In the wake of countless stories of injustice against people of color, our churches are being impacted. People of color have begun to leave the white and multiethnic evangelical churches they’ve called home because of their failure to denounce the racism happening today.
And what began as a silent decision based on individual cases has now become a movement to make known the way many churches are failing believers of color. Large segments of our churches are experiencing tragedy, injustice, and dehumanization as part of their daily lives. And the communities they serve in, love, and care about are remaining silent. There’s a great disconnect that should be addressed.
The #leaveLOUD movement has gained a lot of criticism among Christians, because they believe it creates division and only leads to greater segregation based on race.
Those who oppose the #leaveLOUD movement are doing so with a charge of their own. The counter call for Christians during this time is one of unity. There’s no denying that the call for unity is a biblical mandate.
And it’s what we all want to see happen in our churches. We want to see the full beauty of people from different backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, race, gender, and culture be knit together through their shared love in Jesus. The trouble doesn’t lie in our longing for unity, but there seems to be growing abuse around the idea of unity.
It’s important we put unity in its rightful place rather than wielding it as a sword against fellow believers. Over the past few years there have been three common offenses that have unfortunately become acceptable as we cry out for unity. These abuses need to be brought into the light so that they lose their power. So that they can no longer cause damage in the hearts and minds of believers.
Here are 3 ways that Christians tend to misuse and abuse the idea of unity.
1. We call for unity as an excuse to ignore important issues.
We must be careful not to jump straight to unity when a fellow believer brings an important issue to our attention. Certainly our end goal should be unity. But in order to arrive at that point we must work through the issue at hand. Glossing over the real problem is actually a lack of love and empathy towards another person.
God calls us to unity, but he also calls us to love one another. He calls us to care for those who are marginalized, mistreated, and in need. We can’t pit unity against the call to love and care for one another.
If one of my boys hit the other in the face, I wouldn’t respond with, “Now can’t we all just get along?” That would send a message to one of my sons that his physical hurt doesn’t matter to me. It would also tell my other son that physically hurting his brother is acceptable. Neither of those messages are ones I want to instill in the minds and hearts of my boys.
This is the very same message we are sending when our immediate response to any issue in the church is “unity.”
If we ever want to see true unity within our churches, then we must start by dealing with the very real issues at hand. We have to put in the work. We have to be uncomfortable admitting we were wrong and finding ways to practically restore and redeem the errors of our ways. True unity and peace are forged in the trenches by actually working towards a resolution.
We can’t call for unity while neglecting the work it takes to get there.We can't call for unity while neglecting the work it takes to get there. Click To Tweet
2. We hide behind unity as a form of toxic positivity.
When tragedy strikes, we often don’t know how to respond. So we’re tempted to lean towards being an optimistic person in hopes of ending the conflict. When your need for positivity is insincere and a way to guard yourself against being uncomfortable, you’re stepping into the territory of toxic positivity.
The call for unity can take on the form of toxic positivity rather easily. In your efforts to bring positivity to a situation, you can subvert the very real emotions and experience of a fellow image bearer.
Oftentimes, people express forms of toxic positivity out of their lack of ability to deal with a situation. Just about every type of disagreement is uncomfortable, but the types of social issues we’re seeing played out in the church are even more so. It’s hard to hear about the stories of people of color not feeling heard, understood, or affirmed within their own Christian communities. It’s painful, exhausting, and overwhelming to know there is an issue that must be resolved. These issues feel too large and too deep to see restoration in our lifetime, but merely making positive statements relating to unity doesn’t move us any closer.
We inflict great harm when we hide behind unity as a form of toxic positivity. It causes those who are hurting to be hurt even further. It shows them that their experience doesn’t really matter.
When it comes to issues like #leaveLOUD, our cry for unity as a form of toxic positivity says that we don’t actually care why you’re leaving. We don’t even care that you are leaving–just do it quietly, because then we appear to be unified. Unity becomes more of a facade and not a true attribute of our Christian communities.
We can’t be more invested in the appearance of unity than we are in unity itself.We can't be more invested in the appearance of unity than we are in unity itself. Click To Tweet
3. We sacrifice unity on the altar of proving our point.
There are some who might be nodding their heads in agreement so far, but in turn committing abuse to a biblical understanding of unity in a different way.
In the example of #leaveLOUD, the temptation might be to disregard unity for the sake of proving how wrong the church has been. I was recently listening to a podcast featuring Francis Chan, and he was talking about how it might not be the best scenario for every person of color who has been wronged to leave their church loudly. There actually might be a better way to care for the situation. For some, it might be to not leave at all. For others, it might be to leave quietly.
We should never actively choose to disregard unity because we feel like making our point is more important. In the same way that we can’t choose unity over love and care, we also can’t choose care at the expense of unity. Fully disregarding unity is to disobey what God has called to you to do as a believer.We should never actively choose to disregard unity because we feel like making our point is more important. Click To Tweet
Unity is messy.
The idea of unity is a beautiful thing But done right, is a very messy process.
We need to be willing to step into the ugly and dirty process of forging paths in order for unity to exist. And while journeying towards unity, we must be on guard and aware of the many ways people will be tempted to abuse the call.
The issue of this abuse is one of great importance, because it has to do with the vitality of our congregations and our witness to the world. Understanding unity not only in principle but in practice is vital to our Christian community at large, as well as to the individual lives of each person that makes up the body of Christ.
When we get unity right, we can care for our people correctly and show them what it is to truly value and love all of humanity in the way that Jesus does.
MORE RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT
If you enjoyed this article, these books might be useful resources to you.
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- Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement by Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler
- Until Unity by Francis Chan
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby