Introduction: Racial reconciliation is never an easy conversation to enter into, but if we are going to consider what it means to be a life-giver then we cannot ignore the life-giving opportunity of unity in diversity. It is hard to ignore how many lives are affected by the life-taking injustices of racism and prejudice. In the midst of that reality, Christians must fully embrace the reality that the Gospel of Jesus Christ where God makes children out of his enemies has something to say about race and racism. These three posts will be an attempt at beginning that conversation. Please note that every Scripture passage used is quoted from the NIV. Come join us as we step into a conversation littered with the bodies of broken relationships and painful memories. Come see the God of justice and life work within that brokenness.
Crossroads Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile writes in 11 Things I’m Thinking in the Wake of Recent Events, “‘Race’ is not only powerful, it’s also about power.” If any of you remember 1994 and 1995, these power dynamics were on full display throughout the OJ Simpson trial. The power struggle between Johnnie Cochran, the LAPD, the District Attorney’s office, and the people glued to the TV or protesting in front of the courthouse sparked fires that threatened riots in the streets. The conversation around race tends to quickly become just as inflammatory. The very words, “race,” “racist,” and “racial reconciliation,” ignite a firestorm of preconceptions in our minds causing us to cringe and avoid the discussion.
But, it is not just words themselves that have this cringeworthy power. As Pastor Anyabwile means with his statement, we must also see that the concept of race-as-biology always goes hand-in-hand with actual power. He explains later, “The greatest acts of power occur when you not only define someone else’s reality, but also when the persons so defined willingly accept your definition.” This very powerful distortion of God’s good creation is directly confronted by the Gospel when this message of the Kingdom identifies us not by our skin color, but by our union with Christ.
I am not ignorant of the fact that this conversation tends to be a powder keg. However, in this series of three posts, my goal is not to inflame past hurts or frustrations, but to help us experience the 30,000 foot view of God’s heart for the racial other. God has something to say to us and if we want to be more like Christ, to know his heart and participate in his Gospel-spreading, life-giving Kingdom work, we need to hear what he is saying.
So, let’s begin where we should always begin in conversations like this, the Word of God. There we find a variety of principles that form the foundation for this conversation.
We begin with creation. According to Genesis 1:27, “…God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” All humanity is created in the image of God. This is our starting point in the conversation because it destroys any notion of superiority as it relates to skin color. What matters are not arbitrary markers of division such as skin color, but the unifying reality of the image of God in every human being. Paul makes this point clear when he teaches the Athenians at the Areopagus in Acts 17:26-27. He says to them, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth..” This is the beginning of his apologetic, but he doesn’t stop at creation, he continues on to describe God’s plan of salvation. Not only did God create every nation (in Greek every ethnos), but he exercised his sovereignty with salvation in mind. He “marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands…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” (emphasis mine).
But, we may be getting ahead of ourselves in tracing the theme of racial identity in the Bible. The plan of salvation is begun way before Paul in Acts 17. In fact, God always intended to save a people for himself out of every nation and this plan was to be accomplished through the people of Israel. In Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; and 28:14 the promise is repeated over and over again: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Yet, Israel failed. Over and over again they turned inward and created artificial boundary markers between them and the nations around them seeking to exclude them. Rather than embrace the boundary markers God ordained so that they may teach and include the nations around them, they insulated themselves. Already the lines of division were being laid. Yet, despite Israel’s failure over and over again, God’s plan was still accomplished, but it was through his Son, through Jesus. In Galatians 3:8 and 16 Paul explains that the gospel message of Jesus Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection was being set up all the way back with the above promises to Abraham and the people of Israel. God’s plan was never arbitrary exclusion, but gracious inclusion in grace, mercy, righteousness, and holiness.
This sacrificial and powerful act of Jesus dying and being raised to life is the good news of the Gospel message for which God had been preparing the world. When we believe and live into this new reality given to us by grace, our identity is rooted in our union with Christ. It is the Spirit of God that testifies to this new identity in us (Romans 8:14-17). We are ultimately defined by the transformation that God has begun and is continuing in us (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). And this new identity unifies the people of God (Romans 12:3-5), removing any barriers to fellowship (Ephesians 2:11-22), marking us as God’s special possession (1 Peter 2:9-10; Colossians 3:1-15; Galatians 3:26-29). Racial reconciliation is not the Gospel, but is an important implication of the Gospel message.
The Goal of Glorification
This implication does not create a plain, bland expression of God’s people. Rather, the goal has been, is, and will always be a multi-colored mosaic celebrating the creativity of God in creation and the beauty of humanity when it properly reflects the creator. In Revelation 5:9 John writes, “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘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.’” Then, in Revelation 7:9-10 he writes, “After this I looked, and there before me was 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. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” The Biblical storyline works toward the end of unity in diversity reflecting the glory of God in all its beauty.
So, what now?
This is what God says throughout his word about humanity, namely that we are united in the image of God AND celebrated in our diversity. And you might say: “I get that. I agree with that. I don’t have any problems with people of other ethnicities.” Allow me to respond in two ways to that: That’s awesome. I’m so glad that you don’t feel hostile to other races, but that doesn’t exclude you from the conversation, my brother, my sister. Let’s keep talking about this.
Erick Solomon is currently in his last year of seminary at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and serves on staff at Crossroads Bible Church as a pastoral resident. He and his wife just celebrated four years of marriage and have a seven-month-old daughter.
You can find Erick on Twitter @ericksolomon or on Instagram as ericksolomon.