by Lauren Anderson
The experience of attending the Tough Topics in Youth Ministry Conference on racial reconciliation proved invaluable for me personally, for the ministries of those present, and for the furtherance of the Kingdom. The day started with Dr. Walter Surdacki centering us on the reason for our gathering – to have an open and honest conversation about race relationships and to unify the church for the purpose of spreading love and justice. One incredibly important distinction was made early that morning: “Reconciliation implies that there was a right relationship in the first place that can be restored.” We engaged in conversations throughout the day about cultural courtship, learning to first create those proper relationships, and then beginning the ministry of reconciliation that God has called us into.
The message is vital to those working in ministry in our day. As Dr. Jerry Taylor, professor at ACU, reminded us, we are called to follow in the steps of Jesus as when he approached the Samaritan woman at the well. Instead of accepting the racial prejudices of ancient society, he engaged with the human being in front of him and ministered to her. Dr. Taylor shared that like the Samaritan woman, Jesus comes to all of us who are thirsty. We have to recognize the image of God in those who are different from us racially and minister to them more fully. Church leaders and youth workers have been called by Jesus to offer living water and the Good News to all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion.
Dr. Kenneth Greene provided a helpful definition of racism which guided many of the conversations. For Dr. Greene, racism is not just racial prejudice. It is also having power to enforce that prejudice. He shed light on the fact that the church in recent years has grossly underplayed our role in the fight for racial equality. “To know God is to do justice.” He reminded the audience that God is a God of justice and is always portrayed on the side of the oppressed. When the church stands with the oppressor instead of the oppressed, it stands in direct opposition to the message preached by Jesus. “The message of the kingdom cannot be sanitized to be understood apart from the liberation of the oppressed,’ Greene said. “Preaching the gospel is inseparably connected with the community of the oppressed. If we as ministers are to spread the good news, it will inevitably lead us to take up the cause of the oppressed.”
The conference also provided a wider framework to understand where to start in the process of reconciliation. As the next generation of church leaders, we were changed to take up the battle against racism. As Dr. Greene remarked, “We are trying to change the wrong people. We often work to change the situations of those affected by racism instead of fighting the much longer battle of working against the majority on behalf of those in the minority. It is our job as church leaders to make sure we are taking deliberate action against the administration that fuels racism and eliminate its reign over our cities and specifically over our churches.”
Other notable sessions included a breakout with Dr. Lee Camp where he presented various resources useful towards understanding of the problem of racism as well as ways to combat it. Dr. Taylor, in his breakout, emphasized the beauty of silence and the power of contemplative prayer in seeking racial unity. He also ended the conference, with a keynote focused on the primary reason behind our desire to oppose racism. “We all belong to the body of Christ, and we are all indwelled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we cannot despise the physical bodies which host the Holy Spirit. Those who look different from us physically have the same Spirit living within them that we do. This is not color blindness, but rather it is appreciating the beauty and diversity of the body of Christ, the living church Christ established to stand as His image until He returns.”