Allow me to begin this article with a disclaimer. I do not claim to be an authority in race relations. While I have studied the issues and have worked in multicultural ministry for years, I realize my limited exposure to the concepts, simply because of my race. In my effort to learn more, I have recently read a variety of authors who more adequately address the topic. Among them are Sean Palmer who wrote Why Christians Are Incapable of Racial Healing http://www.missioalliance.org/confession-evasion-christians-incapable-racial-healing/, Mark Crear, PhD, President, Multicultural Division of AACC, who wrote Racial Healing, Reconciliation, and the Church https://www.aacc.net/2015/10/09/racial-healing-reconciliation-and-the-church/ and one of my long times favorites, Wellington Boone who recently published How to Pray for Racial Healing https://www.preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/how-to-pray-for-racial-healing/ I hope you can enjoy their works like I have.
Our politicians have failed in the area of racial reconciliation. Our country is deeply divided in several ways but one of the deepest breaches is race. Years of training, emphasis on sensitivity and awareness, and legislation has not provided what we need. In 2018, the United States in general and Illinois specifically (my context) is torn and divided by race. We are all hurting and people are wondering if there is any hope. Indeed, many have completely given up.
One of the results of a healthy local church in an unhealthy community is influence. Believers in Christ are commissioned to be salt and light in a broken culture. This basically means that we are not to blend in; we are to be difference makers. When we see illness in our towns and cities, the church has an opportunity and responsibility to display the solutions that are provided by the Gospel. We know that God created all people equal. We know that the Scriptures teach us that we must love others as we love ourselves even, and perhaps especially, when others are different from us. I believe that God is displeased when people discriminate based upon skin color, race or ethnicity. God does not tolerate racism in any form, nor should His Church.
So why haven’t we done better in regard to healthy race relations? We can blame our politicians or legislators. We can point fingers at other races, placing responsibility for reconciliation upon them. But I believe that the Church must do better. We have the opportunity to put on public display what healthy race relations looks like. What could happen if churches of various races came together in the name of the Lord? Most churches are segregated by race. What would happen if God’s children no longer accepted this as normal? Can we imagine the impact of a church that refused to allow race to separate it? How would the world respond to a church that was truly united?
I wish to extend a challenge to the churches in Illinois, as well as anyone I am connected with. I am asking our pastors, leaders and church members to make a concentrated and intentional effort to heal the racial breach in your community. Take the initiative. Accept the responsibility to reach out with grace and patience to people who are different from you. While we are not responsible for how others respond, we are responsible to share the love of God across racial and ethnic boundaries. It will require taking some risks. We will have to be willing to get uncomfortably, surrender some of our preferences and go the extra mile. Tolerating one another isn’t enough. Tokenism and disingenuous overtures won’t work, in fact, they will do further harm. But I honestly believe that we can make a difference and have a positive impact.
How will the world know how to heal the brokenness if the church is just as broken as the world? Our desperate prayer should be, “God, heal Your people!”
And, if you believe that there is no racial problems in our churches and communities, I strongly disagree. Be honest as you answer these rhetorical questions: Is the racial diversity your church reflective of the racial diversity in your community? Would you willingly serve under a spiritual leader (pastor or Bishop) of another race? Do you intentionally try to connect with and build relationships with people from a race different than yours? If your answers are “no”, you may have some issues to consider. Keep believing that there are no race problems among the church and the people around you will lose respect for you, and potentially your church. I agree with the assessment that says that the most racially divided hour in American is Sunday morning. We have to do something about that.
I challenge you – lead the way. Serve someone of a different race. Reach out with genuine love to someone of a different nationality. Find someone who is currently out of your comfort zone and become a true friend.
I recall the first church we pastored. It was all white. This troubled me because our community was diverse. I had seen an African American family living down the street. I did the unthinkable – I went down, knocked on their door and invited them to church. Guess what? They came and became treasured members of the church. It’s not that hard to be a reconciler.
While the problems of race relations will never be completely solved until we get to heaven, the church must offer hope and a better way through Christ.
We are one in the Spirit; The world will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.