It took years for God to break the stranglehold of blatant racism in me—I wonder if any of us gets free of its more subtle forms—and I now see this sin as one of the most poisonous, with perhaps the greatest societal effects. Philip Yancey, Confessions of a Racist
Many Americans, Christians included, live as if our country is no longer racialized, naively believing that our country’s racial tensions were healed by the results of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Yet a quick glance at the headlines or pop culture reminds us that our nation is still plagued by more racial disharmony than many of us would care to admit or speak about.
The Supreme Court is reconsidering affirmative action. The vote in our recent presidential election was explicitly divided by, among other things, race. Our culture’s most popular movies – Lincoln and Django Unchained – are charged with racial storylines. Only those like myself who are part of the majority ethnicity of a given context might be aloof enough to say that race is no longer an issue.
Of course, it’s too easy and ultimately unhelpful to merely point out the continued existence of racial discord in our midst, especially for Christians. As Pastor Frank Reid noted in an article for Christianity Today, “We’ve made a sport of pointing out racism, when what we should be doing is focusing our prayers and actions toward creating congregations that proclaim Christ’s lordship over his entire church.” We need to move past hopeless observations about racism and look to God for hope and direction.
Many Christians are surprised to learn that God has a lot to say about the topic. Racism and ethnic discord were fundamental challenges for the New Testament church. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul reminds us of one of the most glorious implications of the gospel: that through His life, death and resurrection, Jesus tore the wall of racial division down once and for all and made a way for all people to become one in Him (Eph. 2:11-22). Christ’s work is meant to transform the people of God into an ethnically diverse family by uprooting the sin of racism and its deeper roots of pride and self-righteousness. There is now neither “Greek nor Jew” in the family of God (Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11).
Even more, Paul writes that through this new reality, a racially diverse church, “the manifold wisdom of God” is made known (Eph. 3:10). In a culture of racial strife and division, the Church makes visible and clear the glory of God and the beauty of His gospel when people of different races find peace and unity there through faith in the gospel. God intends His Church to be the only context where the historic and current walls of racial hostility are brought to rubble. The gospel demands it and compels us, the Church, to pursue the racial harmony that will one day be consummated in heaven (Rev. 5:9).
Are we pursuing it? To what degree is the manifold wisdom of God on display through the diversity of our church? In your Home Group? In your friendships? Around your kitchen table? Is this a topic that is even on your radar? The Bible does not take it for granted, and neither can we.
But addressing this issue can feel overwhelming. What can any one of us do to begin to make a difference?
Many of the leading pastors and writers on the topic of racial reconciliation, for example Mark DeYmaz who wrote Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church, have agreed that the first step for individual Christians and churches to take is to realize how utterly dependent we are upon God to accomplish racial harmony. This Wednesday at Elder-led Prayer, our congregation is gathering together in this very posture of dependence to pray about the issue. Will you join us?
Will you join us to consider and repent of the explicit and subtle forms of racism that still exist in your heart? Will you come ask God to make this issue as important to your heart and to the heart of our congregation as it is to His? Will you come celebrate the racial diversity and harmony that God has created among us and ask for more? I hope you will. And I pray that God, in increasing degrees, would be pleased to show off His manifold wisdom and glory through our church as we provide our culture and one another a picture, however dim, of the racial reconciliation that can only be found in Christ.