The Essential Role of Biblical Counseling in Racial Reconciliation

May 19, 2017

By God’s grace, evangelicals are starting to engage ethnic divisions in the church with greater intentionality. White evangelicals who’ve managed to avoid racial anxiety that many blacks have experienced for generations are beginning to feel its visceral impact in increasing waves. As Pastor Bret Fuller notes, “Every few months, there seems to be a local event that awakens our national conscience to the fact that black and white folks still have a journey to complete.”[1] The journey of which Fuller speaks is one that numerous believers have been legitimately trying to pursue in recent years and, to be completely honest, this path has been more difficult than many of us ever imagined. Yet, hope continues to rise from the ashes of our troubled past and at the center of that hope exists an essential role for biblical counselors.

With Man This Is Impossible

The power and skill needed to transform the human heart is above our pay grade. Bryan Loritts suggests that “The way forward is…to get inside each other’s skin as best we can, to feel what (others) feel and understand it.”[2] He is exactly right; yet, this “getting inside each other’s skin” is precisely what we are powerless to do. The reality is that I struggle most days to understand my own wife and feel what she feels, though we share the same ethnicity and the same bedroom. If I struggle to see life through the eyes of one who is so near and dear to me, what hope do I really have to get inside the different colored skin of those with whom I have significantly less in common? There is a grand canyon that exists between the worldviews of black and white evangelicals in America and no human pastor or counselor can traverse it. It is a chasm filled with fear and anxiety that leads to a crisis of belief once we begin waking up to our inherent racism.

Hi, My Name Is Jimmy and I’m Racist

Fortunately, our evangelical family is distancing itself from the antiquated presupposition that racism is an isolated sin pattern, maintained only by a few uniquely wretched individuals. To the contrary, we now acknowledge racism as a structural reality that touches and shapes every image-bearer under the sun. We need not defend ourselves from the charge of racism any more than we bother defending ourselves from the charge of greed, lust, unkind speech, white lies, or idolatry. Jesus paid it all! This does not diminish the unspeakable horrors brought about by the demon of racism throughout American history. Nor does it deny the very real crisis that occurs when God’s children begin waking up to the reality of indwelling prejudice. Our honest confession of racial sin simply affirms that there is a universal pull towards ethnocentrism that makes the diverse Colossians 3:11 family of God difficult for any of us to realize.

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

Biblical counselors become a unifying instrument the moment we commit to uncovering the ethnocentric sin patters that exist within our own hearts.

Good Counselees Make Great Counselors

The best way for us to help our counselees embrace the crisis that naturally follows increased self-awareness of racial sin is to submit ourselves to the process first. In other words, we must intentionally position ourselves in the loving care of wise men and women from other ethnicities who will faithfully remove the log from our ethnocentric eye sockets and dismantle any unbiblical presuppositions related to ethnicity. However, this is easier said than done. The unfortunate reality for many evangelicals pursuing theological study (particularly in the south) is that our journey often lacks brown or black-skinned authors, professors, mentors, or classmates. If we lack faithful African-American brothers or sisters to sharpen us, our counsel will grow increasingly narrow as our congregation grows increasingly diverse. I make enough pastoral mistakes as it is within our multi-ethnic congregation, but I cringe when I consider how myopic my counsel would be apart from the guidance of three specific African-American voices in my life and the ongoing encouragement from Consolidated Baptist Church, who adopted our church family in 2009 and continues to serve as our mother church. Armed with the sufficiency of Scripture and the collective wisdom from our coalition, biblical counselors who widen their ethnic foundations are uniquely positioned to serve as bridge builders between traditionally segregated hearts within the family of God.

You’re Needed in Surgery

The Holy Spirit is the chief cardiologist within the family of God and biblical counselors are often His first assist when hearts are attacked. If evangelicals continue charging the front lines to confront the Ephesians 6 demonic forces of racism, there will be no shortage of faithful, wounded soldiers within our fellowship who will need compassionate care. (I certainly have some open wounds that remain from the past seven years). As my friend and doctoral supervisor, Dr. Jeremy Pierre, has said, we were created by God to be stewards of how he made us. This means that we are called to understand why we do the things we do. As biblical counselors, we must recognize the vast worldview differences (created by original sin and centuries of systemic injustice) that explain why black and white evangelicals think and act so differently. As Jesus moves His bride towards greater diversity within local bodies of believers, we must continue to widen our ethnic base of support and incorporate more black, brown, and tan voices into the clinics and classrooms so that we remain competent to counsel. The Master Physician has uniquely positioned biblical counselors to play an essential role in the ongoing pursuit of racial reconciliation. Counselors who have diverse voices speaking into their lives are simply better equipped to go into the surgical center with the Holy Spirit when the time comes.

Questions for Reflection

Who do you know within your constellation of relationships that might lovingly speak into the limitations of your ethnocentric lens? Are you humble enough to ask for help?

[1] Ed Stetzer, “Thursday Is for Thinkers: ‘It’s Time to Listen: Kingdom Cooperation,’ a Guest Post by Brett Fuller,” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer, accessed April 28, 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/thursday-is-for-thinkers-kingdom-cooperation-guest-post-by-.html.

[2] Ed Stetzer, “It’s Time to Listen: ‘Feeling the Pain Despite the Facts,’ a Guest Post by Bryan Loritts,” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer, accessed November 2, 2016, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/its-time-to-listen.html.


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