Archives For Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission


WELCOME TO MARS HILL – ERLC President Russell Moore joined a panel discussion on Face the Nation.

Russell Moore has the hardest job in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is required to speak on behalf of a people who take great pride in speaking for themselves, even (or especially) with the Almighty. It’s in our theology (priesthood of all believers). It’s in our polity (autonomy of the local congregation). It’s in our DNA (we’re preachers).

So when someone dares to speak for all of us, and says something we might disagree with, we bristle.

Some are bristling over Moore’s anti-Trump stance during the election. And, as the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported a month ago, some churches are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist agency Moore heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore apologized for any ill will he caused, but has that settled the conflict?

Moore is two years into his presidency, succeeding Richard Land who served 25 years in the role. Land was brusque, but his views matched the vast majority of Southern Baptists’ on issues of religious liberty and sanctity of life, and we mostly agreed with him when he spoke for us.

But times have changed. As evidenced by Moore, a new generation is rising to SBC leadership, and they focus on different issues than their predecessors did. Moore has spoken to the church’s handling of refugees and the theology of adoption and gender issues—and politics.

Several questions arise from the murmurings about the ERLC:

Is the ERLC really out of touch with mainstream Southern Baptist opinion? Or are we finding, especially in this election cycle, that the world is more complex and even once-monolithic Southern Baptists have varying opinions on some issues—especially political issues?

Is this a squall that will subside as Moore finds a more modulated approach to his “spokesman-ship”? Or is there really a storm brewing?

Will older leaders assume the statesman role, and let younger leaders lead? Or, is there truly a divide among Southern Baptists among generational, geographical, educational, economic, or political divides that will not be bridged.

Time will tell, we suppose. But in the meantime—

We need the ERLC, and it shouldn’t be muzzled. The ERLC should still represent Southern Baptists in the public discourse on religious liberty, the church, and sanctity of life. True, some ERLC staff posted political opinions on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds during the election cycle. Their views might have been too easily mistaken for Southern Baptists’ as a whole. Only Moore should address the SBC’s core issues in the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

Stop the habitual tweeting. The tweet may be the lingua franca, but the 140-character debate hasn’t served the ERLC well lately. At times in 2016, we wondered if the ERLC really needed to express opinions on so many topics. Those who speak for Southern Baptists should not be reactionary, but instead offer considered opinions and measured words.

Finally, we should acknowledge generational differences and allow the hand-off to proceed. This is no longer the Land era. Younger Baptists may have a different perspective on some things, but, so long as their views are biblical, we must let them speak to their times—and ours.

-Eric Reed

Read more about this story, “Baptists debate politics, religious liberty, missions funding”

State Baptist paper editors met for their annual meeting Feb. 14-16 in Ontario, Calif. and heard controversial issues addressed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and International Mission Board President David Platt. As the meeting was taking place Prestonwood Baptist Church, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced its decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support the Cooperative Program while it discusses concerns about the direction of the Convention.


Steve Gaines

Gaines on Trump, ERLC, IMB
In a question-and-answer session Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, told editors he voted for Trump as president because of his pro-life stance.

Referencing Trump’s campaign slogan, Gaines noted that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.

Discussing the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s executive order on immigration, Gaines said, “At some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.

“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country,” Gaines said.

“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.

Concerning controversy involving Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore’s political comments during the election, Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the ERLC.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” he said.

Regarding the amicus brief involving a New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board in controversy, Gaines said he believes IMB President David Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case.

“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.

Platt’s apology
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said when he met later with Baptist state paper editors.

“I can say with full confidence that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.

Gaines on CP, state conventions, revival
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical imperative for churches to tithe 10% of their receipts to CP, regardless of how good the SBC missions support program is. Churches today have a number of their own ministries for reaching their communities for Christ.

While Bellevue Baptist doesn’t give 10% through CP, Gaines his wife Donna are motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.

Gaines urged, “State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them [young pastors and leaders], cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”

Looking to the future of the nation, Gaines spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. “The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”

Prestonwood escrows CP
Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries was announced Feb. 16.

Mike Buster, executive pastor for the Plano, Texas, church, provided a statement to the Baptist Message explaining that the action had been taken because of “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention” and that it is a temporary move.

The decision impacts $1 million the 41,000-member congregation would otherwise contribute through the Cooperative Program.

