Mother Violet Fletcher was seven years old when the Tulsa Race Massacre began. At a recent event, she described what happened to her. “I still remember all the shooting and running,” she said. “People being killed. Crawling and seeing smoke. Seeing airplanes flying and a messenger going through the neighborhood telling all the Black people to leave town.”
Then she stopped speaking. Even after one hundred years, the memories of that horrible day can still overwhelm her.
As another sign pointing to the enormity of this tragedy, a full excavation of Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa began yesterday. Searchers are looking for mass graves from the 1921 massacre. Researchers found twelve unmarked graves in the cemetery last year. Authorities expect the current excavations to take weeks or even months due to the number of burials they expect to find.
These stories remind us that long after this week’s centennial remembrance of the massacre, its consequences will persist. What can you and I do to combat the sin of racism and heal its wounds?
Yesterday we learned from Acts 6 that our first step must be to recognize discrimination in our own hearts and respond to it with repentant hearts and redemptive actions. Today we’ll discuss our second biblical step, one that can help to heal our nation.
“The word of God continued to increase”
The early Christian movement was anything but homogenous. Jesus’ apostles were men from Galilee, but his movement also included women (cf. Luke 8:1–3), people from Jerusalem and Judea (Matthew 4:25), and Samaritans (John 4), Gentiles (cf. Matthew 15:21–28), and Romans (cf. Matthew 8:5–13) as well. Believers from fifteen different nationalities were part of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:9–11).
Unsurprisingly, as we noted yesterday from Acts 6:1, problems arose between the “Hellenists” (Jewish Christians who came from outside Israel and spoke Greek) and the “Hebrews” (Jewish Christians from Israel who spoke Aramaic). The apostles then called for the church to “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (v. 3).
In response, the congregation chose seven men, all of whom had Greek names (v. 5). Following the onset of their ministry, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (v. 7).
Here we discover the second step we should take in responding to the evils of racism.
An example everyone should follow
You and I do not know what we do not know. For example, if you’re like many white Americans, you knew little (if anything) about the Tulsa Race Massacre before recent days and weeks. We can therefore speak and act in ways that communicate racist messages and deepen racist divisions without knowing we are doing so.
Here we see the wisdom of the early Christians in selecting believers from the Greek-speaking part of the church to lead in responding to the needs of Greek-speaking members. These leaders could speak for those they represented and help the church minister holistically with greater effectiveness.
I am convinced that every church, ministry, and organization in America should follow their example. Here’s how.
One: Ask God to lead you to someone who understands and represents those of a different race than yourself. Pray for God to help you build bridges of relational trust with this person.
Two: Ask this person to help you and your church or organization assess yourselves with regard to racial prejudice. Invite them to be completely honest, assuring them that there is nothing they cannot say to you. Develop an ongoing relationship with them for this purpose.
Three: Respond to their assessment by taking action in practical and even sacrificial ways, knowing that your larger witness will glorify God and draw others to him (cf. Acts 6:7).
Imagine the difference if every church and organization in our nation would take these steps together.
This week, I have led Denison Forum to begin this journey. Two very dear and trusted Black friends have agreed to do this work with me and with us. I am deeply grateful to them and anticipate some hard but redemptive conversations together.
A ledger kept by God
Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church was on the front line of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Its building was damaged during the violence, leaving only the basement, which was badly damaged as well. The church decided to rebuild and kept a ledger of all the people who pledged to help and the money they donated to the cause.
That ledger is in the news today. It has been restored and is available to all who wish to see sacrificial faith in action. The pastor said, “The hope and perseverance you see demonstrated in this ledger allowed the church to thrive and enabled it to serve the needs of the community for generations after.”
God keeps a ledger as well. He views our works as “gold, silver, precious stones,” or as “wood, hay, straw.” The former receive eternal reward, while the latter are “burned up” in judgment (1 Corinthians 3:13–14).
With regard to the racial reconciliation our culture needs so desperately, what will God write in your ledger?
NOTE: For more on the healing significance of unity in facing our challenges, please see my latest website article, “Naomi Osaka and Dak Prescott: The urgency and power of community.”