The conversation goes on. And from the perspective of some among us, it goes on and on and on and on and on. “Why can’t we just let bygones be bygones? Why do we have to keep on dredging up the past and revisiting the same sins over and over again? Didn’t we already say we were sorry for that, anyway? What do we have to do or say to finally lay this thing to rest?”
I believe this line of thinking, and different perspectives with regard to it, lies at the root of much of the current frustration regarding the ongoing discussion over racial reconciliation. Hopefully, what I have to say here will not muddy the waters further and only add to the frustration.
I see an interesting parallel between the discussion over ongoing repentance for the sins of racism and racialism in our midst as Americans, Christians, and particularly in our case here as Southern Baptists, and the plotline of the old devotional classic My Heart, Christ’s Home. For those of you who may not be familiar with this book published by Robert Boyd Munger in 1954, I will first give a brief synopsis of its message and then offer some thoughts related to how I believe it applies to the current discussion on racial reconciliation, especially as it relates to us as Evangelicals and to the Southern Baptist Convention.
My Heart, Christ’s Home is a parable on the process of Christian sanctification. As the storyline progresses, the owner of the home (which represents the heart of the Christian) invites Jesus to visit his home and begins to show Him, one by one, all the different rooms. As the two of them begin to go through the house, they first come to the library and discover there all sorts of filthy literature and unclean things that Jesus is not pleased with. As the owner comes under conviction for these things, He allows Jesus to guide him as he cleans out the library and throws away the items there that are not pleasing to Him. Next, they come to the dining room and follow a similar process. Then, they do the same thing in the living room, the workroom, the rec room, and eventually, the hall closet. At this stage, it comes to light that the owner of the house had entrusted the keys of the other rooms to Jesus, but not the key to the hall closet. But there in the hall closet was something that was dead, rotten, and putrefying. Eventually, the owner gives Jesus the key to the hall closet, and Jesus cleans it up also. Finally, he comes to the realization that, up to that point, he had only invited Jesus in as a guest, but he still retained the title deed to the house. As a result, he finally signs the title deed over to Jesus, and Jesus becomes Lord and Master of all, once and for all.
Though I think there are some great spiritual truths to be learned from My Heart, Christ’s Home, personally, I would make a few tweaks in the plotline to make it conform a bit better to my understanding of biblical soteriology and sanctification. First of all, I believe that when we invite Jesus to come into our heart, we must surrender to Him the master key right from the start. If we knowingly withhold from Jesus the key to any room or secret hall closet in the home of our heart, that is a sign we have never truly been saved. As the old maxim goes, either He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. Now this does not mean that He instantly cleans up every room and closet in the house the minute we hand over the master key to Him. As a matter of fact, as I understand the sanctification process, this side of heaven there will always be another room, another closet, another untidy, filthy corner of our heart, where Jesus must continue to do His cleansing work in us. As 1 John 1:8 plainly says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Sometimes, in real life, there are hidden rooms and closets in our life we may not even be aware of until Jesus and His master key eventually find their way there. But if we are truly saved, He has the master key; and when He arrives at that place in our life, He already has permission to come in and to begin to clean it up and remodel it into what He wants it to be. And when He begins the cleaning and remodeling of certain rooms in our life, the process may be painful for us, as we discover things about ourselves we never dreamed were there before. But He is faithful, and little by little, if we are truly His, He will eventually come to that place in our heart’s home and begin to do His wonderful cleaning and restoration work. As Dr. Gray Allison at Mid-America Seminary used to say in his class on Introduction to Personal Evangelism, “When we get saved, we give all we know of us to all we know of Jesus. At some point after that time, we gradually come to know more of us and we also come to know more of Jesus. But when we get saved, we don’t give Him part of us; we give Him all of us” (loose paraphrase).
Now how does all this apply to the ongoing discussion on racial reconciliation? I would say that in the heart home of each one of us there is a whole wing we could call the wing of racial relationships, ideas, attitudes, words, and actions. For some people, when they first get saved, they may be largely unaware of exactly what is in there. And as long as we are still on this earth, there are always–for every one of us–secret nooks and crannies that we still have not visited together with Jesus and which He still has not totally cleaned out and remodeled. I believe it is in this sense that all of us, no matter how far along we are in the sanctification process, are still, to one degree or another, racist. To admit that we are racist is not to plead guilty to an unproven, slanderous accusation; it is, rather, to openly acknowledge that God still has some work to do in us in that area of our lives.
Peter, for example, had his first major visit with Jesus to the racial reconciliation wing of his heart’s home when he had the vision of the sheet coming down from heaven with all sorts of unclean animals and the voice told him to kill and eat. And God clearly did a work of sanctification in Peter’s heart at this time. As he plainly said, “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. . . Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:28, 34-35). But it was a good while after this first experience with Jesus in the racial reconciliation wing that Paul found Peter in Antioch separating himself from the Gentiles and only eating and fellowshipping with the Jews, and confronted him face to face and let him know in no uncertain terms that what he was doing was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:11-14).
The lesson for us? We may well have truly given Jesus the master key to the home of our heart. We may have already had an initial visit with Jesus over in the racial reconciliation wing of our heart’s home. We may even have already let Him thoroughly clean out and remodel several of the major rooms in that wing. But that doesn’t mean there is no more cleaning or no more remodeling work left to do. We may have publicly repented and said we are sorry for those things. And we may have truly meant it. But that doesn’t mean there may not be other areas or other things in this wing of our heart’s home we still need to repent for and say we are sorry for.
In the recent publication, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, edited by Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones, Matthew Hall, in his essay, “Historical Causes of the Stain of Racism in the Southern Baptist Convention,” cites the following quote from historian Edward Baptist: “Whenever we dredge up the past, we find that the rusty old chains we rake from the bottom are connected to some people’s present-day pains and others’ contemporary privilege.”
The point, as I understand it, is that it can be painful and unpleasant to keep digging into the past and dredging up the old wounds, but there are some present-day pains that will never be totally healed until we get to the bottom of what is causing them. And if we truly love our brothers and sisters who are still hurting as a result of these wounds, no matter how unsavory it may feel to us to keep dredging up the past, we will be willing to do it, because we love them and we want to see them completely healed and restored to the position Jesus wants for them–a position of dignity and wholeness, a place of peace with the past and hope for the future. We also do it because those same chains may well be what is keeping us bound to sinful attitudes hidden away in some secret, as-of-yet unexplored closet in the far reaches of the racial reconciliation wing of our heart’s home–and since Jesus holds the master key, we realize that sooner or later we are going to have to visit that room also.