unity. (185)

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