In January we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Last month we celebrated Black History Month. At this point in the 2017 calendar, some may wonder why we’re still talking about racial issues. Headline after headline reveal the fact that we, as a nation, are far more fractured than we realized. Not only are we fractured among political lines, we are still severely fractured among ethnic/racial lines. Clearly, we must continue talking about racial issues because the racial fracture that remains is evidence of deeply rooted sin against God as both creator of humanity as his image (Genesis 1:26-28) and redeemer of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people (Revelation 7:9-17).
And yet, precisely because the racial divide is a sin problem—contrary to much of the public talk on race and ethnicity—I don’t believe reconciliation will occur apart from the gospel. The racial divide is a sin problem that’s been around long before us. In Ephesians, the apostle Paul explains that God’s eternal plan is to exalt Jesus as King and Lord over all things (1:21-22) and to unite all things in Christ (1:10). Specifically, in Ephesians 2, Paul argues that one of the things God is uniting under Christ is a fractured humanity—Jew and Gentile. As this new humanity lives together in unified diversity (4:1-6), it displays the wisdom of our God in saving and uniting a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people, leading the cosmic powers to declare the glory of God (3:10; Revelation 7:11-12).
This new humanity is the church. Together, we are to show the world what it’s like to live as God’s people under God’s rule. We are God’s ambassadors representing his kingdom to a world fractured by sin. Therefore, we’re to show the world the transforming love of God that unites those who were formerly fractured and at war with one another. That is to say, we are to show the world the unified diversity of the kingdom of heaven.
To be sure, we are not born again as “mature adults” in Christ. No! We are born again as “infants,” needing the milk of the word. But, we are not to remain infants! So, Paul explains how we are to grow up into Christian maturity (Ephesians 4). The ministers of the word are given to the church by the ascended Christ (4:11), and they, in turn, equip the church with the word of God (4:12). This preached/taught word is then spoken throughout the congregation—that’s discipleship: speaking the truth in love to one another so that we may all grow up and look more like Jesus (4:13). So, yes, we need to keep talking about racial issues because these are gospel and discipleship issues, just like marriage, parenting, holiness, or obedience.
Those who are mature need to help those who are still infants. We need to encourage one another to faithfully represent God and his rule over our lives while we’re still in this fractured world. We need to show the world true reconciliation and peace so that they may come to glorify our Father in heaven and embrace his Son as Lord. But how are we to keep talking about these issues? Here are a few suggestions for leading our congregations in talking about racial issues:
- Converse in appropriate contexts. Don’t carry this conversation on in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Social media is dangerous because we can say things online we would never say to someone’s face. Instead, get together with our conversation partner(s) over coffee or lunch and learn from each other. If you post on social media, consider listening to this helpful podcast by Mark Dever: On Pastoring in the Age of Social Media.
- Avoid stereotypes. Generalizations describe a general truth about a population: i.e, people born in Puerto Rico generally speak Spanish. Stereotypes, on the other hand, are harmful, even sinful. Stereotypes apply a characteristic (usually negative one) of an individual or small group to an entire demographic: i.e., white men are racists, black women are on welfare, undocumented immigrants are rapists and murderers. When we classify people with stereotypes, we fail to see them as individuals created as God’s image.
- Listen more than you speak. When you do get together with those who are different than you, ask lots of questions; hear their stories; and tell them yours. It is especially important for those in the majority culture to hear how difficult it is for those in the minority culture to navigate through a world that is suspicious of us.
- Finally, read! Read various authors on the topic of race/ethnicity AND on other topics as well. Read the Bible; read biblical scholars; read African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others; and read authors who disagree with you. If you’re only reading authors who agree with you, you’ll be stuck in an echo chamber and you’ll never grow out of infancy. I’ll paraphrase Tim Keller here:
If you read only one person, you’ll become a clone; if you read only a couple of people, you’ll become confused; but if you read many authors, you’ll be able to form your own conclusions.
An active, on-going engagement with authors of other races in normal, daily reading will give us a broader understanding on all issues, not just issues of race and ethnicity.
To be sure, there is much more I could say, but remember that, as pastors, we are called to shepherd our people from where they are to Christian maturity. So then, let us speak the truth in love to one another, and let us grow up together in Christ until we all attain a mature manhood that reflects the image of Christ.