The fourth reason to plant a racially reconciled church in downtown Cincinnati is this: racial reconciliation forces us to have a missionary mindset.
One of the most important things for aspiring missionaries to learn in preparation for the mission field is how to best communicate with people who are different from them. This is called contextualization. Basically, the patterns of communication that work for me in my context may not work so well in someone else’s context.
For example, I have spent two summers in Argentina leading short term mission projects. I had to speak to people who didn’t know English primarily and had different culture and customs. It was perfectly acceptable for men to kiss each other on the cheek. In fact, to not greet someone with a “beso” would have been perceived as an insult.
But they also had different customs in terms of food, time, family, and community. As missionaries, we recognized that this was their country, and to reach them we had to be aware of that fact and work within their context.
This experience has led me to a couple of conclusions regarding racial reconciliation in Cincinnati. First, we are first and foremost citizens of the city of God, and only secondarily citizens of any earthly city. God requires us to interact with one another on the basis of mutual love for each other and seek the highest good of other people.
Secondly, yielding our cultural preferences to another person is not easy to do, but can be learned with patience, practice, and accountability. Suppose a person is part of a church body that constantly urges him to consider the perspectives of a person of a different race. This person would learn to love and respect the other person because (1) he is his neighbor and (2) he is a fellow believer in Christ.
When I was in Argentina, many of their customs seemed strange to me. Yet I respected them because my purpose was to die to myself and show them Christ, not be a cultural colonialist. Likewise, there is much about the African American community that I do not understand as well. But since my citizenship is in heaven and not white America, God has called me to behave according to Christian conviction first and foremost. That’s what it means to be on mission: I respect my neighbor as a fellow bearer of God’s image before I indulge my own cultural preferences, even if I have good reason for them.
As Christians, our calling is to die to ourselves daily and follow Christ. We are to be good neighbors and not cultural colonialists. White people are terribly uncomfortable with this. What if, God forbid, we had to mix in some Fred Hammond with our Chris Tomlin? What if we had to follow a Bible study leader who votes for Obama (never!). What if this experience led us to places in our own hearts where we realize that maybe we’ve baptized white Americanism and called it Christian?
We can’t be cowards. It takes guts to consider other people as better than ourselves; to allow others to be first while we’re last. Regular American Christians don’t live this way, but missionaries do.
Here’s my prediction: a gospel saturated, Christ glorifying, self-denying, racially reconciling, poverty killing, cross-cultural church will send lots of missionaries to crazy places because the people will have developed a mind-set of gospel centered self-denial.
That’s reason #4 why I’m planting a racially reconciled church in downtown Cincinnati.