Will we ever be finished with the race issue? Will we ever make enough progress that we can rest, proclaim the job is done, or know that we have somehow moved past the need for racial reconciliation and the pursuit of unity across racial/ethnic lines? In our own spiritual journey toward the heart of God on the issue of race, can we come to the place that are just fine where we are, that the race issue is behind us, and that no work remains? I contend that until the Lord returns, there will always be further work to do. Yes, we are making progress. But racial reconciliation and unity is not just a goal that is somehow achieved and then we move past it. It’s a continual pursuit and we must never stop striving toward the racial unity we see in Scripture.
Because racism and racial unity is a gospel issue, we must strive to live out that gospel in every area of our lives. We must continue to strive for an end to racism and for Christian unity across racial and ethnic lines. Jesus died to reconcile us to God and to be reconciled to one another. Through the gospel, believers of every race and ethnicity comprise one people of God. The already/not yet reality is that we ARE one people, God has made us so. But we must continue to strive to live out what God has declared us to be until the unity we have in Christ is a living reality. The task of striving for unity must continue on until we finally stand before the throne of God as one people of God from every tribe, people, tongue and nation. Even as we make real and significant progress, let me offer a few challenges as we think about race, ethnicity, and our journey toward living out God’s ideal of one people of God:
- Beyond symbolic actions to heart change. Don’t stop with the removing of cultural symbols of racism in society, deal with the racism in your own heart. It is good for us to pursue in symbolic ways our desire to end racism and prejudice. If as a result of the current wave we see a virtual end to the use of the Confederate flag, that would be a good thing. Don’t fool yourself, however, into thinking that our progress on a societal level is sufficient. Have you dealt with the sin of racism and racial prejudice in your own heart? Have you asked God to seek your heart and reveal any remaining roots of racism in you? Have you repented of sin? Are you personally pursuing God’s vision of unity in the Body of Christ?
- Beyond personal sentiments to societal change. Don’t let the fact that you are not personally racist keep you from seeing and addressing the racial injustices in the world around you. Whether or not we have personally acted in a racist way, our history of racial sin as a nation has created certain injustices and racial inequalities in our society. As believers, we are responsible both to address our own personal sin and the societal outcomes of our collective sin. You cannot ignore oppression, inequality, injustice and privilege around you just because you can honestly say that you personally are not a racist. You also must not assume that just because you don’t see or notice injustice that it does not exist. Listen to your brothers and sisters, hear their cries, then walk with them to bring about change in society and its structures.
- Beyond national progress to local and personal transformation. Don’t be satisfied with “big-picture” progress made in race relations without pursuing racial unity in your own personal life and world. We are making progress, even if slow, in seeing healing and change in society. Jim Crow is dead. We elected the first African-American president – twice. A sustained national conversation on race is ongoing. The largest denomination in North America repented of its role promoting slavery, elected its first African-American president, and now is moving toward proportional representation in its boards and entities. Sure, there are problems and a great divide remains on key issues, but we are making progress. Only, don’t be satisfied with just “big picture” progress. It’s great what’s happening in South Carolina. What’s happening in your community? It’s great what we did at the Southern Baptist Convention. What are you doing at your church? It’s great what we’re doing as a nation. What are you doing in your personal life and relationships. Are you, personally, working to build unity across racial/ethnic lines?
- Beyond inner change in feelings to outer change in relationships. Don’t be satisfied with just a change of attitude toward other races, pursue change in your relationships. It’s great that you do not harbor feelings of racism or prejudice toward people of other races. I’m glad that you do not judge people by the color of their skin but the content of their character. Now, go a step further and pursue personal relationships with persons of other races and ethnicities. Don’t be satisfied with merely not being a racist. Widen your circle of relationships. Don’t let the fact that you have a few acquaintances and surface-level friendships with a few people of a different race keep you from pursuing deep and meaningful bonds of fellowship with others of another race or ethnicity. Strive for real Christian community and close personal fellowship across racial lines.
- Beyond a welcoming church to a purposeful pursuit of unity. Don’t let the fact that your church is open to anyone excuse you from actively pursuing the heavenly vision of one people of God. I often hear people say that their church is open to all and that everybody is welcome in their church. That’s a godly attitude to have! I even hear some who would like to see their churches be more multi-ethnic and reflect the diversity of the community around them. But don’t be satisfied with good desires and right attitudes. Be intentional in pursuing unity. If you live in a multi-ethnic community, pray about pursuing a multi-ethnic vision for your church. Reach out to churches of other races and ethnicities and find ways to partner together. Move from openness to action.
- Beyond present harmony to ongoing unity. Don’t let your present success in overcoming racial division keep you from being diligent to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Even when we are doing well, we are still prone to the influence of the world, the attacks of Satan, and our own sin natures. Whatever unity we achieve must be maintained. Conflicts will and do arise. Until the Lord returns, there will always be potential for racial conflict and cultural misunderstandings. We must be diligent to continually seek peace, understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. Keep pursuing unity.
- Beyond local success to global mission. Don’t let the fact that you are “missions minded” or even a “multi-ethnic” church keep you from recognizing those peoples in your community and around the world who do not know Christ and are without a gospel witness. Maybe you’ve done well. Your church has a heart for the nations and has embraced the vision of being a multi-ethnic/multi-racial body. Perhaps you’ve succeeded in being one of the small percentage of churches that are racially diverse. Praise the Lord! But the work is still not done. Be intentional about reaching out to and sharing Christ with those in your community who are not like you or are not represented in you church. Be aware of the immigrant populations in your area and seek ways to minister to and share Christ with them. Be intentional about praying for the unreached and unengaged people groups of the world. Seek ways that you can give, send, and go until we have fulfilled the mandate to make disciples of all peoples.
These are just a few things to consider. Wherever we are in this process, let us keep striving for reconciliation and deeper unity. Let us keep working to make Christ known. I am thankful for the progress that has been made and even more thankful for what I see God doing in our churches, our denomination, and our nation. Let us continue to move forward and never stop pursuing gospel unity. Someday we will worship together as one people of God. Then we will finally see the end of the race issue. Until then, let us continue to actively reach toward that heavenly reality.