Your Will Be Done

 A Reflection on Ethnic Division and Reconciliation Within the Church

Witnessing Racism

I’ve witnessed racism. I’m sure of it. I’ve had in-laws drop racist jokes in my lap and been faced with the awkward scenario of whether or not to laugh. Yet if I’m honest I have to admit that I probably don’t recognize the racism I witness on a regular basis. My pastor calls this “passive racism.” I’m sure I witness it. I’m sure I’m guilty of it. And I hate it.

Racism is division. Whenever there is a racist thought or action (whether explicit or implicit) there is an implied “us” and “them.” This assumes a distance between the two. Division. When I read God’s word, it is full of division. But this was not part of God’s plan in the Genesis story. And this is not a part of God’s plan in the redemption story. We live between two bookends of perfection, and unfortunately division is part of the church. Sunday mornings truly are still one of the most segregated hours of our week. I witness it. I’m guilty of it. And I hate it.

My Story

I was raised in the university town of Davis, California. The university drove the culture of the town, and it was therefore very ethnically diverse as it drew professors and students from around the world. I experienced a wide range of diversity in the classroom all the way through school. Many years Caucasians made up less than half of my classes. Living in the midst of ethnic diversity was normative for me.

One of my first best friends in elementary school was Reza. He is from Iran. My best friend in middle school was Albert. He is from Korea. My best friend in high school was James. He is Chinese, and now lives in Taiwan. Thanks to facebook, I am still connected with Albert and James.

I began my college education in Humboldt County at College of the Redwoods. I played basketball from junior high school through community college. Many of my best friends were African American. I still have a deep connection to hip hop culture that was planted in me during these years. I finished up my undergraduate education in San Diego at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. My first roommate was Armando, a huge Mexican guy with a mean, imposing presence and a heart of gold. I learned much of Hispanic culture from him, and from the overall culture of Southern California.

After college, I got married and moved to the Bay Area. More specifically we moved to the west valley of the South Bay, which has a huge Asian population. I coached high school basketball for two years at a high school where over 50% of the students were Chinese. I was a youth pastor at the time, and our church hired a Chinese pastor with the intention of integrating our cultures. We viewed it as two congregations within the same church. There were English services, Chinese services, and joint. It was not perfect, but it was a good experience and I witnessed an authentic attempt to bridge an ethnic divide.

Meanwhile, back home in Davis, my parents’ church had closed its doors after a long run. My parents and a couple other Caucasian families chose to plug into the Chinese church in town. My dad had developed a good relationship with the pastor there, and they were struggling because they had a huge heart for evangelism and had only Chinese people coming. This caused problems. For example, their Chinese college students had a very difficult time inviting friends of other ethnicities to events or services. My dad eventually became an elder there, and helped lead various ministries. It was a beautiful picture to me. Rather than choosing affinity, my parents chose openness to how God wanted to use them.

All of that brings me to my move to Portland. This move was the biggest culture shock of my life. I remember reeling for several months, along with my wife, about how “white” Portland seemed. Was this the case? Or was it just more segregated than anywhere we had ever lived? Either way, we were uncomfortable. My wife had just finished directing a preschool in the Bay Area with at least a dozen ethnicities represented. She accepted a job in Portland and the entire class was Caucasian. I remember many talks with her as she grieved the loss of different ethnicities, and the education that multiple cultures brought to the classroom. I have to reflect long and hard and ask if I’ve been blinded to the ethnic division in Portland over the past 8 years. I’m not shocked by it anymore. I don’t find myself even noticing it much. I don’t find myself being proactive about this issue in my culture, or in my church. This has begun to mess with me.

Moving Forward

God’s desire for the church is that there would be no division. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he prayed “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus is praying for the Kingdom of God to break in. Why would he pray this unless it was possible? Why would he pray this unless it was the expectation? Part of God’s revelation to John is that every nation, tribe, and language would praise God together (Revelation 7:9). This is the final bookend. This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus prays will be ushered in on earth. Why would we not pursue this?

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, I confess that I have not pursued your Kingdom in its fullness in many arenas of life. Specifically, I confess that the issue of division within the church has gone largely unnoticed by me for too long. Please forgive me. I choose to repent, and make this a priority in my life. I surrender to you my time and my influence. Take all of who I am, and use them for your glory.

Heavenly Father, I don’t have the answers for such a systemic, overwhelming problem. But I believe you do. And I believe that you choose to use your people as a part of your mysterious Kingdom in-breaking. Thank you for bringing people to Imago Dei Community who care about this issue. Help me to learn from them. Thank you for burning upon their hearts to create a ministry, “Reconcile,” to address this problem. Help me to be a support to them. And thank you for your continual transformational work among all your people at Imago Dei. Help us all to desire that your kingdom come, and your will be done. Help that desire lead to decisive action so that there would be no racism among us, and therefore no division marring your bride. We need you. I need you.

Kevin Rogers

Pastor of Community

Imago Dei Community, Portland, Oregon

4 Responses to “Your Will Be Done”

  1. Lindsay Says:

    Growing up in Los Angeles, and used to a very multi racial setting, I struggled a bit when I first moved to a mostly white neighborhood and school. It felt odd to be in the race majority. And then I thought- Why am I bothered so much about being aroudn white people? Isn’t that just as bad as someone feeling bothered that they around many races?

    Everyone talks about being “color blind”, but they can only be “color blind” when there is a certain mix of colors. If one color is more plentiful (even heavily so) than another, all people like you and I notice is that imbalance of color.

    So, why does it matter if there is an imbalance? Couldn’t it just be coincidence and not segregation? Or what if it’s more than coincidence?

    My co worker from Peru and I once had an interesting conversation. Her theory is that people from other races whose ancestors grew up in warmer climates tend to choose warmer climates to settle in. People who have darker colored skin usually have ancestors who came from equatorial or tropical areas. So that would explain why So Cal, Texas, Lousiana, Florida (our warmer states) would have a higher concentration of people with darker skin. And, it might explain why Portland isn’t a very attractive place for people who are more comfortable in warmer climates. You would find a higher concentration in our northern, colder states of people with Russian, Irish, British, Sweedish heritage. And it’s not as obvious with those heritages that they are any different than the other “white” people you see because their ancestors had light skin. 🙂

    Anyway, I think she has an interesting theory. I keep meaning to look it up to see if there is any research on it.

    I don’t think Jesus chose His apostles based on color. I can’t imagine him even making sure there was “even representation” from each culture. He invites all to follow Him. He invites all to salvation.

    I think that the sooner we stop recognizing race distribution, the sooner we’ll all focus on the things that really matter.

  2. Brad Says:

    in our contemporary American culture I don’t think there is much help to be found in the “cold climate/light skin” theory. Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, etc. are places with large percentages of persons with darker skin and these are hardly warm climate places. And while Portland may have a smaller percentage of African Americans than some other metropolitan areas, even on the west coast, it is still a very multi-ethnic, multi-color city. I have lived in LA and the Bay Area as well as Portland. But I have also lived in the mid-west. If you want to see monochrome lightness, try Waterloo, Iowa or Reeve, Wisconsin. Portland is a place of great diversity and yet our churches rarely reflect that. So why should we care about recognizing race distribution and working to do something about it in the church? Simply because God cares about it. Jesus came to minister among one particular nationality of persons, but even in the choice of his all Jewish/Israeli disciples, does one suppose that there was no conscious thought to diversity on the part of Christ? What must a Zealot have thought about Jesus choosing a tax collector–a hated lackey of the oppressive Roman Empire–to join his band of disciples? But more than that, the church that Jesus established is to be a community of all the nations, one which purposefully breaks down racial, gender, and socio-economic barriers erected by society (Matthew 28, Galatians 3). If Christ has this kind of vision for his church, how can we not care about racial distribution in the church in the midst of a racially diverse city? To God, bringing together into one community people separated from each other by social barriers is clearly one of “the things that really matter.”

  3. Kelsi Johns Says:

    Kevin I appreciate your story and your observation that as we are isolated from multi-ethnic communities, the more detached we become and it then becomes much more challenging for us to truly care. Consequently, we become passive about overcoming division. In a sense, it becomes “out of sight, out of mind”. And this is why it is so crucial for us to help each other identify it, recognize it, and engage it. This is when “each other” comes in. We need each other to move forward and to imagine another way of worship, another way of community. Community does not mean a group of like minded, like skinned people, but sadly, to me that what community has come to be if I look around at the “community groups” in churches, schools, social functions. My prayer is that we re-imagine the basic idea of community.

    Lindsay I appreciate your point that we should not focus on race in and of itself that it becomes a fight for diversity simply for diversity’s sake. But I also strongly agree with Brad that racial equality and multi-ethnic community does truly matter, and where you don’t have racial equality and reconciliation, you have oppression and division. The latter is not representative of the kingdom of God. As soon as it doesn’t matter to us, this is when we quit resisting and transforming the systemic powers that perpetuate these ills.
    The racial division and segregation in Portland that Kevin laments about is by no means a climate issue. But I would agree that the kingdom of God transcends loving somebody simply because they have a different skin color. Rather, we should love everybody equally because Christ loves them, and we are called to love one another as we love ourselves. The key is that we don’t stop at race and class division, but rather work through it and transcend it to bring about true reconciliation in the power of Christ.

  4. Paul Louis Metzger Says:

    Kevin, thank you for your heart and biblical vision. I am grateful to the Lord for you for your leadership at our church. Your authenticity and intentionality in seeking to bear witness to the diverse unity in God’s kingdom for God’s glorious love through our group “RECONCILE” and our church as a whole really encourage me.

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