Racism and prejudice are deeply rooted problems in our culture. What is more, multifaceted and sometimes invisible problems such as racism and various forms of prejudice are difficult to solve. This is also true among the people of God. I hope and pray, and think that it is less true.
As Christians we need to be honest about the racial tensions that exist in our culture and in the church. We need to recognize the lasting negative consequences of racism and prejudice and listen carefully to those who feel marginalized and mourn with those who mourn, expressing deep sorrow for the hurts our black friends experience.
Speaking out on issues such as mass incarceration, education, low-income employment, and fractured families is important and presents opportunities for Christian discipleship. These are issues that disproportionately affect our black and poor populations, and we need to give adequate attention to injustices, including systematic injustices, and various social needs. Further, churches should wisely pursue genuine diversity, unity and reconciliation by not only welcoming visitors of diverse backgrounds, but also by being ready to make them full members and participants in our congregations, and place qualified individuals in positions of leadership and influence.
Reconciliation in Christ
In recent decades, there has been much discussion of racial reconciliation by evangelicals. Yet, due to the challenges that remain, including needing an understanding of what reconciliation means, some have grown weary of all the talk and little tangible progress. The work of reconciliation is difficult, and often those who need to change their ways do not recognize what is wrong.
John Stott develops a biblical foundation for ethnic diversity and reconciliation from Paul’s address to the Athenians in Acts 17. Athens was a bustling city in the ancient world, a center for ideas and trade, and of ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism. Stott understands several of Paul’s assertions to be relevant to ethnic diversity. For example, Paul proclaims that God created everything and he is Lord over everything (Acts 17:24), including human life. All human beings share a common origin and are members of one race. We are all equal in creation, and therefore in dignity and worth.
Additionally, Stott makes the important claim that recognizing and celebrating ethnic diversity does not require or imply that we embrace religious diversity. In Acts 17 Paul attests to Jesus’s resurrection and proclaims the need for repentance because God’s judgment is coming. Christians are called to love all people and to recognize their dignity, while at the same time rejecting idolatry and attesting to the truth that there is one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Finally, by implication Paul proclaims that Jesus died and rose to create a new and reconciled community. Biblical exhortations to reconciliation, unity, and love find no differentiation in race. Christians are those whose primary identity is in Christ. For reconciliation, unity and love for one another are to be clear indicators that we are united to Christ.
This post is adapted from Invitation to Christian Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. Learn more or request a faculty examination, media, or blog review copy. Related topics in biblical studies and theology can be found throughout the Kregel Academic blog.
“At the cosmic level, the Gospels and the Epistles declare Jesus to be the Son of God and true human, who came to reconcile human beings to God and to one another through his death on the cross, to defeat evil and death, and to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth. These things are part of the gospel, within which ethics must be understood.”
Dr. Ken Magnuson