Racial Unity in the Church
While I wouldn’t suggest anyone model the behavioral patterns of small children, I’ve always admired their innocent ways when it comes to something adults have a hard time dealing with — race. For all the faults of our human nature, it seems we are least tainted by cultural perceptions of race when we are children.
When I was in preschool, I came home and announced to my mom that I had made a new best friend. I think her race somehow came up, so I said she was light brown.
When our moms met one another, they were amused that we had completely missed that we weren’t just different skin shades, but different races. While I noticed her skin was a much lighter shade of brown than mine, my childish brain didn’t dwell on the fact that that was significant or that we were classified as different racial categories. In fact, when my mom told me my best friend was white, I retorted that she was more of a peachy light brown. I didn’t get it. My friend and I couldn’t see one another as different races; rather, I think we saw one another as shades on one spectrum.
Red and Yellow, Black and White
I don’t see it that way anymore. Twenty-eight years on this fallen planet has eroded away my childlike view of humanity. In fact, my first description of someone I meet is a racial identification along with all the cultural baggage attached to it.
Race is a volatile subject in our nation. Gross past and present injustice stokes suspicion, hatred and anger on both sides. Though America has moved beyond blatant institutionalized racism (think Jim Crow laws), it has left painful and festering scars that prevent unity and communal intimacy … even within the body of Christ.
However, by God’s grace, we are in a cultural era where racism is frowned upon. While that has some downsides (hyper-political correctness, which causes even more racial stress), it reflects an innate cohesion with God’s view of humanity. Something in the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike recognizes the goodness of racial harmony.
But no one can seem to get it right.
Amid all the disagreements Christians have with unbelievers, one thing that should leave the world speechless and even in awe is that we truly love one another. That we can get this racial harmony thing right. That we can be a shining example of what they desire so much. Let’s look at God’s Word:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13
“After this I looked, and behold, 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, with palm branches in their hands…” Revelation 7:9
From these examples, it looks like God classifies humanity by those who are in His family and those who are not, and it is worth mentioning that He wants everyone in that first category. Church, there is no biblical reason that we should not be on the front lines in this battle for racial harmony. But how do we do this?
I recently visited a church where the pastor’s prayer caught my attention. It was the Sunday following the “not guilty” verdict of Philando Castile’s fatal shooting by a police officer. For many black Americans, this was a fearful and disheartening decision. It magnified a very real concern that our fathers, brothers and friends might become the recipients of such treatment from a police officer.
Instead of this concern being met with sympathy from my white neighbors, it’s been met with finger wagging and other excuses for the officer’s reaction. On this Sunday, the pastor prayed against the injustice of the situation, as well as for Castile’s family and the racial tensions in our country. I was floored because the church is predominately white, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard racial issues addressed in church. It was as if the church put an arm around me by acknowledging the pain of the situation.
Unfortunately, it’s so easy to see issues as “black” and “white” and everything in between that we forget to sympathize with one another. Even if we are not directly affected by something, the fact that our brother or sister in Christ is should be enough to draw our attention and concern.
Don’t be quick to take offense
Earlier I mentioned how hyper-political correctness causes racial stress. This is because it tunes our ears and hearts to find offense in everything, and that breeds paranoia and anger. No healthy relationship can survive with a mindset like this. Imagine trying to maintain a relationship while continuously being on the lookout for the other person to say something that is perceived or is actually hurtful towards you. God warns us against this practice:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… James 1:19
I pray this for myself especially when it comes to racial issues. I can feel when my condescending, prideful nature is trying to come forth just because I heard a fellow believer say something I think is insensitive. This doesn’t do anyone any good. In fact, it shuts down much-needed communication.
Friends, don’t allow the enemy to win in his quest to maintain racial division and suspicion, especially in the body of Christ where it has no place. Only with the assistance of God’s Spirit can we begin to get back our childlike innocence and love toward all humanity. That is worth fighting for.