The last year has been one of the most challenging times I have yet to witness. I know that I am still young, but I also know that I am not alone in my experience. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the lives of billions around the world. Over a year since it began, we are still working to get our bearings. But COVID-19 has certainly not been the only challenge we have faced over the last year. Along with many other things, 2020 shone a spotlight on the issue of racism, specifically within the United States. While this is by no means a new issue—in our nation or in our world—recent events in our country have brought the issue of racism to the forefront of the minds of many.
At VOUS, we are committed to living proactive lives. Rather than react to what is happening around us, our aim is to thoughtfully respond to the challenges we encounter and the issues we see. While we know how challenging entering this discussion could be, we are firm in our conviction that we serve a God of justice. As the body of Christ, it is our duty to reflect the heart of God. Racism is a sin issue that breaks God’s heart. And it should break our hearts as well. This year, our pastors and staff came around a passage of scripture found in Amos chapter five. We have been struck by Eugene Peterson’s powerful paraphrase:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” Amos 5:21-24 (The Message)
The point of this passage is not that God hates church gatherings, conferences, or projects. It is an expression of God’s outrage at a people who had committed themselves to “religious activities” but completely forgotten his heart. The moment we fall in love with our ceremonies and fail to love and serve people is the moment we have lost our way. “When was the last time you sang to me?” It is not enough that we sing. We must remember to whom we sing. “Do you know what I want? I want justice...” God’s desire is not that we would put on a good show for him. It is that we would serve him by serving others. He doesn’t need our worship or our help. But he desires our affection and he is delighted by our service to others.
One of the steps we have taken toward racial unity as a community is introducing a new class through our VOUS Care department: The Third Option. We are anything but experts on this topic. But we are committed to learning and growing together. That’s why we searched for a resource that could equip our staff, servant leaders, and congregation to do just that. The Third Option is a six-week course based on the latest book (of the same name) by Miles McPherson, founder of The Rock Church in San Diego. In his book, Pastor Miles seeks to provide people with a resource to help them in understanding this complex issue and combating racial division.
Personally, I had the opportunity to be a part of The Third Option Care Crew last season. In it, I learned how to see the world through another's perspective, how to have life-giving, real conversations about sensitive topics, and how to honor the image of God in others—specifically those who don't look or act like me. There is freedom in the context of community, and I am so grateful for a safe space where I can lean into difficult conversations that lead to heart transformation, breakthrough, and unity. Here is an excerpt from the book’s description:
“Even the church has been affected by racial division, with Sunday now being the most segregated day of each week. Christians, who are called to love and honor their neighbors, have fallen into culture’s trap by siding with one group against another: us vs. them. Cops vs. protestors. Blacks vs. whites. Racists vs. the ‘woke.’ The lure of choosing one option over another threatens God’s plan for unity among His people. Instead of going along with the culture, Pastor Miles directs us to choose the Third Option: honoring the priceless value of God’s image in every person we meet.”
This is just the beginning of the conversation for us, but we are already moved by what God has done in our community and expectant for what he has ahead of us. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of room for growth, but we are ready to take the next step. Our hope is that this small look into our journey would encourage others as they continue on theirs. Our prayer is that the small spark of this conversation would start a fire that the Holy Spirit would fan into flame in our community and beyond. There is much still to be done, but we walk confidently knowing that God has graced us for such a time as this.