We can't ignore the truth: America has a disgraceful history of racial prejudice and racially motivated violence. While we would like to think that this is a problem of the past, recent events prove otherwise.
Over the last 18 months, simmering racial tensions have boiled over across the United States. Thankfully, Philadelphia has not made national news, but in Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island, North Charleston, and Cleveland, the reality of racial tensions rose to the fore, surprising many within these communities and beyond. Headlines and hashtags debate Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter. Politicians pander to constituents, casting visions of hope or aspersions of responsibility toward communities of color.
In the meantime, the names of the victims - Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin - have been ingrained in the national psyche.
In Philadelphia, many wrestle with questions of how to avoid becoming the next sad national story, how to understand what underlies race-relations issues, and where we can turn to begin the process of reconciliation in our community. As a nearly 200-year-old organization, American Bible Society has existed through almost every phase of U.S. history - and the good, the bad, and the ugly of race relations. Who better to lead the conversation about a new era of improved race relations?
Unfortunately, because of the lack of racial diversity within most churches, American Christians have been reluctant to ask these questions. Perhaps we are afraid to appear hypocritical. But the result is that Christians of different races rarely come together to discuss the topic.
As tensions over race and ethnicity heat up across the United States, it's easy to complain about (or ignore) the state of our fractured communities. But if Philadelphia is to heal its own race-relations issues, churches must be willing to play a leading role. For the hard work of healing to begin, we need to be willing to ask some uncomfortable questions:
What if racial reconciliation started with the church?
What if Christians had the courage to listen to their hurting brothers and sisters?
What if believers dared to live in the spiritual unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17?
Philadelphia's Christian community is being challenged to face these questions head on. Last month, American Bible Society and Biblical Seminary hosted "Under My Skin," the first of a series of conversations about racial issues in the Christian church. Seeking to explore the issues that get "under the skin" of Christ and weaken who we are as his body, this initiative was created to help individuals wrestle with the uncomfortable questions that often surround today's most pressing social issues.
During the first event, 150 Philadelphians were challenged to explore both the present and the historical social, emotional, economic, and spiritual elements of racism. Amid conversations about reconciliation, attendees were encouraged to see themselves as part of the solutions for their communities.
No one said it would be easy. In fact, Frank James of Biblical Seminary made it clear that these courageous conversations would bring participants out of their comfort zones. But, as the facilitator of one conversation, Dan Williams, pointed out, the goal was to address difficult issues "from a posture of light rather than heat."
Though no easy answers were offered, attendees were equipped to take what they heard, saw, and practiced and return to their communities to spread seeds of hope and love, speaking biblical truth when faced with racial injustices. And we concluded the evening by agreeing to continue these conversations; the next one is scheduled for September.
To find out more about the "Under My Skin" initiative, visit www.americanbible.org/under-my-skin. There you will find recordings of panel discussions and testimonials from participants. Additionally, you can sign up to become a part of this growing community, stay connected for future events, and opt in to be equipped with resources that will help you bring about reconciliation in your community. Those tools include a 21-day Scripture devotional on race and God's word, a position paper on racial reconciliation, and the Bible. Blog posts are available to help you discover the part you can play in healing your community.
Be a part of the solution. Help to bring lasting racial reconciliation to Philadelphia and the nation.