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Grace Relations

Truth in Love 358

How are biblical counselors and the church poised to offer true and redemptive solutions to cultural and ethnic tension among God's people?

Apr 11, 2022

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast I have with us Mrs. Aurelia Smith. I’m so grateful for her and her work. Aurelia, first of all, I want to welcome you to the podcast and I want to say a word or two about you. So, welcome to the podcast. I’m so glad that you are with us and you’re an engaged member at ACBC, and you serve your local church well. So, thank you so much for being with us. 

Aurelia Smith: Well, thank you so much. It’s a delight to be with you today. 

Dale Johnson: I want to tell you a little bit about Miss Aurelia. She did her undergraduate degree at the Air Force Academy and she completed her MABC at The Master’s University. She has been an ACBC member since 2010. If all that education was not difficult enough, she’s now engaged in a pre-med degree program and has some aspirations to pursue medical school and that sort of thing. I love hanging out with Aurelia. She has just a clear-headed, kind perspective on things. She has written a book I’m going to mention to you, Ministering to Military Women.

Aurelia, I’m so grateful that you’re here. We’re going to talk a little bit about a breakout session that you gave at our most recent Annual Conference back in October of 2021. It’s on this topic, Grace Relations: Counseling Using the Psalms of Lament, Prayers, and Supplication for the Majority and Minority Culture Christians. Listen, we don’t have to tap dance around the difficulties that we see with race relations and that sort of thing. I appreciate so much that you’re willing to talk about these difficult issues. I want to start by just saying, you know, what are some of the things that prompted you to discuss this topic? 

Aurelia Smith: Well, yes, thank you so much, and that was quite a mouthful for that title so I’m glad you truncated it to just Grace Relations. At any rate, it’s sort of multi-pronged that covers both the past and the present. You know, in the past, I’ve had some personal experiences growing up. My father was in the military. I went to three different high schools, just as an example, one in California, one overseas in Germany, and then I moved in the middle of my senior year to Louisiana. So, even with that, in the middle of my senior year, I just had some brushes with some ethnic hatred, you know, right there in the middle of the Bible belt. So that’s part of my story. Also, there have been some hard realities in the church that I and my family members within the last two to three years have faced, so that’s part of what prompts me to talk about it, then just a desire to facilitate safe spaces amongst the body of believers where real conversations about culture and ethnicity can be met with love, respect, and grace.

That’s something that really is prompting my heart and I want to help believers and counselors to answer the question, how do you minister to the person in front of you who’s hurting from an ethnic or cultural incident in your church family? So, really go on a personal scale. 

Dale Johnson: I love that, and I think it’s helpful in a thousand directions because this is more common than we probably wish to admit. These things sometimes happen incidentally. Sometimes they are intentional exclusions, or whatever the case might be, and just not living with each other in an understanding way. You talk about this issue of “grace relations.” What is this idea? What is grace relations counseling, and what have you seen that has made it an important part of the counseling process? 

Aurelia Smith: Absolutely. Well, first, I want to give credit where credit is due because I did not coin that term, grace relations. It was actually coined by Dr. Charles Ware in the updated book he co-authored with Ken Ham which is called, One Race, One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism. So GRACE is actually an acronym that stands for God’s Reconciliation At Christ’s Expense. I prefer to use this phrase rather than race since race is highly problematic, right? There’s only one race, the human race. So I really appreciate this term grace relations. Although their book isn’t about counseling, I’m applying it to the counseling context because it attempts to deal with the sins of the past and alienation of the present in redemptive waves that are built on forgiveness, peace, unity, and love, and it reminds us all to put away unrighteous anger and the polarization that’s prevalent today among God’s people.

So, all of this is super important because we know from the Scriptures, seeing God’s heart revealed all the way from Genesis all the way to Revelation, to the new Heaven and new earth, He has got this desire for kingdom diversity and kingdom unity. It’s important because of Jesus’ words both in John 13 and 17. He made it clear that our love and unity as believers would enable the lost world to believe that Jesus was sent by God and that we would be shown to be His disciples. Then finally, there’s been a command expressed that we weep with those who weep in Romans 12, and we can’t obey this command without work, effort, or awareness on one side, and on the other side, others can’t weep with us if we are unwilling to be appropriately transparent and take the risk of sharing what we have faced and are facing. So those are some of the reasons why they’re important. 

