Criticism Is Not a Calamity
Criticism is just part of it, to be expected and not to push us away from these issues. Stepping into multiethnic conversations means offending people—and being offended.
The issue of race in America is too big for the church to ignore because someone criticized us. As InterVarsity put it in their statement, racial reconciliation is “an expression of the gospel” and “an important practice in preparation for global missions.”
As a missiologist, I can agree that racial reconciliation is both a gospel issue and a very real issue in global missions. It’s quite appropriate for Urbana to deal with racial issues, even though the vast majority of the conference was focused on missions, inductive Bible study and engagement—not racial justice.
But we have to remember that issues of race and justice are complex and fraught with potential misunderstandings. So, we clarify as needed.
So, as one who has been criticized by InterVarsity people on these very issues, perhaps it might seem odd for me to defend them. But I value their passion and leadership on this issue—even when we disagree.
As such, here are three things we can learn from the situation.
First, assume the best of fellow evangelicals in these conversations. InterVarsity has paid the price for its orthodoxy and its commitment to the gospel. Those who were quick to think that InterVarsity had suddenly moved left should remember their long history of faithful witness to the gospel. Give them the benefit of the doubt, look at the conference as a whole (not just one speaker and a few sentences), and look at their clarifying statement.
Second, let’s appreciate the attempts of others to speak into the situation. All of us who speak about race in America have needed to clarify at one time or another. I have. But I’m thankful for conversation they are surfacing—and encourage you to join in with wisdom and discernment. InterVarsity people might critique you as they have me—or they might get critiqued—but isn’t some criticism worth bringing a gospel focus into issues of justice?
Third, let’s all work for justice in the midst of this turbulent time. I’m deeply concerned that a large segment of the African American community—many of whom are my brothers and sisters in Christ—believes that their lives do not matter to the rest of us. So, I will join with InterVarsity in saying black lives matter.
I also appreciate the comment that “all lives are sacred” from the same statement, because it helps us to understand why lives matter.
Yet—and this is important—if people feel it necessary to say that their lives matter, isn’t it worth asking why they feel the need to say that?