Why Race Requires More Presence
Racial reconciliation has become a hot topic issue in evangelical circles across the country, and that can be good. However, our methods for addressing the issue aren’t always efficient or helpful. For instance, we have too often preferred the safety of screens over intimate conversations.
I understand the draw to this approach to racial reconciliation — intentionally cultivating Christian unity and gospel partnership across racial, cultural, and historical barriers is hard. Anonymity is easier. Race is difficult to talk about in person. I believe, however, if we want to have healthy and effective dialogue about race and racial reconciliation, specifically within our churches, we must go the harder route with all of its thistles and thorns.
The trips and falls in Peter’s journey through ethnic relations among Jewish and Gentile believers is of great relevance today. We can turn to Peter’s maturation through Scripture to find a helpful roadmap to vital ethnic and racial reconciliation within the body of Christ.
Seeing as Christ
In Galatians, Paul exposits the beautiful truth that our identity in Christ is not subordinate to any other identifying factor. Whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, believers are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Peter’s conviction does change in Acts 10 and 15 where he declares the equality of Gentile believers within the household of faith. And yet, in chapter 2, Paul tells the Galatian church about Peter’s hypocrisy and how he corrected him, not in a letter, not on Twitter, and not through a new creed or confession, but to his face as a fellow brother (Galatians 2:11).
Peter’s journey climaxes most beautifully in his first letter, written, ironically, to a mostly Gentile audience. He writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). These words speak not only to who we are as the body of Christ, but also can be applied to who we are as we seek the goal of racial reconciliation.
You Are a Chosen Race
You are a chosen race. There is one Christian race and its identity is neither black, white, nor brown, but crimson red with the crucified blood of Jesus. Healthy dialogues on race within the church must begin here. Don’t misunderstand and read that these distinctions aren’t significant. There is beauty and vibrancy in every color and culture. We embrace the adornment of diversity, acknowledging and affirming it.
We also uphold, though, the true primacy of being one in Christ. Racial reconciliation in the church will begin here when believers behold the beauty of the bride as Jesus does. His bride has been adorned, and John tells us this same bride is “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Revelation 7:9).
The church’s beauty is founded in being loved by Christ, but do not miss that she also has beauty in her diversity. The differences within the body should be a beauty to behold rather than an obstacle to overcome.
You Are a Royal Priest
You are a royal priest. A priest is engaged in the high calling of mediating on behalf of, bearing the burdens of, and sacrificing for others. Every Christian is to be engaged in this call, a point I believe we often miss or neglect.
To be a good priest requires we know our people. It’s not a stretch, then, that healthy dialogue about race and racial reconciliation happens most within the context of committed community. Unfortunately, we are a people of the trade, and we have been so from the beginning. We exchange the glory of God for molded grapes and our birthright for a bowl of oatmeal. And we’ve exchanged true community for thousands of acquaintances that know very little of our story, our struggles, or our dreams.
For many of us, the majority of our “friendships” are social media followers. And 280 characters, as powerful as they can be, have little depth over time. It’s no wonder, then, that conversations about race and the church have gone the route they have for the past few years. Dialogues have left the safety and understanding of companionship and moved to inorganic options that give us the (unfortunate) benefit of talking without listening and lecturing without learning.
In stark contrast, our calling as royal priests is to incarnate among real people just as Jesus incarnated among his people. This presupposes a being with, a being among, an empathy for the experiences of others, and a sacrifice of time, energy, and space to hear and help others carry burdens too difficult to carry alone.
You Are a Holy Nation
To be holy is to be set apart. This separation is done to us, not by us. Again, differences in colors, cultures, and languages are to be seen with wonder and excitement, but they are not to be used as boxes or jail cells. As one set apart people group, we recognize our allegiance to Christ as higher than any other allegiance to a political or ideological system, country or nation, suburb or neighborhood.
When we grasp this, our conversations among the people of God will reflect this truth and our community, at least as far as it is within our doing, will be among a mosaic of characters. This point is a foundational one. How else can we grow in racial reconciliation if we are only surrounded by individuals who look, speak, and think like us? Good dialogue, on race or otherwise, will only happen outside the walls of our echo chambers.