The [Im]possible Dream is essential reading for such a time as this
In her popular title, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, Reni Eddo-Lodge says that the UK is still profoundly uncomfortable with race. Most days we see this discomfort – whether on the terraces at football matches, at film and music award ceremonies in the entertainment industry, or on the street, in the workplace, and on social media platforms. And despite our longing as Christians that the church should be a new society, we experience a similar discomfort within the Christian community.
We know that because of our shared identity in Christ, there should now be a radical inclusivity amongst believers of different backgrounds. We know that, whilst the racial, social and sexual distinctions are not eradicated in the Christian church, there should be a rich diversity within the family and, unlike the world in which we live, this diversity should be expressed in terms of equality, unity and harmony. We know too that this says something about the credibility of our witness to the reconciling gospel in a fractured world.
For many churches, however, there are very mixed emotions. We long to do better; we long to build communities which reflect the rich diversity of our society and communities. Yet we are also uncertain about how we should proceed and, in a culture with such toxic debate on social media and such ferocious attacks associated with identity politics, we are fearful of speaking or acting inappropriately. Many of us now live in increasingly diverse communities where there is a growing cultural pluralism which we need to understand and embrace, and from which we can benefit greatly within the Christian community. But how to do this?
It’s a great pleasure to introduce and warmly commend The [Im]possible Dream, a wonderful resource from Steve Clifford, former general director of the Evangelical Alliance, Yemi Adedeji, director of the charity’s One People Commission (OPC), and fellow leaders from the OPC. Written with honesty and practical realism, yet with a compelling vision and sense of hope, The [Im]possible Dream is an essential read for Christians across the country.
First, the book could not be more timely. At so many levels, our culture is struggling with the issue of integration. As the title of this Evangelical Alliance workbook implies, it seems to be an impossible dream. Despite legislation covering human rights, equality, discrimination, hate speech and much else, our community leaders and our politicians seem unable to resolve the destructive power of racism, and we see communities riven by ugly divisions.
It is now a very acute social challenge, with many confusing voices and a good deal of heated debate. Yet this carefully crafted book charts a course with a moving description of alienations healed, of risk-taking but faith-sustained initiatives, of compassionate understanding, of mistakes forgiven, and of small but significant steps towards ethnic integration. This is a book with which every church can identify, whatever our congregational profile or cultural setting.
Second, the range of issues addressed within a modest volume makes it a wonderfully accessible resource. Touching on the foundation of relationships and the power of friendship, the significance of language and communication, the importance of leadership, the joys and challenges of evangelising and worshipping together, and learning from generational differences, the book demonstrates the many ways through which the biblical vision can become a reality.
Third, the honest testimony and practical experience which run throughout the book not only make it very readable but heighten its value for local churches. This is because so many of us are looking for help with the basics: what might be the first steps? How can we begin to build bridges and dismantle walls? How do we cope with misunderstanding or mistakes? What are the best ways to cultivate an environment of inclusion and integration? Here is a resource which, through the moving and transparent testimonies of people from different ethnic backgrounds, helps us to believe that change is truly possible.
Further, the presentation of the book makes it an ideal resource for church leadership teams, and perhaps for home group discussions. It addresses eight core themes, and each one concludes with a helpful summary of key principles followed by very pertinent questions for personal reflection and for discussion. This shifts the book from being merely a statement of intent to being a practical primer for introducing change to our churches in a biblical, manageable and wise way.
Much of my life has involved the privilege of working with international teams, made up of very diverse personalities, cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. I wish I had had such a volume to hand to inform our team discussions over the years – the range of thought-provoking questions and telling examples represents a great resource for churches and organisations, whatever our cultural context.
Finally, let’s ask the question: is it an impossible dream? What if, by God’s grace, our churches could begin to model the kind of integration which was so obviously a feature of the New Testament church? In many senses this title is an introduction, a work in progress, an invitation to us to join the process and make our contribution. Yet it demonstrates, both by its biblical foundations and its practical evidence, that change is possible, and that God’s purpose to establish one new humanity is absolutely credible.
Not only that, but what would this say to our fractured culture? As the book concludes, we are invited to imagine a future where discrimination, racism and prejudice are eliminated; where diverse ethnic peoples are welcomed across different church families, and where churches have multi-ethnic pastoral teams ministering to the diversity of people within their immediate communities as well as within their churches; where gospel churches will be an example of genuine integration for secular organisations. And most importantly, it is not impossible that, as churches demonstrate the reality of God’s new society, this will become a compelling witness to the power of the gospel. As Jesus said so insistently: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples … Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them as you have loved me” (John 13:35; 17:23).
The [Im]possible Dream is essential reading for such a time as this. Order copies for your church, discuss in your teams, and share in the biblical vision to which it points.