Dale Johnson: That’s great. I love the way that you’re describing, the answers are rooted not in more division based on skin color and that sort of thing. Understanding, from a biblical perspective, we are one race and because of sin we see that division happening, and we are a part of what needs to correct this issue in the church.

Now, I want to sort of lead that into maybe another question. Why do you believe the church–especially biblical counselors, because we’re sort of on the ground level of dealing with people’s problems–but the church specifically. Why do you believe the church and biblical counselors are poised to offer true and redemptive solutions to cultural and ethnic tension among God’s people, and particularly giving answer to the world at large? This is not only a church problem. This is what we see reflected in the church because we see it as a problem in the world that we live in. So give us some understanding about the church and biblical counselors, why we are probably best suited to address these issues.

Aurelia Smith: Well, you know, the church has the sufficient Scriptures, number one. The church has a sure hope and a clear understanding of what redemption is all about through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believers in the church are empowered by the Holy Spirit to tackle recalcitrant problems in a way that’s winsome, grace-filled, and loving to the glory of God, so much so that a hurting world stands up and takes notice. Then one of my favorite quotes by John Perkins states, “There is no institution on earth more equipped or more capable of bringing transformation to the cause of reconciliation than the church.” I wholeheartedly agree with him. However, I also believe biblical counselors are especially fit to be unifiers in this area because we’ve been trained to listen well. We’ve been trained on how to use wise questions. We’ve been trained about how to develop real relationships with the people we’re walking alongside. We’ve been trained about how to be compassionate servants to hurting souls.

When I went through the MABC program a couple of years ago, one of the ways they taught the biblical counseling process was through the “Eight I’s.” Those eight “I’s” are involvement, inspiration, inventory, instruction, inducement, implementation, and integration. That first part, involvement, is absolutely key in this discussion because it’s based on the foundations of compassion, respect, and sincerity. It avoids presumptive suspicion and it never minimizes the problem presented by our counselee. These are traits that are often sorely lacking in discussions about ethnic tension, both outside and inside the church today. God can use us as biblical counselors in an amazing way to bring hope, healing, unity, and light in the midst of a lot of pain. So this whole idea really makes me excited. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, absolutely, and the gospel gives the proper context by which we are to understand these types of tensions, right? It’s not seeing through color-stained lenses, seeing each other that way, but helping us to see each other through the lens of the gospel in the way that God sees one humanity. That’s something that’s so needed in the church, particularly today. You think about the ways the church ought to be impacting the culture rather than us seeing the culture bleed into the church. We have an opportunity here because of the powerful gospel that God has given us in his Word. Man, I’m grateful that you’re talking through this. Let me ask you a couple of other questions that I think would help us. I mentioned the Psalms of lament, so I want to get to that here in a second, but what are some of the scenarios that biblical counselors might face and want to think about beforehand to respond in a wise and Christ-honoring way? This is something that’s important for biblical counselors. We want to be culturally informed. We want to know what’s going on. We don’t adapt truth to the culture, right? I mean, we take truth and we speak truth into culture, but in order to speak it effectively, we have to know how the culture thinks. It’s important that we do this well. So what are some of the things the biblical counselor might want to be prepared for in these contexts? 

Aurelia Smith: Right. In order to answer that question, I actually went through what I went through in the seminar, the breakout session at the conference, and I gave them four different scenarios to help them think through what they might see. At first, it may sound like, wow, that’s got to be far-fetched, but I assure you these are actually things that have happened recently.

So the first scenario that I used revolved around a newcomer of Hispanic descent visiting your church. He was excited because he knew about your commitment to expository preaching and even the Hispanic ministry you had, however, he noticed that several people kept their distance from him during the meet and greet time. He also overheard a congregate saying, I wonder if he’s legal. So what I did was, I read this scenario, talked through and asked them, the people who were present, just to think through how they might respond. Also, afterward, we started to talk about—What do you think this person might be feeling? What do you think they might be thinking?—so that they could start to identify with that person. So, that’s scenario one.

