Thoughts on Romans: what would Paul say to a divided America?

On my Bible-reading calendar, I slated Romans for June, not knowing that June 2020 would see a turmoil in America like we haven’t seen in ages.

Late May saw the death of George Floyd and so early June saw the subsequent uprising of protests against police brutality that morphed into a Black Lives Matter movement so forceful it was impossible to look away.

And so this month started with clenched fists that have slowly started to unclench: arson and looting have been overtaken by peaceful protests and conversations about how to fix what is wrong in our race relations.

Though the Civil Rights era granted important and necessary rights to Black citizens, the racism that enveloped the era was not magically erased as some would like to think. Sadly, racism and prejudice are still a part of our national fabric, and June 2020 feels a little bit like the fabric has been ripped to shreds.

So now it’s time to sit down at the loom and begin weaving again. But how to bring the threads together in a harmonious tapestry?

How can one person—a white person—help?

I started the month feeling stuck. I am a friend to many people of color and I also am the daughter-in-law of a former county sheriff. Was I supposed to have a side here? It sure seemed like people were jumping onto one side or the other.

But jumping onto a side is reinforcing a divide— exactly what our country wants to avoid.

Nevertheless, I recognized that we have lots of dysfunction in our race relations, and I want to help enact change. But where to start? And what can I—a White woman— do? What is my place in all of this?

Thankfully, I found the book Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. I had been searching for a resource that wasn’t saturated in politics and partisanship, and Latasha Morrison delivers. Using God’s word as her foundation, Morrison outlines what kind of work can be done to create true racial reconciliation and unity between believers.

Click to see purchase options on Amazon

Though I typically love a hard-copy book, I couldn’t wait to get started, so I purchased the digital version and have been tearing through it on my tablet, nodding my head and highlighting sentences on just about every page.

Bridges. We can bridge this divide. I want to be a bridge.

I’m 200 pages in, and it feels like a guidebook to help me start the important work of being a bridge builder.

Paul saw the need for a bridge

Paul was a bridge builder in his letter to the Romans.

He knew there was a great divide in the Christ-followers of Rome at the time: Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

The term Jewish Christians refers to those of the bloodline of Abraham. They are followers of Christ who hold fast to the laws that Moses put forth in the Torah (eating Kosher, circumcision as necessary, etc.).

The term Gentile Christians refers to non-Jewish people (in this letter it refers to the Greeks) who believe in Jesus as their savior but do not uphold the ceremonial laws of Moses.

Paul saw unification between these two factions as one of the main purposes for writing his letter. If Jew and Gentile could come together in the name of Christ, the church would have an enormous platform in Rome to grow and thrive.

Paul reminds his readers— which, again, were a group divided by those who followed the laws of the Torah and those who didn’t— that it is not by law that Abraham became the father of all nations but by faith:

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and promise is void.

Romans, 4.13-14, ESV

Obedience to the Torah is not how we gain access to salvation, he asserts. We are rescued by God’s righteousness.

Paul reminds Jews and Gentiles of their common roots

Paul makes his case for salvation despite the law, but he also needs to address the issue of lineage from Abraham. If Gentiles didn’t descend from the holy bloodline, how could they be part of the family of Christ?

In anticipation of this objection, Paul explains justification by faith: believers, regardless of ancestry, are made part of a new family with Jesus as the head (Bible Project).

To help explain the idea of a new family in Christ, Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree in chapter 11:

“… you [gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree”

Romans 11.17-18

Simply put, the Lord is the nourishing root, and the original branches are the lineage of Abraham. Paul refers to the Gentiles as branches grafted in, now firmly a part of the tree—of the family. So Jews and Gentiles are one family in Christ, and God will graft in anyone who follows Jesus.

John Piper, noted theologian, discusses the divide between Jew and Gentile this way:

“Neither Jews nor Gentiles have priority in how they are saved by faith in Christ… Ethnicity is not decisive for salvation.”

John Piper, Desiring God

How does Paul suggest the two factions work towards unification?

