Trip Lee, Thabiti Anyabwile, and the Unity We Seek
Recently, the ERLC held a summit on racial reconciliation. You really should listen to all of the talks and lectures from that summit (which you can find on their website). Today, though, I want to highlight the lecture delivered by rapper and pastor Trip Lee. The entire 27-minute talk is well worth your time, but I want to focus on two interesting overarching themes that Trip Lee touched on. To do so, I also want to bring in the lecture delivered by Thabiti Anyabwile (the entirety of which is also well worth your time). First, though, a quick recap of Trip Lee’s outline.
First, he mentioned three difficulties specific to millennials in achieving gospel-motivated racial reconciliation.
1. Millennials think racial tension is our grandparents’ problem
2. Millennials think social media activity is enough
3. Many millennials don’t think God’s word is sufficient (or relevant) in our day
Next, he outlined three solutions to the obstacles millennials facec
1. Preach the gospel of reconciliation
2. Fight for gospel love and unity
3. Don’t assume it’s easy
Finally, he articulated several practical tips in our fight for racial reconciliation
1. Don’t treat people different from you too differently
2. Don’t assume stereotypes
3. Don’t flock to people who look like you
4. Intentionally seek to understand people
5. Persevere through difficulties and growing pains
6. Ask yourself if you have assumptions about races/ages/socioeconomic groups
7. Keep the conversation going (read this for more on the importance of continuing to talk about racism and racial reconciliation)
8. Meditate on Scripture and pray God will give you a passion for unity
There were two very interesting themes that provided a sort of framework for the entire lecture, and one that I think intersected with Thabiti Anyabwile's lecture. The first one was that diversity and, more specifically, unity is neither difficult nor sufficient. The point is not simply to be unified; the point is to be unified for a specific purpose. He pointed out that concerts and sporting events often bring together people of all different races, ethnicities, interests, ages, socioeconomic status and backgrounds. There is, therefore, diversity and unity at these events. But they are unified by something superficial and unimportant. They are unified by their love or appreciation for a rock star (like, say, Trip Lee) or a jersey. And that superficial unity has nothing to do with progress towards racial reconciliation, in and of itself.
If anything, it’s somewhat dangerous to the whole notion of true and lasting unity. Oftentimes we confuse superficial diversity with the eradication of racism. After all, it’s perfectly true that not too long ago, we would not have seen people of different colors and ethnicities even at a concert or a sporting event. We would not have seen people of different colors and ethnicities performing on the stage or court together. It is easy for us to, as a culture, pat ourselves on the back by pointing to this superficial progress and assume that we’ve come plenty far enough. But superficiality is not sanctification, and one is often antithetical to the other. We want to be unified; but we want to be unified about something in particular, and it has nothing to do with Jay-Z or Peyton Manning.
Which brings us to the second theme, and the lecture delivered by Thabiti. The danger millennials (and, for that matter, everyone else in today’s day and age) face in regards to racial reconciliation is that we think that because racism is more subtle than in previous generations, it is also less pervasive or dangerous. But sinfulness is not correlated with subtlety. We have not eradicated the sin of racism, culturally or even personally. As Thabiti said, if we had eradicated the sin of racism, it would be the only sin ever eradicated this side of glory. That’s not to say there has not been progress; but to the extent that progress has been made, it still isn’t eradication. In fact, sometimes the insidiousness of sin is demonstrated by its subtlety. The serpent did not tempt Eve, after all, by saying “God is the worst and what He told you about not eating the apple was selfish and dumb. You should really prove a point to him by ignoring what he said.”
We do not want and should not be satisfied by superficial unity. Thabiti’s lecture focused on the fact that fundamental to racial reconciliation is the understanding and acknowledgement that we are image-bearers of God, and that we have yet to meet someone of any skin color that was a mere mortal. If we truly understand the concept of identity and image-bearing, we will not be satisfied by a superficial unity that does more to mask wounds than it does to heal them.
If we are going to have victory over the sin of racism, we have to start by admitting that it exists, both socially and in our own hearts. Another excellent point that Thabiti made was that illumination and confession brings freedom. Even as racism continues to flourish, being labeled a racist is a social pariah. Consequently, racism is one of the few sins that pretty much nobody will personally admit to. This means that the sin of racism stays hidden, and perhaps the most foolproof way to ensure a sin flourishes is to ensure it remains a secret.
If superficial unity is our goal, then let’s continue to pretend none of us are prejudiced, implicitly biased, or hold unfair assumptions about people that are different than us. But if we want true, lasting, blood-bought unity, let’s confess our sin, bring it into the light, and watch it burn.
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