Is Racial Reconciliation Dead?

No, racial reconciliation isn’t dead, but perhaps Christians need to talk about the topic differently.

God has put in my heart a dream of a multi-racial church in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. In that previous sentence, there’s about three things that people have told me are foolish ideas. I have been told that (1) Cincinnati is “rough soil” for church planting, and (2) downtown Cincinnati is especially difficult, but to be (3) multi-racial is just plain out of the question.

I believe that God can and will do it, however. And right now, God has answered my prayers of raising up a core group of Christian leaders who want to see the same thing happen downtown in Cincinnati. But I have been beating my head against a wall trying to figure out how to make our group more ethnically diverse.

Yesterday, I met Alvin Sanders, the Chief Diversity Officer for the Evangelical Free denomination. He recommends talking in terms of simply “reconciliation” rather than the more emotionally charged “racial reconciliation.”

He told me that the racial reconciliation conversation is dead. Christians should be talking about how God is in the business of reconciling all things to Himself, not merely races. I agree with him, as I have argued here.

He wrote about this recently:

So let me define racial reconciliation from my perspective. To begin, the Duke Center for Reconciliation defines reconciliation as God’s initiative, restoring a broken world to God’s intentions by reconciling “to Himself all things” through Christ (Colossians 1:20): the relationship between people and God, between people themselves, and between people and God’s created earth.

It is important to note that racial division is but one of many forms of brokenness found in our world that needs to be reconciled. Therefore, reconciliation in any form is the mission of God in our broken world.

The church is the only institution that has been supernaturally commissioned to practice reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). In fact, Jesus told us that a blessing follows as we engage in bringing peace to divided situations (Matthew 5:9).

The only way reconciliation-whether racial or any other type-will become a priority within a church is if it is viewed as a mark of the gospel. Oftentimes, churches resist stressing reconciliation, offering up the explanation that they are focused on fulfilling the Great Commission.

My response is that it is impossible to fulfill the Great Commission without fulfilling the first and second greatest commandments-which, together, are a call to reconciliation (Matthew 22:37-40). Reconciling brokenness of all forms to a world dominated by political, cultural, racial, and ethnic conflict is a witness to the superiority of the authentic Christian life.

It is ironic that as I type this, many national news outlets are reporting that minorities as a whole will outnumber whites by 2043 within the United States. History has proven that with these demographic changes will come numerous racial incidents and ethnic tensions.

The church must have a uniquely Christian response to these demographic changes that reflects the love of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we will be viewed as just another powerless institution.

  1. I think this is a good critique of our language which, in attempting to be concise, represents a shortsighted view of the depth of Christ’s redemption.

    It’s worth noting that one of the classic “racial reconciliation” texts, Ephesians 2:11-22, talks about the “dividing wall of hostility” being broken and that “15 he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” This is often used to say something like “look, white and black people, the wall has been broken down and we are one.” What we fail to miss though is that the hostile parties about which Paul is talking are not necessarily different racial groups as we think of them, but the Jews and Gentiles. Further he is saying how through the cross the hope of redemption is available to the two groups, Jews and Gentiles, as opposed to God’s availability only being offered to the Jews through the law. While I think this text is often an overzealous attempt to make an argument for “racial reconciliation” we can still take away the fact that people aren’t even divided by much broader terms, the circumcised or the uncircumcised. For us to focus so much on “racial reconciliation” is to give undue importance specifically to “race” and miss many of the other divisions that Mr. Sanders notes. By making it just into “racial reconciliation” rather than Christ’s preeminence over all things, we can make our problems too big and the Gospel too small.

  2. Mike,
    A few questions. First, do you think that racial reconciliation is THE issue it once was in the American Church? I’d say there is definitely still tension in that area. People still are sinners and still hate those that are different than themselves without the Holy Spirit. But God has caused amazing progress in diversity over the last century. Second, do you think that racial reconciliation is more important than other types of reconciliation? Are we also working for age reconciliation and denominational reconciliation and geographic reconciliation? Lastly, do you think that making it too much of a focal point, could take away from the Gospel rather than applying it practically (which i believe is your intention)? I appreciate the work that God has called you to and if He has put it on your heart and called you too this work, i do NOT want to be a thorn. I’m excited about Chirst the King being in Cincinnati! It just seems to me that this is one issue (among many) that will simply come up, as we seek to be Gospel centered Christians in a Gospel-less world. I know our small church plant was not as ethnically diverse as we’d have liked. But we WERE diverse. Many people have said they would never have hung out with our been friends with others if it weren’t for the Gospel making us brothers and sisters and enabling us to look past differences and deal with sin. Thanks, i’m sure you’ve thought through this much much farther than i have. Just some things that i’ve thought about.

