GCI’s Statement of Values says this: “Scripture declares that all hatred and prejudice is contrary to the Christian life. We are committed to furthering racial understanding, forgiveness and healing.” Living out this commitment is a great challenge in a world where there continues to be a great deal of racial prejudice along with the divisions it creates. The following article from Jeffrey Broadnax (Generations Ministries national coordinator) addresses this important topic as part of our series on worldview conversion and whole-life discipleship.
When we get to heaven, there will not be a white section, a black section, a Latino section, an Asian section and a Native American section. (Albert Tate)
Turn on the nightly news, pick up a newspaper, listen to talk radio or surf social media and it’s a pretty good bet you will experience a constant stream of economic, social, judicial, political and relational division with racial prejudice and division served up as a primary cause. News segments on everything from police/community relations to immigration, unemployment, mass incarceration, voting, drugs, and yes even Christianity, show caustic intersections of white, black, brown, yellow and red peoples. These often-toxic interactions are strategically highlighted to expose systemic inequities in power and dignity that have continuously existed throughout America’s 242-year journey as a nation.
Racial, ethnic and power divisions are not unique to America. Though called by different names, these cancerous divisions are found everywhere humans are gathered. It is precisely because they are individually and systemically common that they must be challenged. Historical blights such as Nazism, ethnic cleansing and the intercontinental slave trade expose a myopic racial worldview that seems woven into the fabric of human history.
Though common in our world and, sadly, in the church, the false belief that some races are innately superior to others is incompatible with both science and the Bible. Worldviews that embrace or foster human divisions based on race and ethnicity must give way to the Christ-centered worldview that embraces the gospel truth that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).
The Lord’s Prayer
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20b-21)
Jesus prayed that his disciples would reflect a heavenly oneness that would convict the world that he was the Messiah sent from the Father. He prayed about the ignorance, persecution and rejection his followers would experience as they lived as witnesses of his life and teachings. He didn’t offer them a worldview built on political and religious extremes but the worldview of the Father who “so loved the world” (John 3:16) that he sent his Son to reconcile the world to himself, bringing to humanity salvation, rescue and healing.
Six decades after his ascension, Jesus unveiled for the apostle John a vision of the throne room of the Father where John beheld
a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)
Note the diversity of these people. No image obliterates the idea of racism and racial separation better than this innumerable, multi-ethnic crowd of people in heaven. According to what John saw and heard, they stand together before God’s throne singing this song of praise:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev. 5:9)
Because of the healing, transforming sacrifice of Jesus, distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender and culture are celebrated in heaven as wonderful aspects of God’s good creation. The challenge to us on earth is to do likewise.
Diverse, yet one
What we learn from both Scripture and science is that though we are diverse, at our core as humans we are one—one blood and of one race (the human race). Dr. John Perkins makes this point in One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race, where he argues that the racial division that continues to plague our world is not primarily a community or national issue—it is a spiritual issue:
The problem of reconciliation in [America] and in our churches is much too big to be wrestled to the ground by plans that begin with the minds of men. This is a God-sized problem and only the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal. It requires the quality of love that only our Savior can provide. (p. 16)
To buttress his declaration of one blood/one race, Perkins cites the conclusion of the Human Genome Project, which found that all humans are 99.9 percent the same genetically. You and I are only one tenth of one percent different from any other person on earth, no matter what race they are. To devalue (even destroy) another human over racial, ethnic or cultural differences is as ludicrous as possessing $100.00, yet then doing harm to someone over a 10-cent coin.
I’m acutely aware of the truth that we are all of one blood. Twenty years ago I, an African American man, was blessed to donate some of my bone marrow to an Ecuadorian man who was dying from leukemia. Not only was I better matched to him genetically than were his siblings and children, we are of different blood types. This rare combination of factors, a miracle from God, not only united our two families, it brought together two cultures, races and ethnicities. Despite our racial-ethnic differences, it was determined that we were genetic brothers.
In Genesis 11, due to humanity’s arrogance and lack of faith, God separated humankind in speech, understanding and geography. Beginning with the fall in the garden of Eden, human relationships had continued to spiral away from God’s design. Separation became humanity’s natural (fallen) state. But this sad state of affairs is overcome in and through Jesus. Note what the apostle Paul said in addressing the Areopagus in Athens:
From one man [i.e. one blood] [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)
Paul’s declaration has both spiritual and physical validity. Spiritually, there is only one “man” (Jesus) through whom all people can “find” God. Physically, all humans have a common genetic origin—we all are descended from Adam.