But Graham subsequently explained to the Baptist Message that his congregation’s concerns are broader than just one personality.

Instead, he described an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”

“I’m not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people,” Graham said, “and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.

“This is a difficult decision for me, personally,” he added. “I love Southern Baptists, and still want to be a cooperating partner as we have been for many years.

“We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.”

Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”

– Reporting by Baptist Press, Georgia Christian Index, and Louisiana Baptist Message

The BriefingA 26-year-old man who killed nine and injured perhaps nine others at an Oregon community college reportedly targeted Christians in the attack, said a Southern Baptist pastor whose granddaughter was shot and survived.

“The shooter asked a question, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And if they said yes, he said, ‘Good, because you’re going to see God in a second,’ and he shot them. My granddaughter hid and got a bullet through the leg,” Howard A. Johnson, founding pastor of Bethany Bible Fellowship (SBC) in Roseburg, told Baptist Press. “That’s pretty traumatic.” Read the entire story at

ERLC goes to the dogs, cats, hamsters, birds…

The Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC and the Clapham Group, released the Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals Sept. 30. “Our treatment of animals is a spiritual issue,” said ERLC President Russell Moore. “The Bible is clear that our being created in the image of God does not lessen our responsibility to steward the physical world well, but heightens it. This statement is a reminder that the gospel transforms our use and care of animals as we see all of God’s glory reflected in his good creation.” Read the statement at

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief heading to South Carolina

The North American Mission Board mobilized two semi-trucks with supplies for South Carolina flood victims Oct. 5. NAMB will also deploy two recovery trailers as soon as roads in the areas are open. Like so many other facilities, the South Carolina Baptist Convention office building is nearly cut off at this time with flooded roads. Pray for the people of South Carolina and the disaster relief volunteers who will be sent to minister to them.

CP surpasses budget projection for fiscal year

The Southern Baptist Convention ended its fiscal year $1.1 million over its 2014–2015 budgeted goal and $2.5 million over the previous year’s Cooperative Program allocation budget gifts, according to Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.

Barna: Concerns over religious freedom have increased since 2012

A new study from the Barna Group reveals a significant rise in Americans’ belief that religious freedom is worse today than 10 years ago (up from 33% in 2012 to 41% today). The increase is the most marked by marked among Gen-Xers (29% to 42%) and Boomers (38% to 46%). While 34% of Millennials say religious freedom is worse today than it was 10 years ago, up from 25% in 2012.

Sources: Baptist Press, Barna Group, ERLC,

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

In the wake of Saturday’s massive earthquake near Kathmandu, Nepal, Christian workers asked for prayer for the devastated country:

• Pray for basic shelter, water and food. These necessities are a high priority right now since no one is allowed back in their homes.

• Pray for God’s people to deeply know His comfort and peace during this time. Pray they will share Him with people around them.

• Pray for people in Nepal and surrounding areas during the continuing aftershocks and aftermath of this disaster. Southern Baptist assessment teams will began the damage Monday to find the best ways to respond.

Potential presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson will not address the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference this summer as scheduled, Baptist Press reports. Several Baptists, including the Baptist 21 group of younger SBC leaders and pastors, had expressed concern about Carson’s membership in a Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that his appearance at the conference could look like a political endorsement.

Three years after the death of Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, Russell Moore reflects on media coverage surrounding the Watergate conspirator’s life and eventual conversion to Christianity. For those who were cynical about Colson’s transformation, writes the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “…we shouldn’t be angered by those who don’t get the full measure of the man. We should instead hear in some of this cynicism the cry of every human heart, a disbelief that there can be any such thing as final and total forgiveness of sin.”

Zondervan announced last week Charles Colson’s last book, “My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues that Matter Most,” will be released Aug. 4. Topics in the collection of writings will include “the rise of Islam, same-sex marriage, the persecution of Christians, crime and punishment, and natural law,” The Christian Post reports.

Atlanta-area pastor Andy Stanley says local churches should be the “safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.”

“We just need to decide, regardless of what you think about this topic–no more students are going to feel like they have to leave the local church because they’re same-sex attracted or because they’re gay,” said Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, at the Catalyst West conference April 17. Read the full story at

A controversial Houston ordinance is now in effect, following a judge’s ruling on a petition drive led in part by some pastors in the city. HERO, or Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, made headlines last year when the city subpoenaed the sermons and other communications of five pastors who were against the ordinance. (The subpoenas were later withdrawn.)

