CHICAGO, IL (November 10, 2017) — In the latest issue of the Covenant Companion, we feature an interview with pastors Peter Ahn and Alex Gee on the need for Covenanters to speak more honestly with each other about race relations in our churches. The article has generated a considerable amount of buzz—both positive and critical.
I recognize that some readers have concerns about the tone of the interview as well as statements made by Peter and Alex suggesting that the next nominee for ECC president should be a person of color (or, at the very least, someone with a sensitivity to issues of diversity and multiethnic ministry). In publishing this interview our intention was to open dialogue, not to exert influence on the Presidential Nominating Committee and its important work in any way. As is the case with all interviews, the opinions expressed by the interviewees are their own and should not be construed as any kind of official position of the Companion nor of the ECC.
Still, as the editor of the Companion and executive director of communications for the ECC, I feel a responsibility to explain why we published an article that many find so controversial. Partisan politics and racial tension are straining our nation and our churches. People are afraid to speak honestly for fear of being accused of racism or divisiveness. As Covenanters, we have a history of approaching the turmoil of the times with a gracious and redemptive spirit rooted in the hope of the gospel. We have historically chosen to live in the tension of disagreement while still loving and respecting our brother and sister in Christ. It is in that spirit that we published the article.
For the 25 years of my professional life, I’ve lived and worked as a person of color in predominantly white evangelical settings. Though I’ve sometimes felt like a person with no home—too “other” to neatly fit into the white evangelical world, yet too “white” to feel at ease in mostly black churches—I’ve worked hard to build bridges between these different parts of my life. I’ve written books and shared speeches about the John 17 vision of unity in the church. I’ve promoted a sober-minded message that acknowledges the potential landmines of multiethnic ministry, even while confessing a wide-eyed hope in the gospel of reconciliation. In the Covenant, I found a community of faithful believers who place a high value on a Christian community that rightly reflects the true diversity of God’s kingdom. I found a home.
I share all of this because I want readers to understand the context of where I’m coming from as a Christian leader. Since the publication of the interview, I’ve heard from some who have felt alienated or vilified by its content. My sincere desire has always been that people who read or hear words for which I’m responsible would feel respected and safe. So, it breaks my heart that anyone would feel marginalized or attacked as a result of something we’ve published. That was certainly not the intent.
Nor was it our intent to give the perception of influencing the choice of an ECC presidential nominee. We trust that the women and men of the Presidential Nominating Committee will choose the person whom God has for the Covenant through their own prayer and discernment—whether that nominee be male, female, white, or a person of color.
Presidents—both the USA and ECC variety—will come and go, and our society will always be tested by the stresses that come with our freedom and diversity. Still, I remain hopeful that the church—and more specifically the gospel of Christ—holds the solution to our divides. But we must be willing to put in the work. That can be difficult and even painful, as it demands that we be in true community with one another, that we risk being vulnerable, and that we are open to receiving each other’s story with patience and respect. That is the conversation we hoped to prompt with the interview.
We knew that not everyone would agree with Alex’s and Peter’s perspectives, and that some might even be tempted to walk away from the conversation. We hope that doesn’t happen. Our vision for the Companion is that it would be an instrument for connecting the whole Covenant community and advancing the mission of the church. Sometimes it’s impossible to connect and advance without being willing to enter into some tension. My prayer is that we’ll all be willing to be vulnerable, to expose the wholeness of ourselves in all our complexity, trusting that our commitment to Jesus and to each other is strong enough to withstand our disagreements.