Assuming his audience will accept his claims, Paul offers instructions on how to begin to bridge the gap between Jew and Gentile. Here are three of his main suggestions:

1. Love your neighbor

Paul argues that the practice of loving one’s neighbor as oneself will fulfill all of the different commandments:

Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law

Romans 13.10, ESV

2. Do not judge one another

Paul asks his readers to withhold judgment of each other:

“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls […] Therefore let us not pass judgment on another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother”

Romans 14.4,13, ESV

3. Lift up your brother

He continues on, using language that reflects building one another up, because Paul knows when we lift our brothers, we rise, too:

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding […] Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Romans 14.19, Romans 15.2, ESV

Love your neighbor as yourself; withhold judgment; build each other up.

I think we Americans could heed this advice in our current situation.

How do we work towards racial unification?

As I mentioned earlier, Morrison’s book acts as a guidebook for Christians ready to enact true change in our race relations.

The book includes a series of steps that must be taken to bridge the racial division (in order, for effectiveness):

  • Approach the process with true humility
  • Learn the truth about America’s history
  • Empathize with the oppressed
  • Acknowledge personal bias, personal sin, and collective sin
  • Lament past injustices
  • Let go of shame and guilt
  • Confess
  • Offer forgiveness
  • Repent
  • Make amends
  • Restore relationships
  • Reproduce this experience

The steps aren’t easy. The conversations can be difficult. But the result of reconciliation is worth every bit of discomfort in the process.

Whether we use the metaphor of the olive tree with our Heavenly Father as the holy roots or that of the love of Christ as the bridge between a great divide, we know that we can achieve reconciliation when we set our eyes on Him.

Reconciling differences and repairing past hurts takes work. It is a holy work, a humbling work, a necessary work. If we do the work, we can achieve the unification that Paul hoped for the Romans:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and father of our Lord. Jesus Christ

Romans 15.5-6

with His love,

Adelaide

Sips & Scripts: Planting Seeds of Truth in Mormon Soil

This is Jade.

Her drink is an iced maple cinnamon latte.

I have a special backstory with Jade because she took care of my youngest baby when I resumed part-time work at the college. I remember holding him on my hip as I listened to Jade talk with anticipation about her new role as a missionary-barista in the middle of Mormon country in Ephraim, Utah.

It’s been about three years since I saw Jade last, and she spent two of those years in her mission in Ephraim.

Last week, we sat in the shade of the mature pine and cottonwood trees and chatted about her upcoming wedding before she dove into her heart’s passion: speaking truth and love to members of the Mormon population.

Jade’s interest in the Mormon/LDS population

“When I was in high school, I had a Mormon best friend. Curious about her religion, I read the book Escape by Carolyn Jessup in which she details her disentanglement from the Mormon faith. Startled by what I read, I asked my friend if her parents were polygamists. She was furious at me. Reeling in confusion, I dove back into educating myself about Mormonism.

I learned about the different sects of Mormonism (rather, LDS, as they prefer to be called now), and though I adored my LDS friends, I discovered startling contrasts to my own faith system. Thus, my desire to witness to the LDS population began to sprout.

After a few semesters of college, I discovered Tri-Grace Ministries and their non-profit Christian coffee shop, Solid Rock Cafe, in the heart of rural, central Utah.

The coffee shop and ministry were founded almost three decades ago by Chip and Jamie Thompson who discovered that Ephraim was a region virtually untouched by Christianity.

They bought the property, and opened their doors to the non-coffee-drinking LDS population— a venture that could only be bolstered by faith.

The ministry’s foundational verse is

‘Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’

Ephesians 4.15-16, ESV

So I moved into the flat above the coffee shop and joined Tri-Grace ministries in their mission to speak the truth in love.”

Loving those who need the loving truth

“Solid Rock Cafe sits across from the predominantly LDS two-year state college, and so the clientele is college students, but not the incredibly pious LDS— they won’t find themselves in a Christian coffee shop.

The customers we see typically fall into three categories: those of non-LDS religions, those without a faith base, or on occasion, LDS who are struggling with questions.

The coffee shop has barstools at the counter where the baristas work, and individuals who are open to having a conversation will typically sit there.

