In the wake of the shootings of the Dallas police officers, I started on a journey to learn about racism in America. I wanted to know two things in particular: 1) How can the Church help? 2) What is my part in the problem and solution? While I am by no means an expert, God has taught me some things on this journey that I believe are worth sharing.
1) Representatives of the American Church have perpetuated racism for far too long.
From the days of chattel slavery when one clergyman declared, “To live in Virginia without slaves is morally impossible” to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's and 60's that prompted white believers in Christ to respond that “separate but equal” was God’s will*, the Church in America has at times failed to acknowledge and proclaim the truths that our minority brothers and sisters are made in the image of God and that we are to love them (John 13:34-35). Our failures in history, however, should not produce white guilt or opportunities for division. Instead, knowing our history allows us to acknowledge the pain, grief, and trauma inflicted upon minorities. It also allows us to make amends where necessary and create inroads toward racial reconciliation. The Bride of Christ, the Church, is not beautiful because she never makes mistakes; rather, the Bride is radiant because she seeks forgiveness and repentance when she fails to love as Christ commands her to love. If we as the Church today cannot fully acknowledge that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we cannot love as Christ loves.
2) God has given us each a measure of power and a voice, we need to use them wisely.
Full disclosure: I am a white woman writing a piece about racism in America. You might be asking yourself, “Shouldn’t a minority be writing this piece?” It’s a fair question. On my journey, however, my black friends have taught me that my voice makes it easier to have a conversation about race. As one black friend told me, “When you bring up racism, a conversation happens. When I bring up racism, I am the angry black woman. Please use your voice and platform to help us have this conversation.” So, I am. God tells his people in Micah 6:8 to seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. He also reminds his Church to look after orphans and widows—the vulnerable and weak in society (James 1:27). Right now, my platform and voice provide me with the privilege and responsibility to speak on behalf of those who feel weak and powerless to bring about racial reconciliation and justice. I pray that those in the Church, myself included, will use the power and voice God gave us to knock down more dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).
3) Heaven will be diverse, and God thinks this is a good thing.
If you are ever looking for a fresh way to study your Bible, read through it and make a note of all the times God and Jesus welcomed the outsiders, the strangers, and the aliens into the Kingdom of God. I am struck by how many times God tells the world that all are welcome at his table. Take Acts 10 for example, where God uses a Jew (Peter) and a Gentile (Cornelius) to show his Church that racism has no place in the family of God. Because of the cross, enemies become brothers. Or consider John’s glimpse into heaven recorded in Revelation 7:9 that depicts “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.” When I used to imagine heaven, I imagined lots of white, blonde, Oklahoma Sooner fans sitting around the throne and praising God. I am so incredibly grateful He has opened my eyes to see and celebrate that I will praise God along with Ugandans, Mexicans, Vietnamese, Australians, blacks, whites, browns, and everyone in between. If this vision of heaven causes you to recoil at all, perhaps you would do well to study more of God’s heart for the nations.
4) The Church is God’s answer to combat racism.
Although I started this post pointing out that some in the American Church have perpetuated racism for far too long, I believe that the Church as God intends it to function is the answer for the race problem in our country. Believing that someone or certain groups of people are inferior to you falls under pride, hate, malice, and fear—all of which God speaks against. Racism is ultimately a sin issue, not a skin issue. And, conquering a sin problem always finds its resolution at the foot of the cross. A biblical view of racism demands that the Church step into this problem rather than relegating it to the realm of secular social justice workers. Let’s go, Church. As brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe we can show a lost and dying world that we belong to a family and kingdom defined not by the color of our skin, but by the blood the Savior of the world shed for us.
* For more information about the Church and its struggle with racism, as well as the source for these quotes please refer to Chapter 2 of Divided by Faith titled "From Separate Pews to Separate Churches: Evangelical Racial Thought and Practice," 1700-1964.
If you are interested in learning more about racism in America and how the Church can help, here are some recommended resources:
"Black Lives Matter" Real Truth Real Quick by Todd Wagner
Watermark Webinar on Race with Mika Edmondson and Phillip Ward
"Is the Black Lives Matter Movement the New Civil Rights Movement?" by Mika Edmondson via the Gospel Coalition
America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Faith and the Problem of Racism in America by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson