“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
Racism is not an American problem – it’s a human problem. Racism’s ugliness has been a human evil for thousands of years. For centuries blood has been shed, injustice legislated and discrimination embraced – based on skin pigment or the birthplace of a person. Today many people naively dismiss racism as something that only existed Pre-Civil Rights Era. It’s just too simple minded to shrug off the headlines of the news or what’s happening in pop culture as small, isolated and insignificant events. While enormous strides have been made in the area of racial harmony – injustice and racism still exists.
Sadly, racism affects Christians and the Church. It’s been said that “Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour in our country.” Whether or not that’s true – I don’t know. However, anecdotal evidence would suggest that the stereotype is legitimate.
It may come as a surprise to many Christians and church goers to learn that racism is a very significant topic in the New Testament. Jesus addressed racism (and sexism) head on. Racism was one of the early hurdles the first century church had to face and overcome. Paul addressed multiple churches throughout Asian and Europe regarding the Gospel and race.
In the first century church – the primary racial lines where between Jews, Samaritans (part Jew and part Gentile), and Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples). Paul writing to the church at Ephesus, a very important and multiethnic city in the ancient world, declared that Christ’s work on the cross is foundational to the crushing of racial discrimination. Paul declared in Ephesians 2:11-14 that the Gentiles – a group of people thought of as outcasts and ‘unclean’ were now brought near by the blood of Christ. They were no longer outcasts, but part of the family of God. Furthermore, he says that in Christ Jews and Gentiles are one people – that a believer’s heavenly citizenship trumps any earthy loyalty. I love what Trilla Newbell, author of United, says in a recent blog post:
“It is in the gospel that we see people as made in the image of God, uniquely designed by God, and brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that every person who ever lived is made in God’s image, but for the Christian, there is a new family. My desire is that we would see each other as who we really are—brothers and sisters bought with a price.”
In chapter 3 of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he addresses racial harmony in even greater depth saying that the ‘mystery’ of the Gospel – this glorious sacred truth revealed in Christ – was that reconciliation wasn’t simply available to gentiles, but was determinedly intended for them. This is to say, that a major piece of God’s redemptive plan is the pursuit of ALL races and peoples.
This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Ephesians 3:6
The term fellow heir is significant in this passage. For centuries Jewish people had seen God’s blessing on them as something they deserved and had inherently earned. This spurned a racial pride and arrogance that bred contempt and disgust of ‘Gentiles’. But now, through the gospel, gentiles were equal. But actually more than just equal in value – they were equal partakers in the riches of the kingdom of God. Paul goes on to write in Galatians and Colossians that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the family of God – that we are one! (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11)
The glory of God is exhibited in racial harmony. This is a serious matter of Christian conscience. It is simply not enough to acknowledge the equality and value of all races. Racial harmony is not something to be merely accepted – rather racial harmony is something that is to be pursued.
This can be uncomfortable, awkward and scary. But when the glory of God is at stake – we cannot stop in the face of discomfort and fear. No, we must press on in the glorious pursuit of racial harmony for the glory of God.
So what can we do to pursue racial harmony for the sake of God’s glory and the healing reconciliation of our communities? Stay tuned as we’ll address some steps we can take in part two of The Gospel and Race.