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Recent headlines, like the Don Imus controversy or the Supreme Court ruling on school diversity, remind us that race is still a dividing point in our nation. In his new book, Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, David A. Anderson explains how a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the body of Christ can help us overcome our cultural divisions.
Anderson is the founding pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, a 2,000-member, multicultural congregation in Columbia, Maryland. His church's cultural and racial blend has made him a leading voice of racial reconciliation in the evangelical community. He spoke to tc about racism, gracism, and unity in the body of Christ.
Whether it's Don Imus, the immigration debate, or Barack Obama's presidential bid, it seems racial tension is still alive and well in our nation. What do some of these current events tell us about the condition of race relations?The ongoing racial tensions we have in our nation show how we're still on the problem side and not on the solution side of the racial divide. It's important for us to get on the solution side, so we don't continue to respond to these controversies the same way, with the same voices saying the same things over and over again."Gracism" is the answer to racism. When a Don Imus says the sort of things he said about women and African Americans, our normal response is to slap his hand, call him a racist, twist his arm to apologize, and then demand that he lose his job. That's how we normally deal with the issue of race. But that response is still problem-centered. It's still reactionary. How about practicing gracism instead?What is "gracism"?Gracism is the positive extension of favor to people, both in spite of and because of color, class, or culture. It's not affirmative action but intentional actions of grace and affirmation. So whenever we see a racist act, instead of responding in a way that is punitive, gracism calls us to respond in the way that God—that Jesus— might respond.Gracism turns racism on its head. It reaches out to people in a way that desires true understanding, in spite of the labels that have been attached to their skin color or cultural background. —David Anderson How does gracism behave differently than racism?Racism is to speak, think, or act negatively against someone else based solely on his or her color, class, or culture. Grace, on the other hand, is God's unmerited favor extended to humankind. Something you can't earn, you don't deserve, and you can't repay.Gracism turns racism on its head. It reaches out to people in a way that desires true understanding. It means thinking positively about others, in spite of the labels and stereotypes that have been attached to their skin color, economic status, or cultural background.Some folks might wonder, What about justice? Isn't grace without justice a cheap grace?Justice and repentance are important, but we must get first things first. True reconciliation begins with forgiveness. It doesn't say, "First, you apologize and grovel, and then maybe I'll forgive you." We've not found the sociological or spiritual healing that we need in our world because we have not done this one important thing, and that is to forgive. Forgiveness begins the healing process.When you think about it, God is the biggest gracist of us all. He was making the first step and extending grace when we were still in the midst of our sin and not even thinking about Him, and yet he wants to be in relationship with us and include us in His plans.So in practical terms, what will gracism look like in our churches, communities, and institutions?It should look like the majority population, whoever that is, reaching out and into the minority population to serve, learn from, and partner together for common purposes. It should involve fellowship across racial and economic lines. It will play itself out through what I call "grace-onomics." This is when knowledge, as well as relational and financial networks, is shared freely to help others succeed.In the book, you talk about "The Seven Sayings of a Gracist." How can they help us live out gracism?
The seven sayings grow out of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12 about the interdependence of Christ's body and the special role each member plays. If we could cling to them, and not only say them but do them, they can give us practical principles for making gracism real.