Religious leaders are encouraging President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to monitor religious freedom in the Middle East and parts of Asia. The special envoy position has been vacant since it was created last year in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, Baptist Press reports.

Are you one of the many football fans bent out of shape since Tim Tebow’s exit from the NFL? Good news: A Philadelphia pretzel company has created a way to celebrate his return. The “Tebowing” pretzel, shaped like the quarterback kneeling in his famous praying pose, started as a publicity stunt but soon went viral. The New York Daily News reports the Philly Pretzel Factory plans to donate proceeds from the pretzels to a charity involving Tebow, who has signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.


Editor’s note: This is part 2 of the Illinois Baptist’s coverage of a recent summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. Read part 1 here.

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Read the April 6 edition of the Illinois Baptist at

NEWS | If Southern Baptists are to be serious about Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all peoples, said historian Matt Hall, they need to honestly think through where they’ve come from. Hall, Southern Seminary’s vice president for academic services, spoke in a video message about the SBC’s history with slavery, racism, and segregation during a March summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. (The Convention was formed over a divide between Baptists in the North and those in the South who wanted to continue owning slaves.)

Hall also led one of the summit’s panel discussions, joined onstage by Moore, Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, and past SBC President Fred Luter.

Understanding the SBC’s past ought to inform how we address racial issues now, Moore said. The divide over slavery “really was a justification for evil and for wickedness,” he said.

“Which, to me, ought to cause us not so much to look back and say, ‘Weren’t they evil and weren’t they wrong?’ as much as it ought to cause us to look back and to say, ‘Look at these people who knew their Bibles, and who were preaching their Bibles, and who were trying to gather up money for world missions, and yet were not able to see this glaring and wicked sin and unrighteousness and injustice that they were part of.’

“That ought to not give us a sense of our superiority to them; it ought to give us a sense of humility to say, ‘If these people who knew their Bibles like this, could get this that wrong on an issue that is so basic to what Scripture is teaching, then we need the mercy and the power of God.’”

IBSA African American Church Planting Strategist Ed Jones has faced the obstacle of the SBC’s history, he said. Some African Americans have told him, “I don’t necessarily want to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention because of its past,” he told the Illinois Baptist during the summit. The Nashville meeting was an opportunity to tackle those issues head-on and bring things into the open.

Luter said the Convention’s history resulted in one question asked by every person who interviewed him in the months before his election: Why would a black man want to be president of the SBC? Frankly, he didn’t know much about the Convention’s history when he went from street preacher to pastoring New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church almost 30 years ago. A couple of years into his pastorate, several of his older church members suggested Franklin Avenue leave the SBC.

“…There’s nothing we can do about our past,” was Luter’s response. “But there’s a whole lot we can do about our future.”

Luter was on the SBC Resolutions Committee that in 1995 proposed a resolution adopted by Convention messengers apologizing “to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime,” and repenting “of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The applause and tears that accompanied his election as SBC president made June 19, 2012, “one of the greatest hours in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Luter said as people in the Nashville auditorium clapped too. “My only concern is that hopefully it’s not the last time.”

“That’s where the real test is,” said Moore. “We’ve got the pictures of the presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention over there. Let’s come back in 20 years and if Fred Luter is an island in a sea of middle-aged white guys, that’s means that we have not been where we need to be.”

Can we keep the ‘beast feast’?
H.B. Charles was in the middle of a potential church merger when he was asked that question about a long-held tradition. Charles’ largely African-American church, Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist in Jacksonville, Fla., was considering combining with largely Anglo church across town. One member of that congregation was most concerned with whether Charles as pastor would let them keep their annual wild game dinner and evangelistic outreach, known as the “beast feast.”

“He looked at me and said, ‘Pastor, I know you’ll agree with me, that if one redneck comes to Jesus, it’s worth it all.’ And in that moment,” Charles said, “I just had a feeling everything was going to be all right.”

The summit’s lightest and most practical moments came when practitioners like Charles explained what racial reconciliation looks like in a church setting. Josh Smith, pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Tex., experienced a similar would-be culture clash when a woman at his increasingly diverse church brought a tambourine to play during worship, and during his sermon.

