I recently finished teaching a Sunday School class on racial reconciliation. If I’m asked how this class has changed me, I would say I’ve become more heartbroken and joyful than I’ve been in a long time.
Heartbroken and joyful? Aren’t those at opposite ends of the scale? Actually, no. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:3-4). I feel, in many ways, that I’m just beginning to understand these truths.
Personally, I have become brokenhearted over my own sin. As I began listening to believers who are minorities talk about current issues of racism, I realized I not only had no idea the depth of what was happening, but also had never understood how much I was actually responsible. Then as I studied how the church historically supported slavery and segregation through apathy, and even proactively worked to encourage it, my heart broke even more. While it’s easy to look back on others and judge them for being conformed to their culture, I have to be honest and admit that I have been guilty of the same thing. Even now, I’m not sure I realize how complicit I am in marginalizing my brothers and sisters in Christ who are minorities. If I’m honest, I know I am guilty of seeing people as “other” or “them” rather than “us” and “family.” I know that the church does not look or operate like it should, as one body unified and “in Christ.” And I know that the pain, fear, and sorrow my brothers and sisters have is real and justified, and that many times they don’t speak up because their pain has been dismissed over and over again.
At the same time, I have become joyful in the promises of God and his plan for the church. Ephesians says that God’s plan for a multi-ethnic church was the mystery He kept secret since before the foundation of the world. You see this promise in the creation story, and in His covenant with Abraham to bless all nations. The Great Commission commands us to teach and baptize all nations. The first work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to let everyone hear in their own language. Paul’s letters are full of how to integrate different cultures into one church. In Revelation, you see people gather around the throne to worship together. This is an amazing story, and this story is the Gospel—God reconciling all things under Christ. I’ve begun to see glimpses of this reality, and it is intoxicating to see how the grace of God can break down the former walls of hostility and unite people in Christ.
There are numerous things I’ve taken away from this class, but here are four I hope we all begin to pray and talk about going forward.
Repenting of our racism. As believers we are called to repent of our sin, both our outward actions and the sin in our hearts. Racism is a sin that’s sometimes hard to see in our own lives because it is so deeply woven into the fabric of our culture.
Listening to African-American Christians. Ask your minority friends to be honest with you. Read articles, listen to sermons, and when you hear things that you might initially disagree with— continue to listen. As believers, we should enter every conversation with humility and not assume we have all the right answers. The church in Ephesus was a great example of two different cultures coming together. Paul reminds them to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:29-32).
Understanding that yes, racism is a sin that is conceived in an individual’s heart, but it’s also a result of “sin” and the Fall’s effect on our culture. We live in a racialized society — one where race impacts how you are treated and the opportunities you have. The solution includes repenting of the brokenness of your own heart and working as Christ’s hands and feet to redeem the broken systems in our world.
Building a new culture! When we repent, listen to others, and begin to work to redeem the world around us, we start building a new culture. We don’t achieve this by sitting in judgement of others and warring against them, but by living as the body of Christ. Jesus said that they will know us by how we love each other. Part of God’s plan to bring different ethnicities, who were once hostile toward each other, together as one family was to give the world a tangible example of what the future kingdom of God would look like and begin to establish it here on earth. In our culture that is so bent on division, the church should be a refuge. An important thing to remember is this new culture does not require the minority culture to conform to the majority culture. In the New Testament, the Gentiles were not required to conform to Jewish customs in order to be full members of the church. Colossians says, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Col. 3:14-15). This teaches us the beauty is not that we are all singing the same notes, but that once we are united in Christ, our differences begin to create a beautiful harmonious song — a city on a hill that draws men and women to it.