We all know racism is wrong. The problem is white Christians often chalk it up as a social issue for politics and not a spiritual issue for Christians. It is something important, just not that important. Here, Jason Webb — Christian, pastor and a movement leader from Milwaukee, addresses the topic of race and the church and emphasizes that it is a big deal.
We often say that a problem of racism is for the nonprofits and action groups, not the church. We discard it, not because we are against it, but because we don’t see it as part of the core message.
If we are honest, we also discard it because we are afraid. We are afraid that if we teach on racial issues we will lose people in our churches. They will leave, along with their money.
But as you study what God has to say on many topics that we deem social, including race, you realize that they are at his heart. It is a big deal. A gospel that is only personal and not social is no gospel at all. A gospel that does not engage racial issues is only “good news” to the race that dominates but terrible news to those it pushes aside.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”
Sadly, this has not changed. Instead of leading the way, we have, through our fear and silence, fostered more division.
When God sees this he weeps. He weeps because it is so far from his plan. His plan from the beginning has always been racial unity.
Here is what a glance through Scripture shows us.
In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham he is going to be the Father of a nation, a race, an ethnic group (Israel), but he says that his job isn’t to be ethnocentric, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In other words, “Abraham you are a blessing machine-but not just to your own race and own ethnicity, to all races and all people on the earth.” God’s blessing could only be a blessing if it crossed racial lines.
Life and Teachings of Jesus
Jesus constantly blew up racial divides and stereotypes. He leveled the playing field. That’s why Jesus said, “My house, will be a house of prayer for the nations.” (Mk. 11:17)
Beyond that, he would tell stories to Jews where the hero of the story was a person of a different race: a Samaritan. This was scandalous because every Jew thought that Samaritans weren’t even people. In fact, they called Samaritans “dogs”, or “half-breeds.”
It’s no wonder that his prayer, shortly before he went to the cross, was, “May they be one as we are one. I in them and you in me, so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn 17:22–23)
Jesus was saying, “The way you will be different and attract others to my way of living in unity.”
The early church
It’s not a surprise then that as Jesus went back to heaven, the church continued to push across racial lines. In fact, the term “Christian” was first used at the church of Antioch in Acts 11. This church was not a “Jews Only” church. Rather, it was reaching out to the Greeks as well.
I think the term Christian is first used there because the most Christ-like church was unity in the midst of diversity. That’s why Paul would write, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
This is the picture of heaven we get in Revelation, “After this, I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9).
God’s ultimate destination for us is racial and ethnic unity. That’s heaven.
Bring Heaven down to earth
The question white Christians and church leaders must ask ourselves is this, “Will we be a part of bringing heaven down to earth?”
My prayer is that we would be bold, we would speak out, and we would engage in the important, vital, gospel-centric work of racial reconciliation.
When that happens 11:00 on Sunday morning will no longer be the most segregated hour of the week, but the most beautiful hour where God, in all of his beauty and colors, is on full display.