Jeff Haanen

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Race and the Gospel: Lament and Hope

The week after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, I got on the phone to call several of my Black friends to see how they were doing. One of our alumni from the 5280 Fellowship, a Black woman working for the state of Colorado, shared her devastation. “I’m not sure how to describe how I’m doing,” she confessed. “I’ve felt numb for most of the week and today the tears won’t stop flowing. I find myself in a space of deep lament, anger, and hurt yet again.”

A day later, I talked to my friend Darius, formerly an executive pastor and now a leader at a local credit union. We spoke on a day when thousands of protestors gathered in Denver’s civic center. “Jeff, thanks for asking about me. I feel…angry, and I want to join them. But tonight, I’m not going to. I have to be in this for the long haul,” he said to me. “After the news cycle and protests end, and most individuals go back to their norms, my Black family would still be navigating many of these racial tensions.” His voice was laced with weariness and pain.

These two conversations reminded me of sessions in the 5280 Fellowship we do each year on implicit racial bias with senior leaders in Denver. I remember Brandon Washington, the lead pastor of the Embassy Church in Denver, telling us the first time as a teenager his dad gave him “the talk.” And the “talk” was not about girls — it was about how to respond as a large Black teenager in Texas when being pulled over by the police. This was a talk my father never had to give to me.

My mind also flashed back to a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching, conversation we had years earlier with Professor Dayna Matthew, a CU law professor who decided to take a job at the University of Virginia. “I’m just tired,” she said, referring to the experience of being a Black woman in Colorado. “Being Black in Colorado is constantly exhausting. I just don’t want to explain my painting of buffalo soldiers to every person who walks in my front door.”

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” says the Psalmist. “How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1-2). The heart-wrenching prayer of David mirrors the pain I’ve heard from our African American friends and colleagues in the Denver Institute community.

And considering the history of Jim Crow laws, redlining, mass incarceration of Black communities, and the persistent racial divisions, even in the church, this lament and frustration is understandable. (This video from Phil Vischer on Race in America is worth watching twice, and then sharing with others.) In the words of Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn, America is complicated

Christians believe that all people are made in the image of God, that all are loved by the Savior, and that sin has seeped its way both into both our hearts and our systems. Christians long for the day when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will worship the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 7:9). Yet we also believe that God calls all his people to “learn to do right; seek justice for the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).

At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we are committed to the breadth of the gospel, which means that Jesus’ death and resurrection heals both our distorted hearts and unjust systems, ranging from workplace policies to cultural norms. Now is a time to tell the truth, to seek justice for the oppressed, and to remind ourselves that the gospel of reconciliation must include issues of race, lest we be guilty of believing a truncated gospel. Truth and reconciliation belong together.

Yet, in humility, as an organization that’s been predominantly white and that’s also located in a predominantly white state, we believe that now is the time to learn and do the long, slow work of responding to racial injustice. We have homework to do. 

For me personally, this means reading books like Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience, A Testament of Hope, The New Jim Crow, The Essential Writings of the American Black Church, and the forthcoming Reading the Bible While Black. It means watching films with loved ones like 12 Years a Slave, Just Mercy, Selma, The Forgiven, Green Book, and Harriet. It means pursuing real friendships across racial lines. It means talking to our children about the history of slavery in America. At work it means taking renewed steps to look at whom we have on stage, whom we have in leadership, and how we, corporately, “hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the gate” (Amos 5:15). It also means acknowledging disparities  in power in our workplaces, the vast differences in how we experience our work, and the willingness to rethink vocation from a broader lens. 

And as a Christian — in contrast to the secular narratives filling our news feeds — it also means embracing our gospel, which is a gospel of both redemption and hope. Christ himself is making “one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15-16). Though divisions rack our society, the deepest truth is that, in Christ, we are one new humanity.

“Your call reminded me to process all of this in light of the gospel,” a Black friend recently told me, “and for that I am grateful.” 

