Over the past several years, a gospel-soaked spirit of ongoing repentance has been growing within my heart with regard to my personal neglect for racial reconciliation. I am talking about an active ministry of reconciliation, based on the core tenets of the gospel, which I believe the Scriptures beckon all Christians to. And while my first step must be toward personal repentance, I wonder if it might be time for a collective repentance as well. Many church leaders have entered the fray in this regard, calling those under their care to repent and seek God’s face with regard to race relations. But in spite of my personal desires to repent, I can’t help but wonder why this issue of racial reconciliation burns in my heart, often swelling up in lament for the general complacency of today’s Church around this issue.
In a panel discussion, hosted by Kainos Movement, Christianity Today, and Ministry Grid, several evangelical leaders gathered around the topic of racial tension in America. Naturally, I tuned in live to listen and learn from people like Thabiti Anyabwile, Derwin Gray, Matt Chandler, Trillia Newbell, John Piper, Eric Mason, and others weigh in on this important issue. But perhaps the most meaningful portion of the evening—at least for me—came in the form of a comment made by Derwin Gray, lead Pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, SC. Derwin’s comment was not original—he openly cited the Apostle Paul. But it was so poignant and appropriate for the climate of the American Church today.
Gray skillfully drew the listener’s attention to Ephesians 2, one of the key passages relating to the issue of racial reconciliation. He reminded us that the heartbeat of the gospel is the blood of Christ. If the blood of Christ was spilt to raise dead men and women to life by his grace, then the whole flow of Ephesians 2, up to and including verse 14 is founded on this very blood! For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14)
There you have it. Racial reconciliation has burned in my heart because it is a gospel issue. It’s not peripheral. Paul made this clear when he confronted Peter for withdrawing from the Gentiles in the presence of the Judiazers (see Gal. 2). When Peter slipped back into deep-seeded racism and ethnic superiority, Paul entered in bold confrontation in order to defend the gospel. And when the gospel is under fire, the Church must not remain silent and still. We must act. We must defend it, fighting to maintain and uphold it, as those who have gone before us for centuries have sought to do. The whole thrust of Ephesians 2 should compel Christians to act on the issue of racial reconciliation because our peace is blood-bought. Therefore, it is not enough to sit. If we remain complacent here, we demean the blood-bought peace in Christ the gospel gives us freely.
I’m not an expert on racial reconciliation. I’m a young man. But I have an immense desire for my generation to not let this moment pass. Not for our glory, and not because this is our time to shine, but simply for the following reason. Over my lifetime, I have witnessed an explosion of gospel-centeredness—a modern reformation of sorts. I have seen the advent of websites, blogs, movements that have formed for the sole purpose of defending and heralding the gospel. But if we are to be truly gospel-centered, how now could we remain silent with regard to racial reconciliation?
My concern is this—where does the Church go from here? Here are five crucial ways the church can pursue racial reconciliation.
1. Start with empathy.
To listen is not equal to remaining silent. To listen is to actively pursue the understanding of another. I mean this no matter which political persuasion, ethnic group, or socioeconomic background you come from. Put yourself in the shoes of another. Often, I hear Christians using words like they and us when referring to people of other ethnicities. Most of the time they are used in the context of explaining why a certain group acts a certain way. But what if we tried to put us in the shoes of them? What if we empathized? Empathy, after all, is also at the heart of the gospel. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)
2. Take part in the global conversation.
Say what you will about technology, but one thing is certain—global conversations thrive in their sandbox. In many ways, the eyes of the world are on the American Church. But what does it mean to enter into such a conversation? Perhaps the best sources of information—from a Christian worldview—are ministries and people invested in the issue:
- Thabiti Anywhile
- Derwin Gray
- Pastor Bryan Lorrits
- Dr. Rev Carl Ellis Jr. and Karen Angela Ellis’ Ellis Perspective
- Desiring God
- Dr. Anthony Bradley
- Brian Dye’s Vision Nehemiah
Tune into panel discussions (you can view the one from December 16th on the Kainos website). Learn what other Christians are saying about these issues. And if God has given you a platform, speak. But, leaders and pastors beware this promise from Hebrews 13. We will give an account for those to whom we minister. Let us heed the words of John Piper from the panel discussion, in which he advised us to speak biblically about these issues, providing our people with a biblical framework and vocabulary for discussing such issues.
3. Take part in the local conversation.
It is not enough to sound off on Twitter. No matter how many followers you have or how big of a reach your blog may draw. We must have this conversation on the local level. Dr. Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia and president of Thrive in the City, called for a nationwide solemn assembly around the issue of racial reconciliation. Dr. Mason provides instructions for hosting such a gathering in your church. Maybe you have other ideas to engage your community. Great! Meet at a coffee shop. Host a discussion in your home. Find a way to get involved. Let’s not neglect the local body for the online community.
4. Pursue racial reconciliation in your personal life.
There are a million ways to do this. Make it a point to pursue relationships with people from varying ethnicities and backgrounds. Build these times around fellowship and food in your home. Get involved in your community whether that’s a sports team for your kids or a neighbor project or a local school. Or why not attend church with your black neighbor?
If you live in a city, your neighborhood is already diverse. And suburban neighborhoods are following suit. What a wonderful opportunity for Christians of all ethnicities to embrace the gospel and develop relationships within our neighborhoods. As I said, everyone is watching the Church right now. Who’s watching you?
Get your church involved in local public schools. Hands down, one of the best times of ministry in my week is the Tuesday afternoon FCA club at Southwest Middle School. This is easily the most diverse societal group I am part of. Southwest is situated in a radically diverse neighborhood. When I serve there, I always learn something huge about the gospel. White people don’t hold a corner on gospel truth. Each week, I am encouraged to see young people from numerous ethnic groups who are being transformed by the gospel and are transforming me. Through this club, our church has had countless opportunities to minister to families of all ethnicities. We have had chances to develop relationships. We’re not perfect; we’re not saviors. But it’s a step. And I love it.
5. Pray for racial reconciliation.
In the end, God is the one who reconciles men and women to himself and to one another. It is absurd to leave prayer out of the conversation. We must seek the Lord. We must plead with him for reconciliation. We must not grow weary in this. We must pass this practice on to our children so that, fifty years from now, they are still praying for reconciliation until Jesus returns (may it be soon)!
So, there it is. Where can you seek to get involved in any or all of these areas? How can you help to mobilize your church? In the end, racial reconciliation is central to the gospel. It is an issue of discipleship. Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations. Will we heed his words?
Alex Dean (@AlexMartinDean) is a pastor in Lakeland, Florida. Holding an undergraduate degree from Dallas Baptist University, Alex is currently completing his graduate work at Reformed Theological Seminary. His book, Gospel Regeneration: A story of death, life, and sleeping in a van, is available on Amazon, iBooks, and other online retailers. Follow his blog at www.GospelRegeneration.com and follow him on Twitter.