Smith and his team decided the next day they would allow the tambourine playing during the worship, but not during the message. He explained their thoughts to the woman, who’s still at the church six years later. “It was a lot of those hard conversations,” Smith said of the church’s transition to be more diverse, “and I just felt like it was not as much from the pulpit as interpersonal conversations.”

Sometimes, unity is a matter to preach about, as Adron Robinson found when he became pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. Robinson, who attended the ERLC summit, said his first sermon series was on forgiveness, because the church had recently experienced a difficult time in its history when he arrived almost six years ago.

Hillcrest’s community is largely African American, Robinson said, and his church currently reflects their neighborhood. But during the summit, he said he was wrestling with one of the conversations happening onstage: Is it best for churches to reflect their communities, even if those communities are predominantly one ethnicity?

“I’m good with the fact that our church reflects our community, but I’m also wondering, Is that enough? Does a church need to look more like heaven?

“There’s some ease…some accomplishment in the fact that we look like our community, but I also think that there’s more for us to do, that the church needs to be more multi-cultural, more multi-ethnic,” Robinson said. He also sees a need for more unity between churches.

“We’re cordial and we speak, but there’s not really true fellowship,” Robinson said of some African-American and Anglo Southern Baptist congregations. “So, that’s been an issue, and I think it’s an issue on both sides. [I don’t think] that I’ve done everything that I can do to encourage that either.

“This conference has helped me see the need for communication, for us to sit down, share a meal, and actually build a better relationship, so that we can be the family that God has called us to be.”

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

PrintOne of the major stories out of last year’s Leadership Summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was the negative reaction on social media. In fact, the “Reporter’s Notebook” column space in the following issues of the Illinois Baptist was devoted to “angry birds” who spoke out on Twitter about the speaker line-up, the subject matter, and the opinions expressed.

It seemed like almost everything that was said (or tweeted or blogged) at last year’s meeting made somebody mad.

This year, not so much. Yes, there was some chatter, according to tweets after the event, about Baptists having an agenda for tackling this year’s topic, racial reconciliation. At least one poster noted the Southern Baptist Convention should be honest about its past in regards to slavery and racial division. (One whole panel discussion and pieces of other messages were devoted to the topic.)

But most of the Twitter feedback was positive. Maybe it was because much of it came from inside the summit. Racial reconciliation may not have drawn the same large online audience as last year’s topic: sexuality. Or, there’s this possibility: At its core, the summit was a meeting about a problem that every Christian can identify with, and one for which even those outside the church see the need for a solution.

Divisions exist around racial identity, and in recent days, they have been especially ugly, violent, frightening and real.

Leaders at the summit seemed to view racism as a common enemy. And, for Christians, as sin. There are some things you don’t do anymore once you have a relationship with Christ, said recent Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter.

“Don’t tell me you’re saved and still lying like a rug. Don’t tell me you’re saved and still cussing like a sailor. Don’t tell me you’re saved and still mean as a pit bull. Don’t tell me you’re saved and still don’t like someone because of the color of their skin.”

From the podium in Nashville, summit speakers talked about racial division as a universal problem, and a universal responsibility. Thabiti Anyabwile compared having skewed ideas about racial identity to walking into a cafeteria and seeing one table of diners that look like you, and one that doesn’t. You immediately think the table that looks like you has something in common with you, and is therefore safe for you.

“The mind is a relentless stereotyper,” Anyabwile said. No matter who you are. At the ERLC Summit, speakers and attenders were unified by that knowledge, and in the belief that the gospel is the only thing that has the power to reconcile people to God and to one another.

And the angry birds, for the most part, stayed away.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of the Illinois Baptist’s coverage of a recent summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. Read part 2 next week here at

NEWS | Meredith Flynn

Weeks of riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown. More protests in major cities after the death of another African American, Eric Garner, during an arrest. And with the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, the culmination of a summer of racial unrest in America. And it was only the beginning.

Chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” in the streets gave way to “Black lives matter,” and in personal conversations, the question has become “Why now?” and “I thought we had made so much progress on race relations in the U.S.”

A sad and challenging summer, followed by a new round of unrest in Ferguson after a condemning report from the U.S. Department of Justice, leaves many thinking, “Apparently not.”

And the church wonders, What can we do? And in some corners Christians have asked, What does the gospel require us to do?