Scenario two had to do with a young couple about to get married. Both of them are faithful followers of Christ. The young man is black and the young woman is white. Longtime friends in the church began to voice their doubts and prejudices, and believe them to be “unequally yoked.” I’m using air quotes there around that. So once again, posing the question of, if someone comes to you with this type of hurt, how would you as a counselor respond? What do you think they’re thinking and feeling?

The third scenario revolved around a white man who grew up in an inner-city environment and he attempted to engage a minority brother in his church family and was accused of racism after he tried to ask a well-intentioned question. So, something that we see can be going on today as well.

Then the last scenario was about how a minority member of your congregation comes to talk after experiencing several events in the church and the community at large in which her and her family feel like the other or outsiders. She explains that when she cautiously tried to share with her majority culture friend, she was offended and warned her against being a social justice warrior and to not propagate CRT. So these are some very present, real scenarios that I put before you.

Dale Johnson: No, I think that’s helpful, and these are real discussions that are happening all around us in different cases, particularly where you are. I grew up in the south. These are certainly cases that happen and have happened. We are positioned well, certainly, not to adopt a framework of Critical Race Theory or anything like that. The gospel gives better expression to our experiences and we have to deal with those, even the divisions that are created by the culture in which we live. That’s certainly what we see happening to us right now. I love the way that you’re describing this by grace relations. It’s having grace when we interact with one another and knowing that there are certain, you know, potential fears or the backdrop of their life story of things that they’ve gone through, and just being patient with one another and being grace-filled as we interact with one another.

Now, I do want to get to the Psalms of lament because we talked about that in the title. Can you explain why the Psalms of lament can be a loving and wise place to start if someone comes to you who has been hurt by some sort of ethnically charged event in a local church setting? Explain just a little bit about the importance of the Psalms of lament and how you use them when you talk about grace relations. 

Aurelia Smith: Well, the Psalms of lament help us to vocalize pain, grief, or fear in a way that turns us towards God with our pain, in faith, while choosing to trust that He’ll ultimately deliver and for the final outcome. So, the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to understand all the nuances of the pain of the person who’s weeping, or we also don’t have to have the same experience of the person who’s struggling in order to respond with this type of compassion. It merely requires that we would be willing to enter into their sorrows in a loving, redemptive, compassionate way. So that’s why I find them so powerful. In all of the scenarios we just discussed, I talked about how we would build a bridge as counselors using specific passages from both personal and corporate Psalms of Lament. The ones that I used in particular to address those scenarios that I spoke about in a very abbreviated form today, here on the podcast, were in Psalm 42, 54, 55, 56, 86, 123, and 142.

For instance, in that second scenario that I talked to you about, people bringing up this couple being unequally yoked, I used Psalm 55:12-22, different portions, to really hit on this. I want to read just little portions of that to really bring it into focus here. It says, “For it is not an enemy who taunts me–then I could bear it. It is not an adversary who deals insolently with me–then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together within God’s house; we walked in the throng…But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle wage, for many are arrayed against me” Then it talks about casting your burden on the Lord. He will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved. It’s just so beautiful when you think of what that person might be feeling, or experiencing, that the Scriptures in such a profound way give voice, right, to those heart cries. So to see those ancient words that are right in line with what they’re feeling today points again to the sufficiency of Scripture, and to a compassionate God who understands what their burdens are and He carries them close. 

Dale Johnson: I love that. The beauty of the Psalms of Lament is it points us in the right direction. Yes, we’re not dismissing that we’re having, what I call, sociological problems. We are having those. Those are tensions between people, but the reality is, even in the New Testament, we’re told our battle is not against flesh and blood. We are to cast our cares upon the Lord, and the beauty of the Psalms of Lament is, they help us to do that well. They make our aim toward God, God being the answer to our questions, our most deep and valued questions, or being the answer to the deepest anguishes that we have. I think that’s extremely appropriate.

Now, I like the way in some of this that you balance the idea that it’s not only lament that we’re doing, right? We’re not just only weeping with those who weep and that’s the part that’s “therapeutic.” That’s important, right? It does help to bring healing and identification with the person and, you know, all of that stuff which God tells us to, and compassion to respond to each other, but why can we not just tarry with lament? It can’t be the totality of our response, right? Especially when we’re talking about these situations that have been so ethnically charged, we have to go beyond that. We have to move beyond just the weeping with them and the lamentation. We’ve got to do some other things. What are some of those other things?

