Racial Reconciliation

    Why this Method of Racial Reconciliation

    Over the past 60 days, I have outlined our method toward racial reconciliation through preaching, The Link, and our website. This method includes three different guidelines:

    (1) Communication
    (2) LUMC Timeline
    (3) Reconciliation

    The method for communication and an estimated timeline is as follows:
    1) Reconciling with God and our family members during July and August.
    2) Reconciling with God and our ethnic group in September, October, and November.
    3) Reconciling with God and mixed ethnic groups in January and February.

    Note: See sermon on 6-28-20 at Lancasterunited.org for Jesus’ teaching His disciples how to communicate across ethnic lines.

    So, what is reconciliation? From a Biblical perspective, reconciliation means to reconsider one’s actions, words, experience, attitudes and data. Perhaps we are most familiar with the reconciliation meaning as an accounting term. We all have experienced reconciling our personal checking account by comparing our expenses with the bank’s monthly statements to make sure they match.

    Relationally, many of us have explained reconciliation between two siblings to mend a relationship after a period of fighting. To reconcile individuals or groups of people is the act of bringing together people to be friendly again and/or come to an agreement.

    "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift to God” (Mt 5:23-24).

    In other words, if we resist reconciling (reconsidering) our relationship with those we have offended or those who have offended us, then we weaken our own intimacy with God.

    Our church’s goal is to reconsider what racial equality means and discover how we can acknowledge past and present offenses individually and then collectively. To be reconciled with each other is a big deal to God and necessary for us to grow in our relationship with God, self, and others.

    First and foremost, each of us must be careful to acknowledge our need to be reconciled to God. Why does God’s heart cry to have an intimate relationship with us? Because God loves us. Then what is the problem? God is Holy and yearns for true fellowship with holy people, but humans are created unholy from conception. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalms 51:5)

    So how do inherently unholy people bond with a Holy God? The answer seems at a minimum outdated and confusing, yet mostly nonsensical to our modern minds. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Divine Holiness requires innocent blood to be shed for the forgiveness of our original sin nature (Leviticus 17:11) and the inevitable systemic sinful actions, words, and attitudes that grow out of our corrupted humanity. Our natural bend towards pride (believing we know better or doubting God’s ways) grieves God deeply and causes a separation from God which diminishes our ability to know God. In the Old Testament, reconciliation portrayed Almighty God’s ‘top-down’ approach: God is Holy and in heaven; we are unholy and on earth. However, the New Testament reveals God reconsidering this ‘top-down’ method by devising a new way to satisfy His Holy requirements. “God is reconciling (reconsidering) the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

    In Christ Jesus, God humbled Himself by neutralizing His almighty power, His all-knowing and His everywhere presence attributes and took on the very nature of a servant by being made in the likeness of humanity. “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

    God, in Christ Jesus, reconsiders His ‘top-down’ connection with humanity and prepares a new way for innocent blood shed to forgive sin. A daily animal sacrifice is no longer required at the temple by the priest. God’s original plan from the foundations of the earth was for Christ to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Revelation 13:8c). Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins for all who trust in Him is the Good News of God’s unending love in action. In this unique way, God guarantees how an unholy people can experience daily forgiveness and cleansing in relating to a loving and Holy God. God promises to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; i.e., the Creator makes the creatures acceptable through Christ substitutionary sacrifice which Jesus enabled an impartation of His Spirit within the human heart. As Christ’s forgiving Spirit abides within us, we are called to share that same forgiveness with others. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

    So how do we seek racial equality through the ministry of reconciliation? Let us consider the historic traditions of reconciliation in two of our denominations. The Catholics have four elements which make up the sacrament of reconciliation for absolving sins:

    1. Contrition- genuine sorrow for offenses toward God and others
    2. Confession- admission of two types of offenses toward God and others
      1. Sin - an unintentional or an uninformed innocent offense
      2. Transgression- willful, spiteful, premeditated offense
    3. Satisfaction - doing what is possible to repair harm of offence. This could be returning stolen goods, paying compensation for damage done, or a prayer.
    4. Absolution - an act of blessing by the priest once a person has fulfilled the requirements of contrition, confession, and transgression. Then the priest pronounces God’s blessing upon the individual to confirm to the person’s freedom and forgiveness of sin and/or transgression in God’s sight.

    Note: As non-Catholics, we recommend doing the preceding steps of penance with a ‘priestly friend’ (spouse/partner or close friend). Much like a confessional booth experience, the ‘priestly friend’ discerns contrition, hears confession, and explores ways to make amends for any relational or monetary losses.

    Our Methodist tradition describes reconciliation, penance, or repentance as follows:

    1. Convicting Grace - Holy Spirit illuminates godly sorrow for three types of sin:
      1. original sin - begins at conception and seeks to move us toward pride and self-righteous disobedience;
      2. unintentional sin - sincere mistakes, uninformed, or exasperated offenses due to lack of sleep, exhaustion, temperament, etc.;
      3. actual sin - deliberate, willful, and premeditated wrongdoings.
    2. Confessing Grace - Holy Spirit humbles us to confess original, unintentional, and actual sins before God and those we have hurt. In addition, we are to ask for forgiveness and/or offer forgiveness to the offended or offending persons.
    3. Repenting Grace - Holy Spirit enables us to daily turn to God for strength, and to turn away from the power of original, unintentional, and actual sins.
    4. Fruits of Grace - Holy Spirit enables one to do good in word and deed for the harm that was done in order to restore the relationship: e.g., repay any damages, return stolen goods, setting new physical and emotional boundaries, etc.

