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Anti-Racism in the Renewing of Christian Worship, 2020

We lament and grieve the indefensible and tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery even as we continue to lament and grieve the indefensible and tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Emmett Till, and the thousands of anonymous victims of lynching, genocide, and violence perpetuated against Native Americans, African Americans, Latinx, Asian Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, and other people of color, each made in God’s image.

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Lamenting and grieving is not alien to Christian discipleship. It is a way of praying, singing, and walking in step with the Holy Spirit, who groans in and through us “with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26), grateful that those who have the first fruits of the Spirit are those who groan while we “wait for the redemption of [each and every one of] our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).

We lament and grieve the silence, indifference, and ignorance of Christian believers, congregations, colleges, seminaries, and institutes that have contributed to this culture of violence, as well as the efforts of these institutions that, in spite of good intentions, have further contributed to the problem. We confess that, through sins of omission and commission, we have been complicit, actively and passively contributing to these patterns, haunted also by the awareness that the more we learn together, the more we learn about the folly and pain even our well-intentioned efforts have perpetuated.

We are inspired by the vision of God’s shalom for the human community that animates our mission to be Christ’s agents of renewal in the world—the aspiration at the heart of Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary, our two host institutions in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We are profoundly grateful for the all-encompassing vision of the beauty of the Lord, who not only forgives our iniquity, heals all our diseases, redeems our lives from the Pit, and crowns us with love and mercy, but also “works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed” (Ps. 103:1–6).

We are profoundly grateful for the chorus of witnesses, prophets, teachers, artists, and musicians—led by people of color across the spectrum of Christian traditions and followed by people in many supporting roles in a variety of contexts—that God has raised up to affirm that each person in this world is made in God’s image, to clearly point out the sin of racism, to point to the reconciling work of Jesus Christ as the sure foundation of our hope, and to lead in their own spheres of influence beautiful, countercultural examples of racial healing and reconciliation. We are profoundly grateful for the networks of Vital Worship Grant project directors, Worship Symposium presenters, and CICW website contributors who have joined in this work. We are grateful for deep friendships and for the institutional changes that have emerged out of this work. We also acknowledge that this good work, which we engage in for the joy set before us in the Holy Spirit, has only just begun. 

Throughout our journey together over the years, we have learned over and over again several things we resolve to remember: 

  • that telling the truth about genocide, racism, and violence is a part of what it means to be people shaped by the Spirit of Truth;
  • that confession of sin and lament are essential practices of Christian worship, and that there is no good reason to neglect explicit public prayers for the end of racism;
  • that the healing of our Christian imaginations requires a truthful retelling of the history of Christianity going back to the earliest centuries of the church, which were much more culturally diverse that we have imagined and also featured more cultural sin, particularly anti-Semitism, than we imagine;
  • that paying deep attention to autobiographies and art and music is essential for helping us hear and begin to understand each other across cultural differences;
  • that worshiping and communing around the Lord’s table together is a means of grace through which God’s Spirit convicts and encourages us in the way of faithfulness;
  • that baptism offers a vocational call to turn from sin and to give up arrogant notions of cultural superiority that entrap us and others;  
  • that with many cultural values, including different cultural sensibilities about time, being different does not mean that one way is necessarily better than another; 
  • that those of us formed in white communities to be people with the answers must relinquish the expectation and need to feel good at the end of every conversation;
  • that often our conversations about racial differences both hide and reveal our distorted attitudes about the socioeconomic differences the Bible repeatedly challenges us to relinquish;
  • that prayers for healing are incomplete without action focused on righteousness, justice, and God’s shalom;
  • that learning to pray, listen, and sing bilingually, when contextually appropriate, can be a powerfully formative gift of God’s Spirit to open our hearts to each other and to see more deeply into the beauty of the triune God;
  • that crosscultural friendships, strengthened by candid and constructive discussions about racism and cultural violence, can be a foretaste of the coming kingdom;
  • that we are all born into a world in which the legal, cultural, economic, and political systems favor some more than others. Far too often and much more than many realize, these systems privilege people because of the color of their skin, shaping a world in which white privilege and white supremacy are the norm that all of us must work to unlearn and resist; 
  • that over the years there have been transformational moments in individual hearts, neighborhoods, congregations, and institutions where God’s shalom has emerged in beautiful and redemptive ways, and we long for that to be a result of this cultural moment; and
  • that there is always a temptation to think that paying attention to this for a little while will help us get past it instead of thinking of this as a lifelong posture for every Christian eager to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  

The resources we have organized on this page are drawn from the past decade of our work at CICW. Through these pages, you can meet and learn from some of the remarkable leaders God has raised up to teach us all during this time. Our efforts might be incomplete, partial, and halting, but we long to continue by God’s grace in the journey of repentance and hope set before us. We welcome your insights, questions, and constructive feedback.

Anti-Racism in the Renewing of Christian Worship

Expanding our Cultural Understanding

Bilingual Singing

 

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