    1. Aaron,

      In response to your questions, I would first recommend this article to you.

      1. When was racial reconciliation ever a big issue in the church? Racism has a long and sad history in the church but the church has always been more or less silent on the reconciliation side of things. Generally, white people look at race problems and say “Look how far we’ve come!” and black people look at race problems and say “Look how far we have to go!” Both are right. We have come a long way and we still have a long way to go.

      2. No, racial reconciliation is not the most important type of reconciliation, because our need as sinners to be reconciled to God is greater. But the ministry of reconciliation spoken of by Paul (2 Cor 5) is the idea that God is reconciling to Himself all things. That is to say, where brokenness and division exists, God’s desire is to bring reconciliation. In America, and definitely in Cincinnati, the race issue is a big area of brokenness that needs to be addressed by the gospel.

      Regarding the second part of this question, which do you think is worse? Ageism, denominationalism, geographic tensions, or racial division? Racial division clearly is the biggest problem on the list you mentioned, which is why it is so significant for churches to deal with it.

      3. I don’t see how you can separate the two? That’s kind of like saying “doesn’t all this talk about sin and death and forgiveness take away from the gospel?” Or, “doesn’t all this talk about heaven or hell or judgment take away from the gospel?” The gospel is truly “good news” only if its ramifications are lived out in the life of the church. Consider what Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry:

      “The Spirit of the Lord ?is upon me,
      because he has anointed me
      to ?proclaim good news to the poor.
      ?He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
      and ?recovering of sight to the blind,
      ?to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
      ?to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

      Can we say that Jesus is getting the focal point wrong about the “good news” by making it about liberty for captives and sight for the blind and so forth? No, Jesus says that the gospel is about the Kingdom of God. And when Jesus is King, there is no poverty, no blindness, no one who is crippled, and no racial division. This is what the “year of the Lord’s favor” means. This is the time when all prosper because we are ruled by a benevolent and gracious king (incidentally, this is part of the reason why we changed the name to Christ the King).

      Aaron, hear this as a soft rebuke from a brother who cares about you: your gospel is too small. If we reduce the gospel to merely “justification by faith” then there isn’t much good news for us right now. Read the gospel of Luke and you will see that Jesus’ message of the gospel was meant to be good news for now and forever. God bless you, my brother.

  3. Hey michael i’m hoping to come tonight so maybe we can talk more about it there or another time. Let me just clarify a few things. First i DO think we have made enormous progress in the last century. And i DO think there is still much work to be done. Also, about the other types of divisions, i said “Are we also working for age reconciliation and denominational reconciliation and geographic reconciliation” That’s a question. If we are working towards racial reconciliation, great, we should also be working for ALL reconciliation. That’s all i meant. To simplify the problems in the Church regarding discrimination to simply skin color, is not going to fix it. It seems to me that many of these things work together. Age, social status or class, east side/west side, dress, denomination…etc all play in together. To be sure there will be times for rebuke of racism, and there should probably be special energy spent to acknowledge our sins as a whole and work towards teaching and reconciliation. I think our problems are much bigger than black and white. In fact i think you’ll find there is as much, if not more latino racism in Cincinnati.

    I don’t quite understand your rebuke. Jesus proclaimed liberty to the captives from sin not from racism. Jesus was giving liberty from those who were oppressed by sin and their guilt and condemnation. Many who believed and DO believe ARE captives physically still, ARE blind still, ARE poor still. I believe what you’re arguing for is right, but i do not think this battle will be won, this side of Glory. I read this today from desiringgod. It articulated some things better than i could.

  4. I totally agree with your post Mike. Reconciliation is the ministry that we’ve been given – and that means all kinds of reconciliation. I think the thing is, if we have been given the task of reconciling all people to Christ and to each other than that means that we can’t ignore something that is so obvious – that the church is quite often a very segregated place.

    The thing that convinced me that “racial reconciliation” was a key part of reconciliation as a whole was looking at different Scriptures like Revelation 7:9-17 where there is a great multitude from every tribe, nation, language, and people. It just says to me that God is come to reconcile everyone TOGETHER – as they were all together worshipping. I think that if that is the image we have of “heaven” then that should be what we strive for here as well – all people groups worshipping together. I also think you see examples of God bringing people groups together in Ezekiel when he tells Ezekiel to go before the people with two sticks and to hold the two sticks in the air together as one stick and that that will represent the people reconciling to each other to become one people, God’s people. I think that he would not have done these things if he didn’t think it was important to work not just for personal salvation (or reconciliation) but also for corporate salvation (read again, reconciliation).

