Tony Evans has been encouraging the church to lead the way in racial reconciliation for quite some time. In this file photo, Evans gave a powerful sermon during a “We Are One” unity event that Will Graham also attended in Ferguson, Missouri.
Senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and president of The Urban Alternative, Evans recently shared his thoughts with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on a Christian’s responsibility in the midst of America’s racial climate.
Q: What is the Church’s responsibility—what should our Kingdom mindset be—in the midst of nationwide racial strife?
A: It’s my contention that the Church helped cause this problem by not being the Church of Jesus Christ that He created, not having Biblical unity and often endorsing illegitimate disunity. Therefore, the Church needs to be the cure for this problem by modeling unity.
We’re getting ready to put out a three-point plan for the Church to do just that, with a community of churches coming together across racial and cultural lines to have a sacred gathering, a solemn assembly, by inviting God’s presence back into our lives and into the culture. And to speak with one voice to give God’s standard on race and unity because He has spoken clearly about it. Then thirdly to do good works together adopting schools, adopting police precincts. Let the community see that we are benefiting them in unity. Until we do that, we just can’t preach about it and talk about it. We must demonstrate the unity that we want the culture to mimic and imitate.
Q: Your book Oneness Embraced examines reconciliation between races in God’s kingdom. How does that unity speak to Kingdom living?
A: The whole basis of Kingdom living starts with the nature of God who is a triune God: one God composed of three co-equal persons Who is one in essence while being distinct in personality. He is a unified being, and He operates His kingdom that way. So wherever there is illegitimate disunity, He can’t be at home there.
God’s kingdom program is stymied because we have exited God out unintentionally and unknowingly because of our disunity. That’s why we’re told to preserve the unity. It is a Kingdom demand, expectation and requirement if we want God’s presence to be operating in our midst.
Q: You used the phrase “cognitive dissonance” in your book, which refers to believing in incompatible ideas. How do you see that today?
A: We are intellectually confused, spiritually confused and we’re not playing the same notes. We don’t understand the problem. We deny the problem. Racism is real. Systems of racism are real, but yet you don’t operate out of guilt, you operate out of moral obligation and love. Once you’ve dealt with any sin present, then you change it.
We’ve got to really up our game because God has created a divine disruption in order for there to be a divine reset. That’s how I look at this whole thing. It was 2 Chronicles 15:6. The distress was caused by God. (Editor’s note: In 2 Chronicles 15, Israel rejected God, and the subsequent strife—both external and internal—was the fruit of their rebellion.) If God is your problem, politics is not your solution.
Q: What should Black and white parents tell their kids when it comes to the current racial landscape?
A: The simple statement is what Martin Luther King said, that people ought to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. We should start with people’s standards, and we should juxtaposition them to our standards, which should be derived from the Word of God. Then they should intelligently seek cross-cultural relationships where those standards are shared so people won’t be judging people stereotypically. They won’t be judging them by the media. But they’ll be building relationship at the same time. We’ve become so segmented that it’s hard to do it in a meaningful way.
Children don’t grow up with racial strife unless it’s transferred to them by parents and culture and media, so we’ve got to fight against that by intentionally offering our children a Biblical view of races. God created the races. He meant for them to be different. They’re supposed to be different. We learn from each other, but we always use God’s standard to measure how we relate to other people.
>>Read More: Tony Evans on raising kids God’s way
Q: How did your parents’ faith play a role in your trajectory?
A: My parents were the foundation for my whole life because they set the framework for my faith, and that faith was Biblically grounded. It was taught even though I grew up in segregated Baltimore, and there were places I could not go. My father gave me a framework for my own identity that was rooted in Christ, which by the way is something all parents should give to their children. Your identity is first in Christ. It’s not in your racial identity or ethnicity. Until our identity in Christ transcends our racial identity, then we’ll forever have this problem.
Q: What would you say to a white pastor who sincerely wants to minister to Black people but doesn’t know how to be effective?
A: First of all expose yourself. That’s why I wrote the book Oneness Embraced so that you understand some of the history, the background, the challenges. Then build a friendship with a pastor who can help you to understand because a lot of this is lack of understanding. People are so reactionary they don’t understand. But if you start with a Biblical framework, it doesn’t take that long to understand.
Then connect with that pastor and that church to build the kind of sequences that we talked about for fellowship and for service. Then if you’re in an area where there are minorities, look at having a minority staff so you can have a person who can relate to that community on your behalf while you’re learning to do so.
Q: What can pastors and lay followers of Christ do now that will have an impact five, 10, even 50 years from now on racial healing?
A: They need to be preaching on this issue, not skipping it, not pretending it’s not there. A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew. If there’s a lack of clarity on the Biblical teaching of race and racism, then there’s going to be a lack of understanding in the pew. Second of all, they are to connect with other churches for those three concepts I just gave: sacred gathering, speaking with one voice and good works. When they do that together, particularly in the underserved communities because we’re told we’re supposed to reach out to the poor, the oppressed, then they’re working together for a common goal. And that’s the way you have reconciliation.
Racial reconciliation won’t come through seminars. It comes through service, and when both groups are serving a need worse off than they are, they get to know each other in the process of serving.
Q: How would you encourage a Black person who is upset or feels hopeless given the current state of America?
A: First of all, I would say that you don’t get the right to feel hopeless if you’re an African-American Christian. Not only do you not have a good Scriptural basis for hopelessness, you don’t have a historical basis for hopelessness because in the worst of time—slavery—we built not only a Black church, a religious order, but we affected the whole system that operated in the Black community. During Jim Crow, with segregation in the South, we had strong families, we had businesses, we had more order in our community. We have a history influenced by God on every level that says that we do not have to succumb to the evil that is surrounding us.
If we can get a refocus on who God is and what God has done in Scripture and in our history, that should begin to accent a new excitement about the possibilities because our hope is in the Lord, and we have seen what He has done.
Q: What is your church actively doing, or what does it plan to do in the future to live out the ways of Jesus in the current climate?
A: We have set in motion those three points in our community. We’ve adopted the local police precinct. They were so excited when we adopted them. We’re going to serve them. We’re going to work alongside of them. We’re going to have community forums with the community. We’re going to be a buttress between the community and the police to deal with this situation. We’re going to reach out to white pastors to connect with us to adopt all the schools in our community to provide mentoring for the at-risk students in those schools. We’ve already adopted 40 schools—our one church has already done that. To give hope to some of the hopeless needs and family support systems that are needed.
What God has done is He set it up perfectly for the Church because the culture doesn’t have answers. The problem is if we waste the moment.
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