(After my last post, my blogging buddy Mitchell Skelton asked me to write an article about racism and the church. The following post is my attempt to provide the article for him. Thanks for the request, Mitchell!)
Across millennia, the people of God have faced the problem of racism in their midst. Moses dealt with racial prejudice within his family "because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married" (Numbers 12:1, New King James Version). When the apostle Peter began to practice racial segregation because of peer pressure, the apostle Paul "opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong" (Galatians 2:11). In American society, a racially integrated church has been the exception, rather than the rule, throughout our history.
Why is racism wrong? Fundamentally, racism is wrong because it's an insult against God.
"God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).
As a descendant of Adam, Eve, Noah, and his wife, every person on earth enjoys the family heritage of being made in the image of God. Each person is special to God. Everyone is valuable to him. When we devalue a person based on race, we are insulting and devaluing the Creator.
In addition, racism interferes with Christ's mission in the world. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). God does not leave out white people, black people, American Indians, Hispanics, Asians, or any other racial group. His Son died for all kinds of people. When Jesus sent his church into the world with his message of eternal life, he commissioned his people to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Literally, he told us to "make disciples of all ethnic groups". Racism stands in the way as a major obstacle to fulfilling the will of God among our neighbors.
What can Christians do about racism? First, we must become aware of the problem. Few white Christians may realize that racial minorities carry a social burden unknown to the majority. Minorities will be suspected of causing problems and committing crimes simply because of their race. A young black man will be more likely to face disciplinary problems in school because of his race. He will be more likely to be pulled over by the highway patrol. He may be innocent, but he will be suspected of wrongdoing. Few minority Christians may realize that white Christians are unaware of this stress-inducing aspect of their lives.
Next Christians need to stand with the person who is being treated unjustly due to his or her race. Speak out. Defend the innocent. Comfort the victim. Minorities are rightfully bewildered and repulsed at the silence of white Christians in the face of obvious injustice.
Christians must make friends with people from a variety of ethnic groups. Loosen up and enjoy being with people of different backgrounds. Have a sense of humor. Purposefully mispronounce Spanish words so that your Hispanic co-workers can tease you. Tease them back. Good-natured humor builds bridges and cuts tension.
If single, date Christians of other races. If married, adopt a child of a different race. Allow your children to date Christians of different races, and be prepared to have grandchildren of a different race.
Finally, churches need to seek both members and leaders from a variety of races. Use church buses and vans to pick up children, parents, and others from minority neighborhoods and bring them to church services. If a ministry position opens, intentionally look for candidates of different races to fill the position. Christian universities and Bible colleges should be able to help. Seek racially diverse Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, deacons, and elders. A racially diverse leadership can build a racially diverse membership more easily.
The early church mystified its world through the reconciliation of ethnic enemies (Ephesians 3:6). Our society would be just as amazed today if it were to see true racial reconciliation within God's church. Let's rise to the challenge.