In all humility and as a brother in Christ, I want to communicate clearly and formally with you about racism in our country and, simultaneously, call us to three days of corporate prayer, fasting and lament, June 15-17.
“And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off?” (Luke 18:7, NIV)
Over the past two weeks, I have spoken about the racial pain that has once again taken center stage in our nation. I’ve done so on my own social media, our Foursquare social channels, and again during my inauguration. Yet, I am compelled by the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery to do and say more about this pattern of evil that stretches back far beyond their deaths.
I acknowledge that this is an emotionally and politically charged atmosphere for so many. I write to you with the assumption that we are deeply grieved and equally concerned that we get it right while addressing the problem. I also recognize that our awareness of, experience with, and participation in racial reconciliation is not uniform. I hope to communicate well with you, through this letter, wherever you are in your journey.
We should call evil by its name
Allow me to begin by stating the obvious: Racism is evil and has no place in the family of God. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are more than non-racist; we are actively anti-racism.
Almost everyone will agree with that statement. What they disagree about is the precise definition and extent of racism. That’s largely a function of their ethnicity, context or culture. If they are white like me, they might be far less alert to racism, especially the covert kind that lurks within the structures of our society—and, unfortunately, can even nestle in the crevices of the church. If they are black, or a member of another ethnic minority, they can see the extent of racism more clearly. They must live with it in ways those of us who are white do not.
“Racism is evil and has no place in the family of God. We are more than non-racist; we are actively anti-racism.”
For most Americans, it’s easy to condemn the overt discrimination that results in the wrongful deaths of so many black Americans like George, Breonna and Ahmaud. I confess, sadly, for many white Americans like myself, the death of another black person is an interruption. We see it. We acknowledge that it is a tragedy. We even mourn the loss of all that they might have been. We feel some degree of empathy for the family and friends of the victims. However, the uncomfortable truth is that many of us have the option of going back to being comfortable in a society that favors our ethnicity. Our black brothers and sisters—indeed, all persons of color—don’t get to do that. They must cope with the reality that the color of their skin is a disempowering disadvantage in our society. Even worse, those of us who are white can be unwittingly complicit in perpetuating that racial inequity.
Some of you may feel discomfort as you read the words above. Perhaps it’s their truth that makes you feel uneasy. Good, I share that feeling with you. However, some of you may feel that I’ve been brainwashed by the extreme progressive media and reactionary race-baiters. I have not.
We must hear God’s heart
What I have done is listen to the instruction of Scripture and the wisdom of Spirit-led voices among minority pastors within God’s family. Scripture could not be clearer in this regard. From Acts, chapters 2 and 17, to Ephesians 2, and on through to Revelation 7:9, we hear God’s heart. He foresees, and foreordains, a new society where ethnic and cultural diversity is valued and celebrated. That unity is born from a spiritual oneness that we share in Jesus through His death and resurrection. We must ask ourselves: Is this beautiful mosaic something we can experience to a greater degree now? And if so, how do we go about doing so?
And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9, NLT)
In the past, our Foursquare convention body has drafted and approved formal statements that denounce racism in all of its overt and covert manifestations. We have regularly made public statements of empathy and solidarity in the face of public discrimination and hostilities. But in this cultural moment, I sense that there is more needed from us. Don’t get me wrong: We all need to continue using our voices, our influence, and to not remain silent. However, we need renewed resolve and clearly defined steps going forward. We need to go beyond this present moment and embrace the hard work and longer road ahead of us, building upon our past commitments and righteous actions. We have been well served by those who’ve pointed the way, but there is hard work still ahead of us. We must persevere because a hope-filled future is before us, and we can lay hold of it.
Therefore, as my first official act as the newly installed president of The U.S. Foursquare Church, I call us to three days of corporate prayer, fasting and lament from June 15-17. These three days will culminate with a virtual/online prayer service, Wednesday, June 17, at 5 p.m. PDT at FoursquareLive.org. This time of concentrated and unifying prayer will begin shaping our response as a movement to events that demand clear action. We want our response grounded by a corporate time of deep reflection and prayerful lament. I realize that we have already been praying as individuals, as churches, and even as districts. I am grateful for that. Even so, we need to unite and agree as a whole Foursquare family in this hour, coming confidently before God’s throne to find mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Lament is a helpful, biblical concept. It is good to let the empathy we share as human beings begin to soften our hearts. We lament the evils of racism, specifically white supremacy, even if we do not feel its direct impact. In doing so, we become more attuned to the work of the Spirit. He seeks to dismantle this evil among God’s people. Lament is often a powerful first step that leads us into honest confession and repentance. Pastor and scholar Soong-Chan Rah reminds us of its power.
“The tendency to view the holistic work of the church as the action of the privileged toward the marginalized often derails the work of true community healing. Ministry in the urban context, acts of justice and racial reconciliation require a deeper engagement with the other — an engagement that acknowledges the suffering rather than glossing over it.” — Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times
Some may read this invitation and feel a certain disconnection from the evils of racism, with a sense of little personal experience. As a result, this invitation might feel less relevant to you. Join us anyway in the spirit of Daniel. He also confessed and repented, even though he displayed no discernible personal sin within the narrative that bears his name. He did so because he identified with the corporate sin among a people that God loved. He echoed God’s heart in his confession. He aligned himself in such a way that he invited the Spirit to more effectively lead him (Daniel 9:2-19). As a result, he became a more effective and exemplary influencer within his society.
“I call upon our Foursquare family to embrace three days of prayer focused on corporate lament, repentance and hope-filled prayer. This is just a start, though. More needs to be done.”
The Church can lead the way
Following this example, I call upon our Foursquare family to embrace these three days focused on corporate lament, repentance and hope-filled prayer. This is just a start, though. More needs to be done. Repentance involves turning away from evil and, at the same time, turning toward God’s goodness and the things He values. This implies that we will continue to make changes that invite His blessing.
Our struggle against the evils of racism must be intentional and prolonged. In the coming weeks, we will craft and communicate the concrete steps we are taking as a movement. These steps will be rooted in our fundamental identity as the children of God and founded on what is eternally and gloriously major, our common, unique standing among all of creation as the image bearers of God and those redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ. We are the church, and we were made for this moment. Let’s go all in.
Overflowing with hope,