According to the latest Pew Polls, it seems that the current cultural climate has intensified the angst of racial tension and division. “The share of Americans who say racism is a ‘big problem’ in society has increased 8 percentage points in the past two years – and has roughly doubled since 2011.”
As we think about how the church should respond to the brokenness around us and be a part of the healing of racial tensions, it is important to consider these issues through spiritual lenses.
Are we willing to say that any type of division caused by racism, discrimination, and prejudice is a spiritual and moral problem? Many of us have a desire and a vision to lead diverse congregations. But if vision is simply a preferred future, does that mean addressing racist divisions is simply a preference for us? Is it just something that’s good for some, but not needed for all?
For me, the answer to this question is personal.
Almost 17 years ago, my wife (at the time fiancée) and I were in pre-marital counseling. During our first major engagement disagreement we went to see our counselors (a White couple who were leaders in our church). Our issues were pretty standard relationships issues. In this particular instance, I wasn’t being sensitive toward Angie. She shared her frustration with the counselors, and do you know what their response was? They gave her an article about why people who marry interracially are trying to get back at their parents and why they are in complete disobedience.
The sad reality is that I really believe they were genuinely trying to help us. As we looked for help from my African American community, we didn’t get better answers. I approached many of my African American friends and asked them, “Would you rather I marry a white Christian woman or a non-Christian Black woman?” More often than not, my friends told me it would be better to marry a non-Christian Black woman.
Both sides justified their responses. Both sides approached us as well-meaning people trying to keep us from harm and danger. But in our whole engagement journey, not one person took a stand to say that division caused by racism, discrimination, or prejudice is a spiritual and moral problem. No one was willing to call it sin.
So, this is what I want to ask you today. Are you willing to call racial divisions a spiritual and moral problem? Are you willing to address it as sin?
Our churches today aren’t the first to experience these issues. Leaders of the 1st Century church addressed racial division, too.
In Acts 6, the church had a real problem. The Hebraic Jews overlooked the Hellenistic Jews in the daily distribution for widows. The issues of their time seeped into their church. And when the issues of the world made their way into the church, the leaders took action. For the first time in all of Acts, the whole church gathered together.
Too often, we reduce this text to the passage “where we find deacons.” But there is much more going on here. The leaders said, “Stop. Everyone needs to come together. There’s a serious issue because the racial divisions of the world have become our divisions. And this can’t happen in God’s family. Racial division is a real problem that demands real solutions.”
In response, the leaders appointed specific people to address these issues and come up with tangible solutions. And these solutions lead to real transformation. Look how the passage ends in Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.”
The priests had seen, and likely been part of the issues of racial tension and division. They were watching to see how these new Christian church leaders would handle it. And what they saw was supernatural. The church didn’t gloss over the division. They called it sin. They recognized that anything that divides the body of Christ is the spirit of the anti-Christ. And I really believe that when the priests saw the church address it as sin, they were drawn to Christ and their lives were transformed.
Racial division is a real problem that demands real solutions that can lead to real transformation.
My prayer for you, for me, is that we are leaders who call our people to action when we see the issues of the world seeping into our families. God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Anything that causes division in our body is incompatible with God’s mission.
This is not just a vision. This is not just a preference. We live in a divided nation. The world is watching and longing to know, does the church have real solutions to racial division?
We have a real opportunity to put the Gospel on display by addressing the sinful divisions caused by racism, discrimination, and prejudice. We have a real opportunity to see the Word of God spread, to see disciples increase in number, and to see others become obedient to the faith.
Other Relevant Articles
Dhati Lewis, Race in America: The Golden Rule: A Call to R.E.P. Christ Well
Dr. Vincent Bacote, Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics – Four Critical Reminders As We Move Towards Healing
John C. Richards, Jr., Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism – Race and Ecclesiology (The Church’s Response Matters)
Bryan Carter, Senior Pastor of Concord Church in Dallas, TX – How Two Pastors (and dozens of churches) Partnered for Racial Reconciliation in Dallas