I too am deeply grateful for Christ-centered Black leaders who are teaching me to see, think, lament, labor for justice, and endeavor to look again at work, culture, and race in light of the gospel.

Faith and Work MovementTheologyWork

The Global Workplace Forum: A New Era for Global Mission

Today I fly to Manila.

I’m on my way to speak at the Global Workplace Forum, a gathering of 730 leaders from over 100 countries. Convened by the Lausanne Movement, which was started by Billy Graham and John Stott in the 1970s, today feels like a turning point for how the world’s Christians are understanding the word “mission.”

As I prepare to sit on a panel with a man working with nomadic tribes in Kyrgyzstan, a clinical psychologist from Nairobi, a Filipino-American woman who now works in Silicon Valley expanding Apple stores across the world, and a man who’s worked in global business from the Middle East to Canada, I’m reminded of several truths.

I’m reminded of the diverse and far reaching nature of the Church.

I’m reminded that technology has created, in many ways, a single global culture.

And I’m reminded of the truth that 99% of the world’s Christians have non-occupational ministry jobs, and the workplace is fast becoming the new frontier for global mission.

Thinking back just a hundred years, the great student missions movement brought the gospel from the West to the East and the global South. After World War II, the age of evangelistic crusades brought a renewed fervor for global mission and the conversion of young people through organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and Young Life. In the seventies and eighties, the seeker movement built the megachurch, and the masses we drawn toward Jesus through rock bands and popular preaching.

But today, we are in a new era. Though much work on Bible translation needs to be done, countries like France have had the Bible for centuries, yet are less than 1% evangelical. As the church of Europe shrinks, Muslims outpace their western counterparts in having children, and the global South is now home to the majority of Christians throughout the world, we’re starting to realize that mission must not be from “us” to “them,” but instead from “everyone to everywhere.”  

To bring the good news of Jesus to either the Muslim world or the secular strongholds of the West, we need every single Christian to be “on mission” every day. This means we are all implicated in being missionaries wherever we are, whether Seattle, Singapore, or South Africa.

Michael Oh, a Japanese American and the CEO/Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement, recently wrote an op-ed for Christianity Today entitled, “An Apology from the 1% to the 99%.” His message was simple. For too long we’ve assumed that the 1% – occupational pastors, missionaries, and theological educators – were the real missionaries, whereas the 99% of Christians in “secular jobs” were just there to support the 1%.

No more, says Oh. The 1% has the unique and real responsibility to equip the 99% for mission wherever they live their daily lives, whether that be a government official working in Bangladesh, a sports trainer working in Seoul, or a coder working in the Ukraine.

As I head into this conference and meet leaders from across the world, from Norway to Namibia, I can only guess where this will lead the global church.

But here’s my guess.

The idea of work as the central place for global mission will start to take hold. Churches will begin to start thinking about the work of their people as the central way they’re called to be involved in “mission.” And churches that embrace worship, teaching, and preaching that “equips the saints for works of service” will begin to displace the churches built on consumerism and entertainment.

Conversely, I believe that churches that have relied on attracting people with the right mix of rock music, smoke machines, and paper-thin preaching – while ignoring their people’s lives and the condition of their cities – will begin to shrink. I believe theological schools, which are facing unprecedented enrollment challenges, will have to start innovating and creating more classes targeted toward the laity in order to survive. And mission agencies will have to not only care for the poor and sharing the gospel, but will need to grow their ability to work with native leaders who can reform systems and demonstrate the gospel through companies, city councils, clinics, and schools.

I started Denver Institute for Faith & Work because of my own convictions arising from my study of missiology. Leaders like John Stott and Lesslie Newbigin pointed to the workplace as the next era of global mission, and now it’s starting to take place right before our eyes.

The Lausanne Movement is intent on “the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world.” When I look at my fellow believers from around the world, I realize how little I’ve given for the gospel. And how much it’s cost so many of them.

We are at the dawn of a new movement of the Holy Spirit and a new era for global mission. And each of us has a role to play in the divine drama.

May His kingdom come, and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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