Speaking of the oneness of humanity, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brothers’ brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” What would happen if this Spirit-led worldview would be embraced by all people; by all Christians? The fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians provides a road-map for us to journey in that direction.
When Paul wrote the letter we know as 2 Corinthians, the city of Corinth was rife with the behavioral, economic, ethnic, religious, leadership and identity divisions so common in our day. The Corinthian Christians, having repented of these divisions, were beginning to live in accordance with Christ’s worldview. Paul seeks to help them make further progress by equipping them with the antidote to the poison of racial and identity division. Let’s reflect on Paul’s instruction.
Be compelled by love
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
Since first partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we humans have consistently sought our own way apart from God. Our hearts deceive us, leading us to embrace a self-centered worldview. Though we understand love, and sometimes stumble into a response that is more altruistic than self-seeking, when we find that our own interests are being jeopardized, our natural inclination is to protect ourselves and our interests even to the detriment of others. As we walk this path of self-protectiveness, our worldview slowly but surely becomes insular, discriminatory and biased in favor of ourselves over others.
With Jesus it is not that way. He showed in his death that he would not live for himself but for those he created. He could have rightly chosen his preservation over ours, but in order for us to learn to love he lived that love for us and offers it freely to us. Jesus, by the Spirit, now compels us who have received his love to abandon a self-centered worldview and live for others without barriers. In doing so, we will grow in the love and oneness he prayed that we would find.
See no one through human eyes
So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:16-17)
In the lexicon of Christ, “all lives matter” the same to him. Human distinctions based on physical characteristics or even behavior must be seen through the lens of Jesus’ completed work of forgiveness on the cross. To hold this viewpoint does not mean ignoring systemic abuses, blatant discrimination, or historical exploitations of any person or group of persons. Instead, it means facing those human crimes with a thirst for Christ-like forgiveness rather than a hunger for human justice. Embracing and then living out a Christ-centered worldview is not easy but it is mandatory for followers of Jesus. We must study and immerse ourselves in the teachings of our Lord on confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Participate in the ministry of reconciliation
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2Cor. 5:18-19)
In One Blood, John Perkins defines Biblical reconciliation as “the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship” (p. 17). He notes that this reconciliation is grounded in God’s declaration that he has reconciled the entire world to himself in Christ. In Christ, every broken relationship is restored, made whole. As followers of Jesus, Christians are invited to share with humanity the truth that they have been forgiven and that their sins and acts of separation are not being chronicled in a condemnatory list in heaven. Given this reality, how can we, regardless of hurtful offenses and mindsets, not serve as agents of truth, justice, equality and love filtered through the finished work of Jesus?
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Cor. 5:19b–20)
Jesus has invited us to join with him in his ministry of reconciliation. He empowers us to do so through the Holy Spirit who gives us the words we are to speak—words by which we re-present Jesus, making his appeal to all who will listen. That appeal is that they will embrace and live into their true identity as beloved children of God.
We do not have an option about sharing this message, and we must be careful to speak of the reconciliation that comes in and through Christ, not a reconciliation that is based on humanly-devised approaches. We must teach that there is only one blood, one race in Jesus. Then we must model that oneness through transparent reflection, confession, forgiveness and actions that foster restoration. These words and actions must flow from a heart that has been transformed by Christ. This is about the Lord’s own appeal to the human race, and he chooses to make it through us.
Conclusion: keep looking in the mirror
We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
Because a Christ-centered worldview does not come naturally, we must seek it from its Source. We do so by submitting our hurts, pains, insights, wisdom, histories and efforts to Jesus who takes our efforts and transforms them by the Holy Spirit. It is only through what Jesus has done on our behalf and continues to do by the Holy Spirit that we are able to experience the true, loving reconciliation that overcomes all barriers.
Sadly, many approaches to racial reconciliation are more about self-will than about Jesus’ other-centered love. Let us prayerfully ask our Lord to wash our hearts and grant us the ability to faithfully share with the world his good news concerning the spiritual unity that is available to all humanity in, through and by him.
Suggested for further study:
- GCI Speaking of Life video: “The Church Should Include All People”
- GCI article: “A Place Where Everybody Belongs”
- Gospel Coalition article: “Racial Reconciliation: What We (Mostly, Almost) All Agree On, and What We (Likely) Still Don’t Agree On”