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Racism, Emotional Health, and the Gospel

Posted on January 18th, 2015

Our first nine years at New Life (1987-1996) were a painful, difficult, and often unsuccessful attempt, to bridge racial, cultural, economic, and gender barriers. We did not “break through” our massive differences until God’s answer to our cry through what we call today Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS).

EHS transformed our approach and language around reconciliation, giving us a more fully orbed theology, a new language, new tools, and a beneath the surface spirituality that deeply transformed us. EHS enabled us to build an authentic community with African Americans, West Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Whites, Peruvians, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Poles, Jews, Palestinians, and Russians (to name a few). The result has been the miracle that New Life is today — a vibrant community of 1500+ people from over 73 nations that serves as a sign and wonder to the power of the gospel.


The principles for how this has happened are outlined in The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Truly Changes Lives (Zondervan, Updated/Revised 2010). It offers the main points of our EHS contribution to the national discussion on race, the gospel, and reconciliation. They are:

1. Look beneath the surface. Telling people to reconcile is not enough. We must equip people to open up their interior worlds so they learn to feel before God, themselves, and one another. Why? We can’t love human beings with thoughts alone. We love and connect primarily on a feeling level. We can live in another country or culture and still not enter deeply into their pain because we haven’t entered our own.

2. Break the power of the past. Everyone entering into this war with principalities and powers of darkness must be willing to look at the sinful patterns from their family of origin, and their culture, and learn how to do life in the new family of Jesus. From 1996 forward, our leaders were required to do this kind of hard, painful work (e.g. genogram your family). This also gave us a means to understand how deep racism goes back in our family and cultural histories, and why superficial solutions and programs will always fall short.

3. Live in brokenness and vulnerability. If we are going to connect across this racial chasm, it must be on the basis of our weakness, failures, and setbacks. David murdered and committed adultery, speaking of it openly in 1 Samuel and Ps. 51. Paul shared about his thorn in the flesh that he could not remove (2 Cor. 12). We resist the powers of evil through humility and brokenness, not our intellect, talents, and strengths.

4. Receive the gift of limits. Each of us was born in a particular family, at a particular moment in history, into a particular culture and race. That is a gift God wants to use for His purposes. We each must embrace the gifts and the limits of our race, culture and limit, trusting God to grant us power and grace to enter into the world of others. We also recognize how limited we are “to make reconciliation happen”. That is the miraculous work of God.

5. Embrace grieving and loss. A robust biblical theology of grief and loss is foundational to all reconciliation. If I am unable to experience my own sadness and losses, then it will be impossible for me to enter yours. I often say to my African American friends, “How can you expect this White guy to enter your feelings when he doesn’t enter his own? His own spouse doesn’t feel loved by him! The issue is much larger than him simply seeing structural racism in society or understanding White privilege.”

6. Make incarnation your model for loving well. We have to teach our people to enter the other world of other individuals like Jesus did for us. This takes character. This takes skills. This takes great maturity. That also requires a willingness to enter the sufferings of others. At New Life, we have intentionally created a new culture with a new language that was condensed, after 17 years, in what we now call Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0.

7. A slowed down spirituality to lead with integrity. Our first passion is Jesus, not reconciliation. Reconciliation is a byproduct, an essential outworking of our following of Jesus. At New Life, we invite people to leave the world, along with the cultural American church, to radically follow Jesus. Reconciliation is a core theological outworking of the gospel, not an addendum. Slowing down for a deep, beneath the surface spirituality with Jesus is the only way our us to do this with integrity

Two opportunities are coming up that will address these issues. The first is an all-day seminar at New Life this coming Saturday, January 24, from 9:00-3:00 pm on “The Gospel and Reconciliation.” Greg Jao of InterVarsity, Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, Gabriel Salguero from the National Association of Latino Evangelicals, and myself will be speaking. The second is our Emotionally Healthy Leadership 2015 Conference on April 22-23rd where you will see this visibly fleshed out with our New Life leadership and staff.

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