Our country continues to face a racial problem. The events of the past week indicate the ethnic divide runs deep. The tensions between particular groups highlight the deep animosity and distrust that exists in our country. Eight years ago news banners proclaimed that we have moved past the problem of race by electing an African-American president. Recent events indicate no such reality exists in our country. In fact, it seems that we are more polarized than ever.
Elections haven’t worked. The problem has not been solved through education. Diversity in our schools hasn’t eradicated the tension. Public awareness is not serving as the solution. Conversations about the distrust and discrimination are helpful yet not guaranteeing racial harmony. These improvements are necessary and highlight progress in our country. However, it doesn’t change the core problem – the human heart. There is something inside of us that instinctively throws up barriers to other people, namely those that look different from us. Racial tension is intrinsically linked to our fallen nature that repels reconciliation and seeks to dominate another person, especially someone who looks different than us.
Christ’s redemption addresses this core issue. It moves past the surface to the innate animosity and segregation that exists in our hearts – “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Jesus is not advocating for one race when he makes this statement. Rather, he is arguing that true reconciliation is found in God’s redemptive purposes. It is possible to live in true harmony with someone physically different from you through the cross.
In Christ, forgiveness is possible. In Christ, healing can occur. In Christ, we begin to see a person as made in the image of God rather than defined by their skin color. In Christ, we can let go of painful memories in the past and make steps of trust towards another person. It is possible because the seed of hatred, our sinful hearts, is addressed.
It is the primary reason I believe the church should be at the forefront of racial conversations. In our hands is the life-changing reality that can spur true reconciliation. Yet, it requires moving past simply talking about unity to living out unity in our relationships and communities. As believers, we should be the first to extend hospitality to someone who “looks” different than us but in reality is knitted by the same Creator. Christ’s transforming work should prompt us to extend grace and love. Our churches should be safe places for honest discussions on matters of race. Inclusion on a Sunday morning should be normal rather than forced.
As I look to the future, the credibility of the gospel is at stake. My daughter attends a high school where over seventy different countries are represented. She does not see her peers in shades of color but rather as human beings. Several years from now when she looks for a church to call her own, will she find one where the gospel is penetrating racial lines – communities of faith that reflect the changing demographic in our country? Or will she see polarization? My prayer is that she will find life-giving faith communities that are living out racial reconciliation by worshiping the same God. In doing so, the church can offer a powerful antidote to the problem of race in our neighborhoods.