    Aaron, I don’t know you, but I don’t think it makes much sense to say “Jesus proclaimed liberty to the captives from sin not from racism.” Jesus proclaimed liberty to people from all kinds of things, not just sin. But to make a statement like this is to sound as if you are saying that racism isn’t sin. Last time I checked hatred for your brother was sin. So yes, Jesus came to proclaim freedom from racism too.

  5. Joni, i believe you misunderstand my comments. I was saying that when Jesus said he came to give liberty to the captives… i believe Jesus was talking about those who are oppressed by sin, slaves to sin, blind to God and his glory…etc. Racism is certainly sin, therefore you could say that is included, but that’s not the brunt of what he’s talking about. That’s all i meant. I do NOT believe it would be accurate to say that people are not physically poor, enslaved, captive, or oppressed because of Jesus words here in luke 4. Clearly many are. Where possible we SHOULD seek to be apart of relieving oppression, bring liberty, freeing the enslaved and Lord willing even healing the blind and sick. The Gospel message does affect us now and is active, but the full force of it is about eternal joy/freedom/peace, not temporal. But we’re straying from the post and even from the comments michael and i exchanged. Sorry for hi-jacking the comment log.

  6. Aaron, I guess that’s where we disagree. I would say the full force is both: here and now AND in eternity. I think that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray for his will “on earth as it is in heaven” he really meant that that prayer could be fulfilled. When he left he told the disciples they would do even greater things than he did. And I believe if we will truly be obedient than the gospel can and should have its full force here and now.

    But yeah, no need to hi-jack. But it is good conversation!

    Mike, Abe wanted me to tell you to give him a call and lets get together again.

  7. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom. And then he prays (and shows us to pray) your kingdom come. It’s here. And then he’s praying for it? The kingdom is here but not yet fully. We as his people are called to be apart of the comming of the kingdom as we engage culture and being liberty, peace, justice, mercy, love and so on. I was saying that it will not fully be complete though until the day of Glory upon Christs return. This is kind of off topic though. The meat of it was that I was saying racial problems are a result of sin as are all of our problems. Thus, we deal with it the way we deal with all sin. The cross of Christ. Repentence and faith. I just wanted to note it is one among many problems we have with others not like us. We can teach people to not hate people for being a different color and I assure you we will find many other reasons to hate them. Because the root is not a lack of understanding soley but a filthy sinful heart.

  8. Suppose someone wanted to do a ministry to get prostitutes off the street. Would we fear that they are off track with the gospel? Suppose someone wanted to do a ministry that included helping people with drug addiction. Should we fear that they are out of balance in regards to the gospel? Suppose a person has a pornography problem or a lust problem. Does the gospel have something to say about that?

    Now, suppose we live in a city that was ripped apart by racially charged riots a few years ago. Drive through OTR and look at all the boarded up buildings because people were scared to live there. Black Christians and white Christians have a deep distrust of one another in many areas.

    I was at the Mt. Auburn Community Council meeting a few weeks ago. An African American man spoke up about his frustration that the city distributes funding to white property developers more than black developers. The Bible says “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 20:10).”

    What should I say to him? I don’t know all the ins and outs of this issue, but I heard a man speak who genuinely feels as though he has been overlooked because he is a black man. Should the church stand up for equal weights and equal measures? If Jesus were king in Cincinnati, would he tolerate injustice due to race.

    So what do we do as a church? Do we tell Cincinnati to repent and have faith? Yes we do, as you said. But then we stand alongside our African American friends in the community and tell them that we will join them in making sure that Cincinnati is a just place, a place that looks more like the Kingdom of Jesus than it does now. A place where he can do business in a fair manner to provide for his family.

    Aaron, your problem is that you reduce the gospel to simply matters of faith and repentance. Doesn’t the gospel include more than this?

    Consider Mark 1:14-15: “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'”

    What does all of this mean? It means that the gospel (good news) is that Jesus is King. The call of the church is to advance the Kingdom of God into all the earth. This means all the entailments of the Kingdom: First and foremost, repentance and forgiveness for sins. But additionally, we work our butts off to make this world resemble the Kingdom to come. We don’t wait around for Jesus to come and set everything right. Joni is correct; she said that we should try to make this world more and more resemble the world that is to come.

    If you read the remainder of Mark 1, you see exactly what Jesus meant. Scan the section headings: “Jesus heals a man,” “Jesus heals many,” “Jesus preaches,” “Jesus cleanses a leper.” These stories of healing and cleansing find their fullest meaning in the New Creation, where Jesus is making all things new (2 Cor 5:17, Rev 21:5).

    The making of all things new includes everything that is broken. This includes sin and everything that sin causes, including racial injustice.

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