“How do we as people formed by Christ start to have those conversations out in the world?” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore at a March summit in Nashville. “It starts if we’re in the same body, gathered around the same table, praying with one another, praying for another, serving one another, being led by one another, and then we will stand up for and speak up for one another.”

The state of race relations in America, from Ferguson to New York, and coast to coast, is demanding fresh thinking and producing new preaching on race in all kinds of churches—including here in Illinois.

More than 500 current and future church leaders gathered at LifeWay Christian Resources last month to address racial reconciliation and the gospel. The second-annual Leadership Summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission brought together nearly 40 speakers who presented on a wide range of topics: multi-ethnic ministry, Islam, the SBC’s history on racial issues, pop culture, and more.

In each message and panel, the summit’s key theme was clear: Racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. The gospel reconciles people to God and to one another, but sin is still at work in the world, causing tension, division, strife and violence.

The solution, leaders said at the summit, is for the church to preach and live out the gospel on matters of race. To examine itself for any lingering race-related sin of pride, and to work together to fight the common enemy of racism.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Moore said in his opening address. “Our sin keeps wanting us to divide up. But to the faithful, Jesus promises, ‘You will be called overcomers.’ And we shall overcome.”

Summit attenders gathered in the aisles and at the altar to pray together at the start of a March meeting on racial reconciliation and the gospel.

Summit attenders gathered in the aisles and at the altar to pray
together at the start of a March meeting on racial reconciliation and the gospel.

Learning how to see each other
“All creatures of our God and King; lift up your voice and with us sing…”

The first hymn led by band Norton Hall and worship leader Jimmy McNeal took on extra significance as the words reverberated around the auditorium. All creatures, lifting up their voices, together. African American, Anglo, Hispanic; male and female; young and old. At the summit, mostly young.

The picture painted in “All Creatures of Our God and King” isn’t possible when people are left to their own devices, summit speakers said. The gospel is central to racial reconciliation. In perhaps one of the few times the Good News has been compared to mayonnaise, Dallas pastor Tony Evans said it acts as an “emulsifier,” like the eggs that helps combine the ingredients in his favorite sandwich condiment.

“Grabbing a black Christian and a white Christian, a red Christian and a yellow Christian, a Baptist and a Methodist, Pentecostal,” Evans preached as the crowd clapped and agreed with Amen’s. “He’s able to pull them together when you understand that the gospel can change an environment, and can do anything.”

Thabiti_Anyabwile_blogThe mission of reconciliation can be seen in the Bible from the very beginning, said Washington, D.C., pastor Thabiti Anyabwile (right). Preaching from the book of Genesis, he urged his listeners to consider how they look at people different from themselves, in light of the fact that everyone is made in the image of God.

“Every person we have ever looked at, smiled at, greeted, encouraged, insulted, slandered, touched, is a person bearing the marks of divine likeness, the ‘imago dei.’ So, racial reconciliation must begin with our learning the habit of seeing each other as together made in the image of God, and therefore possessing inestimable, unfathomable dignity and worth and preciousness.”

But seeing other people is such a commonplace occurrence, Anyabwile continued, and then there’s the problem of sin. That’s why true reconciliation requires a constant renewing of the mind. How a Christian treats people of different ethnicities is such a key part of living out one’s faith that it ought to be a category of discipleship, the pastor said.

“That [racism has] moved so rapidly to be a despised thing is wonderful,” he said. “But along the way, I think many Christians have been so afraid of the label, so afraid of the discussion, and so afraid of the implications, that they don’t even want to have the conversation.”

Working out the reconciliation that Christ has achieved for us is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Christian discipleship in the U.S., he said. A believer can live his whole life without someone sitting down with them to explore their identity in Christ.

And so, Anyabwile said, “We’re weak when the Fergusons erupt around us, we’re weak when we watch Eric Garner choke to death on a city sidewalk. We feel incompetent when we see a Tamir Rice shot in Cleveland.

“We don’t know quite what to say or what to do, when the (Department of Justice) reports come out, whether it’s telling us that ‘hands up don’t shoot’ isn’t true, or whether it’s telling us that, man, this police department is shot through with racist practice….It immobilizes us, because we’re not discipled, because we don’t have this as a category in what it means to mature as a Christian, as a follower of Christ.”