April 4 marks the 50-year anniversary since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In a time of resurging hate groups and racially charged gatherings, King’s prophetic messages matter now more than ever. Our churches, too, need his message. The New York Times recently published an article that notes an exodus of black people from predominantly white churches.
In this fraught moment, the obvious solution is to start conversations among Christians and across racial lines. The less obvious truth, however, is that believers need to start with the Bible itself. Racial reconciliation requires the fundamentals of faith practice: good, substantive Scripture study with diverse believers. While cross-racial friendships and political alliances can create harmony on the surface, only conversations with and about the Bible can create reconciliation at the heart. They are far riskier and more challenging, but, done well, yield far more meaningful results.
In my work as a pastor over the years, I have been engaged in cross-racial (and sometimes cross-cultural) Bible studies as a means of deepening my own faith and sharpening others’. I have seen predominantly black churches partner with predominantly white churches for studies that have revived relationships and disarmed doubts. I have seen tears shed and friendships formed when one person yields to someone else’s understanding of Scripture. I’ve also seen evangelicals and reformed Christians of different races find common ground in ways that would not have been possible outside the context of the Bible.
As we commemorate King’s legacy, we have the opportunity to revive racial reconciliation efforts. While Bible study gatherings are not a silver bullet for changing churches, they are one tool that can positively shift the degree of racial trust among Christians. They have the potential to start cross-racial partnerships and, more importantly, ground local faith communities in the diversity of the global, historic church.
Here are a few ways to get started with a cross-racial Bible study of your own.
Go into the experience with only one agenda—to encounter Christ.
When people of different backgrounds enter a room to explore God’s Word, something surprising happens: We encounter Christ through each other. This focus on Christ might be the most important part of a cross-cultural study.
Although it’s tempting to focus on understanding others, try approaching the process with a desire to first understand God. When we come open-handed, expecting God to be revealed through the pages of Scripture, only then can we make room for life transformation with others. As Natasha Robinson writes, “Getting close to God is an important first step that draws us near to others.”
I had the privilege of witnessing this reality a few years ago in a joint Bible study between a predominantly white Presbyterian church and my predominantly black Baptist church. As the participants drew closer to God through a study of Philippians, they also drew closer as a group. By the end of the study, they were attending funerals for loved ones they didn’t know and cheering on each others’ kids at sports games.
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Source: Christianity Today