Discipleship is a relationship that trains us to become more like Jesus. The word “disciple” means learner. In disciple- ship we die to ourselves and learn to pattern our lives after Jesus’s conviction, compassion, and courage. We are inspired by his relationship with Abba Father. We admire his obedience, intellect, wisdom, faith, and how he prays. We listen to his teachings and examine his every move.
Luke 4:14-30 tells us that after his wilderness temptation experience, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” On the Sabbath, he found himself in his hometown synagogue and stood up to read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
For the most part, Jesus was well received. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). If he had stopped there, everything might have been fine—the “let’s have dinner and talk about our favorite shows on Netflix” kind of fine.
But Jesus is a prophet, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
He tells the stories of two like-minded prophets. Instead of ministering to the masses, Elijah and Elisha ministered to the least of these—to widows and lepers. As children of Abraham, the listeners in the synagogue felt intrinsically superior to the Sidonians and Syrians.
The thought that another people group would be blessed above their own was unfathomable to them. Jesus had gone too far.
Rather than repenting, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this” (v. 28), and they “drove him out of the town in order to throw him off the cliff” (v. 29). It is not his declaration of his divine mission, but his candid remarks on racism that turn the adoring crowd into a murderous mob.
We continue to press in and press on, even when we do not get it right.
It is clear from this story that racial righteousness and justice flow from the heart of God through the mission and message of Jesus. Racism is a sin, part of our fallen human condition and broken systems. Racism kills, steals, and destroys, affecting victim, perpetrator, and bystanders. Such has been the case across cultures and millennia. Jesus came to save us from our sins, even the ones we are blind to.
I love the Covenant and trust the Holy Spirit to lead us forward. I especially appreciate our emphasis on pursing racial righteousness and reconciliation. Our Swedish immigrant heritage, which we continue to honor, gave our forebearers deeper sensitivity to God’s call to racial righteousness.
One of my colleagues says that ethnic diversity is a revelatory gift—not a problem to be solved. As we live into the story of God’s mosaic kingdom, we continue to press in and press on, even when we do not get it right.
Pursuing racial righteousness is a matter of individual and collective discipleship. Compelled by a kingdom vision of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation present before the throne (Revelation 7:9), we join God in God’s mission to see more disciples among more populations in a more caring and just world.
As a white Covenant pastor who has served in our denomination for 27 years, I have witnessed a changing church as we have embraced a beautiful mosaic of people. I cannot imagine following Jesus without our multiethnic mosaic of mission friends. Our strength comes through our ethnic diversity.
Each of us is at a different point in the journey of racial righteousness. Let us be gracious with one another and take responsibility for our own growth and development. Let us commit to staying at the table no matter how uncomfortable it gets. This is messy, hard, and beautiful work.
I am not staying at the table to be “woke,” or to engage in virtue signaling, or to be known as a justice warrior. I am staying at the table to love and follow Jesus and pattern my life after him.
The Six-Fold Test for Multiethnic Ministry is a discipleship tool that I find motivating and inspiring. Originally the Five-Fold Test, it was created in 2004 by a group of diverse Covenant leaders. This is a statement of our values and a metric for our growth. It identifies five elements: population, participation, power, pace-setting, and purposeful narrative. In 2018, we added a sixth “p”—practicing solidarity.
This resource is not tangential; it is central to our identity as a gospel people, proclaiming and demonstrating the whole mission of the Church. Together, we advance the mission through the multiethnic mosaic of churches of which we are all a part.
The Six-Fold Test holds us accountable to keep growing as disciples of Jesus. It provides a clear framework to advance the mission with the dual lens of ethnic diversity and anti-racist progress. It protects us from complacency or thinking that we have arrived.
I’m grateful for the Six-Fold Test and how the Spirit uses it to guide me as I serve the Evangelical Covenant Church. For example, it is tradition for the denomination’s president to serve as chair of the Mosaic Commission. Deep in my spirit, I was convicted that the chair ought to be a person of color from within the commission, so I resigned from that role. The decision was not tokenism but a sincere application of the Six-Fold Test. The commission elected Mary Chung March as their new chair, and we have made encouraging progress over the last two years.
Another example of applying the Six-Fold Test is the Sankofa journey available through Love Mercy Do Justice. Along with sisters and brothers of color, I had the opportunity to travel to various civil rights sites through the South. We heard stories of slavery, Jim Crow, and how this oppression continues today in various forms. Sankofa increased my situational and historical awareness. It opened my eyes and heart so I could grieve with those who grieve. It also inspired me to dig deeper into my own roots and find out where I came from. It is the stories, not just the data, that impact my life. I’ve heard it said that the shortest distance between two people is a story. Sankofa is a powerful way to connect through story.
Like many of my white sisters and brothers on this journey, I am committed to reading numerous books on the subject of race and biblical justice. But we need to go beyond the books to build bonds with our sisters and brothers of color. We need to share meaningful experiences that help us to know and feel each other’s pain. Relationships really are the secret sauce of the Covenant.
It’s not enough to identify as “non-racist.” Throughout the past year, nearly 400 members of the Ministerium have participated in anti-racism cohorts. As followers of Jesus, we must do all we can to dismantle racism in all its forms.
Yes, we experience growing pains as we learn to live together, but these should not deter us from growing into our full identity as citizens of God’s kingdom mosaic. This is hard work. We need to celebrate every step of the journey as we build trust and transparency. We take responsibility for our own growth and for the growth of the Evangelical Covenant Church. As each part does its work, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of “him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ).
In God’s providential kindness, the Covenant has become a pacesetter in pursuing racial righteousness and reconciliation. We want to become the beloved community that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. We have come a long way, but we have not arrived. The work continues. We anticipate the new “Becoming the Beloved Community” resource suite coming soon to help strengthen our relationships.
Let us continue to stay true to our Covenant convictions, forged in Scripture. Jesus and justice go hand in hand. May we live in a non-anxious manner, move toward one another, and stay the course—for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.