Why are We Still Talking about Racial Issues?By
Just last month, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. This month we celebrate Black History Month. At this point in the 2017 calendar, some may wonder why we need to keep talking about race. Ironically there are others, primarily people of color, who argue that we aren’t talking about it enough. If the recent presidential election showed us anything it’s the fact that we, as a nation, are far more fractured than many of us realized. Not only are we fractured among political lines, we are still severely fractured among ethnic lines. I used to think that we were simply talking past each other, but it now seems opinions and positions have become so hardened that we’re no longer even listening to one another. We must continue talking about racial issues because the racial fracture that remains in our nation is evidence of deeply rooted sin against God as the creator of humanity—in his image (Genesis 1:26-28)—and God as redeemer of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people (Revelation 7:9-17). The existence of a fractured humanity is not new. Adam’s rebellion caused him to turn against Eve (Genesis 3:9-12). And because humanity inherited Adam’s sin, corruption, and guilt, a human race united in language and culture rebelled against God, resulting in human division among ethnic, language, and cultural lines (Genesis 11). Because of sin, brother turned against brother (Genesis 4; 27; 37); nations turned against nations (Genesis 14); and peoples discriminated against peoples based on ethnic identity (Exodus 1; Numbers 12:1). There is nothing new under the sun.
But, contrary to much of the public talk on race and ethnicity, I do not believe reconciliation occurs apart from the gospel. You see, as I spelled out above, the race issue is a sin problem that has been around long before us. And sin problems can only be dealt with by gospel solutions. 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, whether in heaven or on earth, in Christ (1:10). Specifically, in Ephesians 2, Paul argues that in Christ, God is uniting a fractured humanity—Jew and Gentile. As a result, this new humanity, united in Christ by his Spirit through the gospel, now displays the multi-faceted wisdom of God to the cosmic powers (3:10). In other words, as this new humanity lives together as a church in unified diversity (4:1-6), it displays how wise our God is in saving this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural people of God, and it causes the heavens to declare the glory of God (Revelation 7:11-12).
As the display of God’s glory and wisdom, the church reveals to 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 are 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” in Christ, needing the milk of the word. But, we are not to remain infants in Christ! And Paul explains how we are to grow up into 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 would all grow up and look more and 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, obedience, etc. Those who are mature need to help those who are still infants (discipleship). We need to encourage one another to represent well 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 glorify our Father in heaven and embrace his Son as Lord.
How are we to keep talking about these issues? Let’s start by doing it in the proper context. Don’t carry this conversation on in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)! It is a dangerous place because we can say things online we would never say to someone’s face. Second, 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., undocumented immigrants are rapists and murderers. When we classify people with stereotypes, we fail to see them as individuals created as God’s image. Thirdly, listen more than you speak. Learn from one another. Sit down and get to know people who are different than you; ask them lots of questions; hear their stories; and tell them yours. Finally, read! Read various authors on the topic of race, ethnicity. Read the Bible to see what it says; read biblical scholars who explain what the Bible says about race and ethnicity; read African-Americans and Latinos and Asians on race and ethnicity; and read the people who disagree with you to understand where they’re coming from. If you’re only reading the people who agree with you, then you will 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.”
I thank God for High Pointe! We are striving to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ in all areas of our Christian lives, including what the Bible says about race and ethnicity. To be sure, some of us are just getting started in this journey, while others are more mature. But, 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.