Racial reconciliation is a phrase that I have heard about for the last 30 plus years. It has been paraded in conferences, sermons, books, etc. With non-Christians, the subject matter isn’t really a subject matter any longer. There seems to be a bit of a conversational transition as it relates to civil items to other so-called civil rights matters.
However, when you bring up the idea of racial reconciliation in the Church, there seems to be a sign of frustration among God’s people concerning it, mainly among blacks and whites in America, because it continues to be a subject of failure in how it is addressed. Whether it is through messages that bring temporary conviction but lack repentance for all who are involved or any other mechanism, something is lacking. Therefore, a sense of apathy has developed which has stalemated the process.
Let’s start with a few items as we seek to add to the discussion on the subject. Might we define reconciliation?
Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace, where there had previously been hostility and alienation. Ordinarily, it also includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:19, Eph. 2:16).
Although racial reconciliation is not the gospel or the central focus of it, it is a qualitative application of the gospel in function and practice.
On the matter of race, theologically, there are only two races: redeemed and unredeemed (1 Peter 2:9). The people of God are spoken of as “a chosen race,” “a holy nation.” We are spoken of in the singular as “a” unified, eternal nationality whom Jesus Christ, through His blood, has brewed together as His eternal subjects of representation.
Wow! So beginning with the gospel and continuing in its implications is important.
The key in the definition is the “removal of the offense.” We know that in Jesus the sins of injustice and inequality have been removed, but functionally they still exist. The gospel deals with barriers. It doesn’t merely overlook them. Jesus bore our sin on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, He didn’t look beyond our faults. He looked at them and dealt with them through Jesus.
One of the great challenges of the aforementioned subject is faults are not dealt with. On the one hand, African-Americans can deal with the issue of bitterness, and whites can deal with not fully confronting the sins of commission that happened in the past overtly and those that are done today covertly. In addition, there can be a response on both sides to walk in a sin of omission, failing to do something good when you know you should do it.
Some ways we are seeking to unearth and deal with racial reconciliation:
Find out the secret of where people are. In this, we throw out subjects in the sermons to be tackled in small group interaction. For instance, through our series on Nehemiah, we dealt with the injustice of white privilege. Nehemiah repents for the sins that he has benefited from and lives in because of the sins of his fathers.
Some of the whites were a little unsettled about my commentary. After a few weeks of it being a discussion with the gospel at the center (and having a white elder’s help), some of what might have come off as harsh was cleared up. He even coached me on bringing more substantial examples to clarify my claims so that white members wouldn’t feel alienated. He stated, though, that I should be candid.
Speaking about the missiological challenges of whites helping with inner-city missions as leaders. In our neighborhood, there is some mild gentrification and development issues that cause blacks to feel bypassed. As we do outreaches, prayer walks and relational interaction to share Jesus, we were candid with our church about how many neighbors feel towards whites. Frankly, they don’t trust them.
Therefore, I stated that until trust was built, other ethnicities must lead the missiological charge. Some people had a romantic understanding of missions and were frustrated that I made the statement. However, upon walking the neighborhood and seeing the conditions that people were in, understanding began to develop and dialogue began to ensue because of contextual ignorance. Whites began to understand, as well as blacks who were not a part of the neighborhood. People began repenting of sin in prayers and asking the Lord to remove barriers.
Getting people in the room together. This may seem obvious, yet people like going to a multiethnic church but have issues with multiethnic community. When you get one race of believers in multiethnic interaction and doing life together, this is when we have to face the barriers. If we do not face the inferential barrier of sin that exists, we live in a delusion.
The center of the discussion should not be racial reconciliation. That can get annoying, but when the gospel is the center and the Holy Spirit is at work, it will come up just as any other issue. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. If that is true, the subject will come up in a more multifaceted manner.
Dr. Eric Mason is the lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, a partner church of The Village. Racial reconciliation is our prayer topic this week.