The Common Good
November-December 1998

Full of Grace and Truth

by Jimmy McGee | November-December 1998

Reconciliation, forgiveness, and the pursuit of justice.

Jimmy McGee, who works with inner-city immersion projects with InterVarsity in Atlanta, often discussed approaches to racial reconciliation with his friend Spencer Perkins. McGee says he agrees with the goal of racial reconciliation, but believes that justice must be pursued before true reconciliation is possible. In this way, Spencer Perkins and Jimmy McGee continued a long tradition of debate in the African-American community, most commonly associated with W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington and with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. McGee was interviewed by phone by Aaron McCarroll Gallegos on August 12. -The Editors

Many whites chose Martin Luther King Jr. over Malcolm X, though they disliked both. Martin represented nonviolence and had a loving relationship. Malcolm’s passion appeared to be volatile. This is where Spencer and I were parallel to Martin and Malcolm. Both Spencer and I wanted reconciliation. But I first wanted justice. Spencer was concerned that blacks were getting away with not contributing anything to the process of reconciliation.

However, I have moved in Spencer’s direction and feel that forgiveness needs to be part of the process. Forgiveness is helpful for African Americans, whether whites repent and give us justice or not. Because in the end, if we don’t forgive, we die twice.

The issue isn’t hatred, but bitterness. Scripture talks about a root of bitterness that destroys a person. It not only affects the person who this anger is directed at. It affects the whole of the life of the person who holds it. It destroys their relationship with their families, their marriages, their friendships, their church relationships, even their relationship with God. We need to seek forgiveness to be healed in this process, whether racism ceases or not. This is what I think Spencer was trying to tell us. As African Americans, we need to live a life of forgiveness.

In order for racial reconciliation to occur, it has to be as dynamic as life itself. You have to continue to work for relationship and justice at the same time. They are not opposed. I would agree with Spencer that we always have a responsibility of grace on our part.

In John 1, Jesus is described as being full of grace and truth. I feel this combination is necessary for reconciliation among us in this country. There must be grace, but there must be truth. The white community needs to realize that if African Americans offer grace, they must begin to accept the idea of truth.

At the last conference Spencer and Chris Rice did, the question they were pushing was: "What is the next step? We’ve gotten some people past ‘Racial Reconciliation 101,’ but how do we go to the next level?" The "grace card" that Spencer talked about was one of the ways. Another step is to look at how systems and structures hinder reconciliation between blacks and whites. Until we address that, we have an ominous presence pressing upon both peoples, creating a volatile relationship between them that’s not healthy. If Spencer were alive he would say that there is no compromise between structural justice and evangelism. It’s both. It’s about realizing what it means to be Christian.

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