The greatest appeasement for racial tension and correction for social oppression is found in Jesus and His gospel. Then why, as His church, are we not making a greater difference? I suppose the complete answer is too complicated for one post, but I would offer three suggestions. Why are we failing? How can we do better? Here is some food for thought…
We must remember that we are Christians first, but we are not Christians only. Neither our skin color nor our occupation defines who we really are. Even when reacting to social injustices and repeated mistreatment we must remember our true identity is in Christ. We cannot afford (the cause of Christ cannot afford) to allow our physical characteristics or ancestral heritage to trump our Christianity.
However, we do bring our past, our struggles, our opinions, and even our biases to the table of Christianity. In the first century, there were Jewish Christians and there were Gentile Christians. There were free Christians and there were enslaved Christians. There were rich Christians and there were poor Christians. In each of these social, racial, and economical differences problems arose. Converts were not required to renounce their ancestry or reduce all financial inconsistencies of their day. They were called, however, to reconcile all differences within the framework of love, forgiveness, and deference (Phil. 2:4; Rom. 12:10, 18).
When a Christian is confronted with the reality of racial tension, police brutality, unresolved prejudice, gross injustice, hearts of hatred, decades of division, and unfair generalizations, he should seek peace and healing for all through Jesus. Sadly, in these situations, many Christians have been overcome by evil rather than overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21). We should not seek to defend our own prejudices or respond with apathy because racism is not one-sided. We should not turn a blind eye to those who are being mistreated nor should we mistreat others because of perceived, but ungodly prejudices.
We must acknowledge that some of our own teachings have hurt our influence. We must be honest as we assess ourselves and our brotherhood in the midst of racial tension. There are things that “we” have taught in the past that hurt our ability to speak on certain present-day matters. More than once, when the church voiced grave concern over the moral implications of homosexual marriage, it was said, “those are the same people that 30 years ago said interracial marriages were sinful.” Sadly, that accusation is true. Personally, I have been told privately and heard it preached publicly that such would be a sin. Others who were unwilling to go that far would simply suggest that it was “unwise” (which may be another way of saying that something is sinful without having a Scripture to back it up). We must own that these teaching came from our pulpits and classrooms. They were not the product of deep Bible study, but of society’s influences on those who were entrusted with preaching and teaching the Bible.
We must admit that we have not been the best examples of racial unity. I once heard brother Willie Franklin say, “In America, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week.” Wow! How powerfully indicting are those words. We wring our hands and shake our heads at the divisive political forces in our world today. We even charge those in the oval office or the halls of congress with stirring the pot when it comes to race. Yet, those who are supposed to be the light-bearers to the world are still divided by race and partiality when it comes to worshiping our impartial Creator.
Could you imagine Corinth or Rome having a Gentile church and a Jewish church? Yeah, me neither! Then why do we believe it profitable, helpful, or Biblical to divide our assemblies over nationality or race? How could we ever expect a selfish world to practice racial unity when the Lord’s church (comprised of those who have supposedly emptied themselves to become Christ’s disciples) are still clinging to racial segregation while observing a feast in memory of an act that was designed to end, separation, and division?
How many times have you heard that Jesus is the answer to all the world’s problems? How many times have you uttered those very words? We all know that the gospel’s power can be muffled by the attitudes and actions of those who have been entrusted with its distribution. The gospel IS the answer to all unrest. Jesus is the only source of true unity. May we, as His disciples, embody that Gospel message in every relationship and reaction that we have.