Aurelia Smith: Right, and this is really an important point, because as you’re saying, you know, lament is an excellent initial step, however, in the scenarios I talked about, there are also many other responses that are necessary as well. So, for instance, believers are called to confront one another in love when we sin against one another. Your counselees would need to be encouraged to practice biblical confrontation. Shepherds would also want to get involved to care for the sheep well, not only for those who were hurt but those who need to be taught Scripturally why they did what they did or believed counter to the truth. There are also a host of heart attitudes that we’d want to address as biblical counselors to help our counselors who experienced ethnic incidents to take their thoughts captive, uproot any bitterness, deal with the fear of man, and more. So it’s just an initial response with lament, but not a totality of the response.

Dale Johnson: See, I love what you’re doing. So what we’re trying to do here is we’re saying, listen, the whole issue about race and ethnicity–nobody’s acting as though these things aren’t real. I mean, there are legitimate tensions, right? Those are born, if we understand these biblically, out of dispositions of sin. We have to address those, but we don’t need to swing the pendulum the way the culture is doing and try to give some sort of secular framework. What we’re trying to do is say, okay, the Scriptures give us an answer.

Aurelia, you’re helping us to see sort of the multi-faceted way that the Bible, just in wisdom, gives us help and aid in how to lament appropriately—t’s not all lament—but how to lament appropriately. Then also, how do we start moving to address some of the issues of the heart where we might find even partiality or prejudice in our own heart and need to deal with those? That’s okay because that’s what the Bible does. It helps to clean us up. It helps to address the issues that we find deep within, and we should be okay with the Bible’s correction on that, especially as believers. That’s really the goal. I love how you’re shading this in a multi-faceted way because that’s what we need. We need that biblical wisdom.

I want to finish with this just sort of final thought—and there’s a lot more to say on this for sure, but I’m glad we’re addressing it. How might both—now let me pause for a second because as I talk about this–the answer mostly in the culture is, we just need to deal with the majority culture. It’s all their fault. So, I love the way that we’re going to talk about this in saying, no, we’ve got issues on both sides, right? I mean, for biblical counselors, we talk about marriage counseling and we say, well, you know, it’s typically not 100% one person’s fault, right? I say, there are enough problems to go around and we can address the issues in both husband and wife. Yes, as a man, I would say that the majority of the problems are probably his. That’s true. But there are enough problems to go around. We sin against one another and then we respond to that sin with more sin, and it complicates things. How might we, in this topic of ethnicity and issues of race, deal with both majority and minority culture Christians as we all try to grow in this area?

Aurelia Smith: Well, I’d encourage our listeners to think and pray deeply about what they’ve heard first, so on a personal level. Then I’d also encourage us to make a commitment to grow and learn about this issue. My two recommendations for reading would be the newest revised version of One Race, One Blood that I referred to earlier, and also Weep with Me by Mark Vroegop where he delves into the Psalms of Lament in a fantastic way in regards to this particular issue. It’s fantastic. Then I also encourage our listeners to consider what work needs to be done on not only the personal level but in their church families and in their communities. How can they be a bridge? How can they be a redemptive tool in God’s hands to address these issues?

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I love that. In 2 Corinthians, that’s what Paul calls us, ministers of reconciliation. That’s our goal. What that understands is that there are going to be issues that need to be reconciled, and who has God chosen to do that? He has chosen us as believers and that’s one of our titles, to be ministers of reconciliation. So Aurelia, thank you so much for giving us this. I will mention that some of the things that Aurelia gave you as far as book recommendations, and even her breakout talk, we’ll put that in the show notes so that you can pay attention to that. So dear sister, thank you so much for spending time with us and giving us some good wisdom from the Scriptures.

Helpful Resources

Aurelia Smith’s Breakout Session — Grace Relations Counseling Using Psalms of Lament

Ministering to Military Women by Aurelia Smith

One Race, One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism by Ken Ham and Dr. Ware

Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation by Mark Vroegop