There are so many of you who are humble, seeking justice, and asking God what it looks like for you to participate in the conversation about race in our country. Many of us that have been doing this work for a long time have never been more encouraged by how the Church is responding to this! We are so excited that there is a desire to see the world change and to see racism end in our generation. That is our prayer, our hope, and what we're working towards. Today you'll get to learn from Mike Kelsey - he is probably one of the most thoughtful people I've ever met. He is a Godly man who is humble and determined to follow God with his life. I hope you enjoy getting to hear from Mike today!
I know you have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, specifically from a Biblical perspective. Your voice on this has been one of my favorites, and I've shared a lot of your content recently. I think for a lot of people, their hesitation with this is whether this is Biblical or political. It feels a little bit like both. I want to talk through how you came to the recognition of how this is part of Jesus' heart - for us to be reconciled and pursue justice.
One reason I was excited to come on is I respect you so much as a Bible teacher and what you do. In the last week, I'll just be totally honest, I've been wrestling with a lot of anger. I think a lot of people have in general. But especially as a black man, I'm just up at night wrestling with it, and the Lord has been challenging me in the last week or so. Specifically around what you just said: making sure as believers we have a distinctly Christian view and approach when it comes to issues of race and justice. I've been spending a lot of time in Habakkuk, because Habakkuk is mad and he's looking at violence and injustice all around him. He's looking at God like, "what the heck are you doing?" But he says something in Habakkuk 2:1, he says, "I will stand at my watchpost and I will listen for what God will say." That just struck me in the middle of the night, in my anger, scrolling through social media. I was reminded as believers that's what we've got to do. We can be angry, we can be confused, we can be all of these things, but we have to make space to sit with God's word and hear from him, so that our minds and hearts can be renewed. We need his wisdom to know how to move forward in these issues. Scripture has to be our platform and our guidepost in all of these things.
I want to take a step back and talk about your feelings these last few weeks, because a lot of people have been on the internet, but they may not have friends that are African American so they haven't had these conversations in person. I want you to share a little bit of what it has felt like to experience these last few weeks.
A lot of people have asked that and unfortunately it feels the same as it has felt, for me personally, since Trayvon Martin was killed. That was a real turning point for me, and a lot of people will say that. We knew injustice was real, we knew racism was real, all these things, but that was a unique thing. Partially because now we have video and social media. So it's a mix. I was telling a mentor the other day that I feel like I keep vacillating in between sadness, anger, resignation, and resolve. To be totally honest, it's difficult for me sometimes not to just torch all white people, specifically white evangelicals and Christians. What keeps me from that is meeting and being in community with so many white brothers and sisters. Jesus never gives us permission to hold people in contempt. Even people who are straight up explicitly racist. The Lord challenged me a couple years ago with this question: do you want to be helpful, or do you just want to be heard? That was a humbling moment for me, to ask what my role as a Christian and as a pastor was. I'm not just trying to add to the noise. I want to be a helpful voice. Sometimes that helpful voice is tense, and it needs to be. But at all times, that voice needs to be governed by the character of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit. So I've been wrestling through how I've been feeling. The dominant feeling has been anger, but I've been trying to submit that anger to the Spirit so it can be productive and redemptive anger, not just out here going in on everybody.
I appreciate you sharing that. What I want people to hear is it's likely impossible, if you are white, to understand how long and how many days and how often it is hard to be a person of color in this country. I have been blessed to have friendships and conversations with 40-50 African Americans one-on-one, and I've heard their stories. I've never met an African American that has not come up against racism many times in their life. I hate I have to say that Mike, but I'm hearing a lot of pushback online that "we're one under Christ and there's no Jew or Greek." I'm like, yes, in Heaven! Right now there are still divisions. We're called to bring unity on earth as it is in Heaven, but that's work! That doesn't just magically appear. You don't just wake up and choose to not be racist. I want to talk about biblically where this comes from. I want you to speak specifically to that post you wrote about justice versus peace. I think that's where a lot of people pulled back, and said, "this was okay until there were riots. This was okay until there were protests." But we're missing the louder narrative.
I appreciate you bringing that up. A lot of people respond in one of two ways: they hear the outcry about racism, and respond with "just preach the gospel" or "why are you being so divisive? We have unity in Christ." I have been wrestling with that, and I posted a Christian view of peace versus justice. Two particular texts I've been meditating on, one being Matthew 5:9, Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God." That was a major check for my own heart. We are called to be peacemakers. Sometimes we don't want to, not just with race issues, but with a lot of different issues. That's part of how we bear witness to the Kingdom of God - that we are called to be peacemakers...but Jesus even comes and says that he's dividing family members. The Kingdom of God is based on truth, and that truth is going to inevitably divide at some point. In Jeremiah 6:14, it says, "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace." We study that in context, and God is angry because there are these prophets and people among the children of Israel trying to declare peace, when there are all these injustices and chaos happening. I want to say to Christians, we have to hold those two things in tension. We can't pit them against each other. This is so important to understand. Peace is the goal interpersonally and socially. It is the Christan's goal. But justice is a prerequisite means to peace. In other words, you can not get to peace in our relationships or our society without working for justice. It doesn't mean we wait for perfect justice before we have peace, because that won't happen until Jesus comes back, but we see this clearly in the Gospel. We have peace with God only unto the extent that the justice demanded by God for our sin has been satisfied in Christ. Because that justice has been satisfied, now by faith, we are able to enjoy peace with God. I think you see it at an interpersonal level, at a societal level, and ultimately at a spiritual level when it comes to our relationship with God.
