Almost every day of my childhood and teen years I rode past a memorial to a Confederate veteran. Along with the United States flag, a Confederate battle flag flew over the small monument. I never gave much thought to that little triangle of land, the person it honored or the flag that flew above it. They were parts of the landscape of my childhood.
Nearly a decade ago, I moved to New Orleans to pursue a theological education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In this amazing city, I encountered the realities of racial, religious and worldview diversity. The panhandle of Florida is rarely accused of being a bastion of political liberalism or progressive action. Political elections indicated a homogeneity of opinion on the issues of the day; winning candidates are rarely elected with less than 70 percent of the vote. New Orleans is just a bit different from the panhandle of Florida. (Please do not hear in this critique a disdain for my hometown. I love the place and her people, all while recognizing the brokenness that inhabits all places this side of the new creation coming in Christ.)
Here in New Orleans I have had to wrestle with an unconscious bias as I encounter in the rhythm of daily living those different from me in a variety of ways. I ask daily for the gospel of Jesus Christ to wash over me as I have realized the sinfulness of my own thoughts and actions (or, more accurately, my inaction). My immersion in New Orleans paired with my theological education has provided the opportunity for me to ruminate in the reality of living what I say I believe.
I hold tightly to the conviction that all of humanity is created in the image of God and that image affords each person with dignity and value. However, if I see injustice perpetrated against a fellow image bearer and I do not advocate for that fellow image bearer, the question becomes, “Do I believe the theology that I claim?” The theoretical becomes a lived theology. Do I live the theological perspective that I say I believe?
I have much to learn as I seek to live out biblical convictions, but I continue to apply this important lesson. I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a broken sinner in need of redemption seeking those like me to introduce them to the good news of Jesus Christ. Out of the reconciliation I have through Christ, I must seek to bring opportunity for reconciliation to others. I must be an agent of change, an ambassador for reconciliation.
The first reconciliation necessary is peace between the individual and God. When that peace is achieved through Christ alone, then opportunity for reconciliation among others is possible. My pursuit of shalom, the peace available through Christ, becomes possible when I do what the Lord requires of me: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Mic. 6:8).