Because a core tenant of our mission is to offer love, I see my role as a relational evangelist. I build relationships—genuine relationships—with whomever comes to the counter.

Building relationships looks different with each person. For instance, the college has a prominent LGBTQ+ club, and so first and foremost, I let them know that I am a safe person.

I then remind them that God loves them unconditionally. It’s an expected message from an evangelist yet one worth emphasizing.

Then, if we engage in a deeper conversation, I encourage that person to set the issues of sexuality and gender to the side in order seek identity in Him—not in sexual orientation.

Lds— an unlikely population for conversion

“A central principle of the LDS religion is “family forever,” which means that every single aspect of an LDS member’s life is entangled with that particular belief system. Meaning, if a person of LDS faith decides to convert to Christianity, it comes at high earthly costs. It means being essentially excommunicated from the church and parting from their family. If said person is married, his/her spouse is pressured to file for divorce.

The costs of leaving the LDS community are high, but Jesus is worth these high costs.

The costs of leaving the LDS community are high, but Jesus is worth these high costs.

So though I plant seeds of truth that God may bring to fruition, it takes, on average, 7-12 years for an LDS individual to fully leave the religion. So, I have to be comfortable with my role of the seed planter, and I pray to the Lord that I get to see some of the fruit when I get to heaven.”

The issue of the Bible

“One of the main points of disagreement between the LDS church and Christians is the validity of the Bible. The LDS church maintains that The Great Apostasy came over the world upon the death of the last apostle, and that the written biblical documents were altered and Jesus’ truths were removed.

If entering into a dialogue about this with someone of LDS faith, I would point out that the last apostle, John, died somewhere between 90-100AD. This means that 20-30 years prior, the biblical manuscripts were already taken away from Rome during the Jewish Diaspora.

The manuscripts would have been spread into many different lands and translated into five different languages at the point of John’s death.

Because the LDS church does not claim a supernatural cause for the alteration of the Bible, members accept that that wicked individuals found every copy of every translation and removed the same truths from each—an impossibility.

It is these kinds of discussions that make up another major tenant of our mission: to prove that the Bible is trustworthy.”

Archaeological evidence of the Bible

“The Solid Rock Cafe has a museum-style display area where Chip and Jamie have included artifacts from Israel.

Chip jokingly refers to himself as an amateur archaeologist, and he and Jamie hold tours of Israel where they walk the grounds that Jesus and the disciples walked and look at the locations of important events.

It’s their mission to have non-believers attend the tour to be able to show them earthly evidence of what is contained in the Bible. But also they love bringing Christian leaders on the trip to further equip them to teach about what they learn there.

It’s awesome to have artifacts and places to lend validity to the Bible. The LDS church does not have these things to substantiate the Book of Mormon, and it is our hope that LDS members start to believe in the credibility and trustworthiness of the Bible.”

Another opportunity for evangelism: The manti pageant

“Ephraim is close to Manti, Utah, the site of the an LDS pilgrimage and celebration called the Manti Pageant that took place for 52 years. LDS members came in thousands to watch dramatizations from the Book of Mormon. The Pageant has recently been discontinued— which I would like to credit to the slews of Christian evangelists also in attendance.

As you might imagine, evangelism can take on many forms, but we from Tri-Grace Ministries set up a bible museum in the food court with our artifacts and to continue our mission of proving the Bible as trustworthy.

“We love the LDS population and we want its members to discover a relationship with our loving God.

We want God’s love to be evident in how we speak and how we treat people.

If evangelism occurs in a non-loving way, why would the recipient want to listen?”

If evangelism occurs in a non-loving way, why would the recipient want to listen?

What’s next for jade

Jade’s wedding will take place in October to her fiancé, Mark. She gave me a sneak peek of the dress, and I gasped at its beauty.

More beautiful, though, is hearing of Jade’s plans to continue in evangelism to LDS members with her new husband. Though they both would love to live in Utah at some point, they have discovered the need for LDS-focused evangelicals right here in the Central Valley.

With God aching at the hate and divide in our country right now, undoubtedly he is pleased to see Jade developing genuine, loving relationships with those who don’t know Him.

And love is a language we all speak.