That is so helpful! That changed my view of this conversation when Tasha told me this, exactly what you're saying. We crave comfort and we crave peace, and as white people, largely we can get it. We can create it and make it happen. I want to talk a little bit more with you about privilege, because what I see happening right now are two things that are pretty different. And both have Bible backing them. One is a wake-up call to advocacy. People want to be allies and not just not be racist, they want to help and be a part of the solution to this problem that has existed since the beginning of this country. In fact, our country was built on it. Let's admit that and work toward bringing healing and repentance. Then there's another group that is resistant - maybe it's a lack of education or exposure, but they're afraid. They don't realize they can help and that God has called them to help. What would you say to them concerning the gospel and this work?
Here's what I would say, and this was so helpful to me, because I preached on race in my church for the first time about four years ago. It was the first full-length sermon on race since I'd been at the church. I got overwhelmingly positive feedback, but I also got a whole lot of stinging and disrespectful feedback. I've had a lot of interactions over the last several years about all this stuff, and a friend of mine, a pastor in Harlem, he said something to me that was so helpful. This is what I want to say to white brothers and sisters: other than sheer ignorance, and just not being aware, one of the first hurdles you'll have to get over in this fight for justice is the hurdle of your shame. We could call that white guilt, but there is a shame that a lot of my white friends feel. What I mean is, when we talk about systemic racism and how historic racism has contributed to conditions today, obviously in American society, the construct of race was designed to oppress people of African descent and maximize people of European descent. What that means is that white people in our country, even though they have not chosen it, are continual beneficiaries of a system of racism. There is no escaping that. A lot of people, their immediate pushback is that they didn't do anything wrong, they didn't have any slaves. But there is privilege attached to the color of your skin in this country. What that can produce in you is this sense of shame. When you think about your family of origin and the ways they talked about particular racial groups. Or when you carry around this shame and think it's bad to be white. Here's what I want to say: white guilt is a terrible motivator for racial justice. We know that from 2 Corinthians 7. That's a worldly sorrow. That will motivate you to do whatever's necessary for you to not be considered racist, and it will stop there. But it won't get you engaged enough to do the deeper and harder work in your own heart and own family history. It won't sustain you to endure in the fight of racial justice in the long run. That's one of the things I want to say: think about what we do with our guilt, our shame, and the grief we feel over our own sin and sin in the world? The same thing we do about sin in any other way. We turn from it, confess to God, agree with God about the sin in our hearts, and we work toward not just getting away from sin, we work to promote and pursue Godliness. Let me just say this loud and clear real quick on that note: do not be embarrassed about being white. God made you with the color of your skin, you happened to be born into this particular country in this context, but you don't have to carry around guilt and shame for that. But you do have a responsibility in this country in this particular time to ask God how to live out Micah 6:8: "do to justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."
Let's talk a little bit about that privilege and what we can do with it. I know a lot of white people that want to make a difference. They want to see justice roll forward, but they don't know how to help. So talk for a minute about yielding our privilege and what that looks like.
I would say part of what that looks like is understanding that American history privileges you. We have a narrative of American exceptionalism, and this is not to say anything negative about the ideals of our country or the progress we've made, but one of the ways to confront the reality of your privilege is to educate yourself about history. Educate yourself about American history as it relates to indigenous people and African Americans...I think educating yourself, and in many ways, re-educating yourself on history is a great starting point. I would also say, in your relationships, learn from the folks around you. Ask questions. Be careful right now not to put all the burden of your education on people of color around you, but at the same time, if my relationship can't handle you asking me a question, what kind of friendship is that? I would just say, ask questions and process some of this stuff with other people. In general, this work for justice is going to cost you something. If I could diagnose the problem of white Christians in America when it comes to racial justice, is that we agree with so many things in principle, but oftentimes white Christians are not willing to be inconvenienced and pay the cost. George Whitfield was an evangelical preacher who lobbied for slavery to continue in Georgia because he said if we don't use African slave labor, the Georgia economy would collapse. So what was that? That was an unwillingness to pay the cost for somebody else's freedom. You're going to have to pay some costs. You're going to have to think about your housing practices and how those can be acts of justice and mercy. Be a Kingdom of God, justice-oriented presence in the neighborhood when you move into it. That's just one example. But it's going to cost you something and it's going to cost our churches something in order to pursue this work.
Mike, you have been doing this work for a long time and you're still going and that means you have hope. What do you picture? What's the dream here?
Obviously, my hope is anchored in Revelation 7. We know God's heart from Genesis to Revelation is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He will create this family from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This thing we're working toward is going to happen. We start there. It is going to happen. So we pray and work for God's Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. That's ultimately where my hope is. But I also have hope of the power of the Holy Spirit in us. God said through Paul in Philippians 1, "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." He's doing a work in his Church. I would say this is one of the central heartbeats of the Scriptures, that God wants his grace to be made known to the nations, to all ethnic groups. I have hope because this emerging generation doesn't have as many of the same hangups as previous generations. They have a more comprehensive theology that includes the body and does not just target the soul. I hope for this generation that is thinking about the whole counsel of God and how all of that shapes and motivates us to represent Jesus in the world. I have days, especially in the last week, where I'm angry and frustrated, but I have hope that we have an opportunity by God's spirit to bear witness to a watching world, to show that people can come into the same community and can be shaped by the same Holy Spirit and the same truth of God's word.