In the last few months, here are a few things that have happened within 30 minutes of where I live:
A university fraternity sang a horrible racist chant that went viral and shut down the fraternity.
A rally of Muslims at the state capital was met by pretty heavy resistance and anti-Muslim protesters.
A new law is trying to be passed allowing Uber drivers to refuse service to LGBT customers.
And this is just my city. Look at the national news and the main storylines you will see revolve around these three issues. More and more there are growing divides in our country: black/white, “American” (please notice the quotes)/Muslim, Christian/gay.
US versus THEM.
The need to re-imagine these categories and to cross boundaries is thrown in our face daily. We can no longer pretend these issues do not exist.
From a national perspective, we see reconciliation as an urgent need, but we see it from a Biblical perspective as well. Look at this verse from Isaiah talking about the future God envisions for the world.
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and there will be a monument to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is worshiped in the land of Egypt. When the people cry to the Lord for help against those who oppress them, he will send them a savior who will rescue them. The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians. Yes, they will know the Lord and will give their sacrifices and offerings to him. They will make a vow to the Lord and will keep it….In that day Egypt and Assyria will be connected by a highway. The Egyptians and Assyrians will move freely between their lands, and they will both worship God. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will say, “Blessed be Egypt, my people. Blessed be Assyria, the land I have made. Blessed be Israel, my special possession!”
A few things should be noted:
At the time of these writing, Egypt is the archetypal enemy of Israel. We have heard the Exodus story and the bad guy in that story is Egypt. And this story is told every year for Israel through the Passover. It was part of their identity.
Further, Assyria was the real and present enemy. Egypt was a figure-head, Assyria was the current occupying power oppressing Israel.
In Israel’s mind there was no greater divide of Us/Them than Israel/Egypt or Assyria.
And what does God say the future holds?
Egypt, Assyria, and thirdly Israel will be reconciled through the work of God.
The dividing lines of Us and Them blur into a “We.”
This perspective is important because it is not just a vision of what God wants to accomplish in the world someday. It has very practical implications here and now. Yet we often don’t see this because we have faulty understandings of evangelism.
As I have written before, our real goal as Christians is to be representatives of God. God is in the good news business, so we should be in the good news business. Evangelism is about representing and ushering in the realities God wants and desires for the world.
So when we look at a text like Isaiah 19, we don’t see idealism, we see a call to get to work. Evangelism rightly understood does not mean we are in the business of converting “them” to “us.” Evangelism is about reconciliation. It is about reaching across boundaries to make peace and hope and love. This is the work of reconciliation and our world desperately needs us to redefine evangelism in this way.
Practically, we evangelize in this way through hospitality.
Hospitality is where a space is created for welcoming, authenticity, and acceptance. It is a place where inefficient uses of time occur and people are free to bring their whole selves to the table. it is a place where people are welcomed in spite of their differences, and differences are celebrated rather than avoided.
This may sound grand but it can start simply.
I was at a consortium a few weeks ago where a panel was interviewed about cross-cultural difference. One of the panelist was asked how churches can begin to be hospitable places for cross-cultural ministry. I thought her answer was quite profound. She said it starts with the question: Are we ready for this kind of hospitality?
This is a difficult question, but one we need to be asking: especially for white, middle-class, American Christians. Because I would say the answer to this question in many of our churches and lives is: No.
I read an article recently that said white people are the only people in America who have the ability to not think about race on a day-to-day basis. Which is so true. Therefore, we need to start talking about it. We need to be addressing it in our churches, and talking about it in our relationships. We have to start asking ourselves how we can be people who are ready for radical reconciliation through hospitality.
And if we are ready, we need to be working really hard to cross-boundaries and engage in reconciliation everywhere we have opportunity. It means really loving people in the midst of the difference, trying to understand their point of view and really listening to actual human beings made in the image of God.
Even if it is only Especially if it is at our own kitchen table.
If we aren’t, we are missing the biggest need for the Gospel in our context today.