    We are combining the Catholic and United Methodist traditions of reconciliation to flow into our 3Cs of being “Careful, Caring, and Creative” as follows:

    Step 1) Being Careful with Words
    Cf. James 1:19 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
    Cf. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
    Cf. James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
    Note: John Wesley’s 3rd step of repenting grace and 4th step of Fruits of Grace merge with the Catholic’s 3rd step to reconciliation with “Being Caring with our actions.”

    1. Convicting Grace - Holy Spirit illuminates Godly sorrow for two types of sin:
      1. original sin - begins at conception and seeks to move us toward pride and self-righteous disobedience;
      2. unintentional sin - sincere mistakes, uninformed or exasperated offense due to lack of sleep, temperament, exhaustion, etc.; and
      3. actual sin — deliberate, willful, and premeditated offenses.
    2. Confessing Grace - Holy Spirit humbles us to confess original, unintentional, and actual sins before God and those ones offended, then to ask for forgiveness from one we have offended and/or offer forgiveness to those who have offended us.

    Step 2. Being Caring with Actions:
    Cf. Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV) “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
    Note: John Wesley’s 3rd step of repenting grace and 4th step of Fruits of Grace merges with the Catholic’s 3rd step to reconciliation with “Being Caring with our actions.”

    1. Repenting Grace - Holy Spirit enables one to turn to God for strength to turn away from and daily purge us from original, unintentional, and actual sins, so we can do good.
    2. Fruits of Grace - Holy Spirit enables one to do good in word and deed for the harm that was done to restore relationships: repay any damages plus 20%, return stolen goods, etc.

    Step 3. Being Creative with Humility (teachable, flexible, and patient)
    Cf. Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV) “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

    Note: The Catholic's 4th step of absolution in reconciliation flows into “Being Creative with Humility.” (teachable, open, flexible, patient)
    Absolution - an act of blessing by the priest once a person has fulfilled the requirements of contrition, confession, and transgression. Then the priest pronounces God’s blessing upon to confirm to the person’s freedom and forgiveness of sin and/or transgression in God’s sight.
    Note: As non-Catholics, we recommend doing the preceding steps of penance with a ‘priestly friend’ (spouse/partner or close friend). Much like a confessional booth experience, the ‘priestly friend’ discerns contrition, hears confession, and explores ways to make amends for any relational or monetary losses.

    ‘Being Creative with Humility’ maintains the dynamic of doing life together for the long run; not mean going through the 3Cs once and then thinking it is complete. The ministry of reconciliation calls us into a lifestyle. A reconciling church is not just about reading a book, having meaningful discussions, and completing a class. Rather, a ministry of reconciliation is essential to obeying Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Our current health guidelines restrict us from meeting in person by sheltering in place, six feet distancing and masking. Small group meetings alternatives like Zoom and Messenger Rooms are often challenging for clear communication and unavailable for some. Therefore, we recommend meeting in pairs only (you and a ‘priestly friend’). A ‘priestly friend’ can be your spouse/partner or colleague. The two of you can choose to meet in person, virtually, or by phone.

    Remember our scheduling: July and August are the months to be reconciled to God and a family member who is estranged. You will pair with a priestly friend to journey with you towards reconciliation with a disgruntled family member. In September and October, your focus will shift to racial equality. During these months, we ask you to find a priestly friend within your ethnicity to critique a book of your choosing. We have suggested a starter book and have included a book list to choose from below this article. In choosing a starter book, Jean Youngquist and Mark Gross have researched and listened to members’ feedback to select White Fragility, by sociologist Robin DiAngelo; a New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.

    The suggested reading pace is one to three chapters weekly, and then a weekly meeting to discuss the chapters read. The book you and your priestly friend chooses will serve as a catalyst to our 3Cs method of racial reconciliation. During your weekly meetings, each person will share new insights, challenges, confessing any past or current sins or transgressions, and explore together how to amend any racial sorrows either one of you may have caused.
    To be clear, we are asking everyone to pair up with a priestly friend within your ethnicity to read and critique this book about white folks’ issues. We believe this will offer the safest space as we all work through our fragility surrounding race. Given our nation’s racial and political division and their amplification by police brutality and violent protests, everyone will be well served to step out of their comfort zone and preferred readings to learn how others experience and interpret the world in which we all live. As we process White Fragility and other books together, we will discover much more about ourselves, others, and how God is dealing with us all.

    Resources: At the church, we have several copies of the White Fragility book that can be checked out. The book is widely available online, in paperback, hardback, and audiobook. In addition to this book, you can view the author’s nine-minute video on YouTube: Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility. Gene and Mark have also put together a book list below if you and your priestly friend are drawn to read a different book. In January and February, hopefully, we meet in person with mixed ethnic groups for the third phase of our reconciling ministry.

    I am extremely excited to invite you to take full advantage of the rich diversity within our congregation to grow us in being Careful, Caring, and Creative. “Dear Lord, do for our congregation what we cannot do by ourselves as we strive to listen and love one another in Christ’s strength. Amen!

    — Rev. Greg Pittman

    “Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” -Toni Morrison

    Recommended Resources

    A list of book recommendations to get started:

    When considering where to buy books, you may be interested in checking out this list put together by Lithub of black-owned independent bookstores that offer ordering/shipping options.