Aaron and I are white. I say this right from the start because I want to give no indication that either of us pretends to understand the complexity and density of the racial barriers that have been constructed in this country. From the outside looking in, however, we can see that these roots and wounds go deep. We are angry that such division exists between races. We are angry that sin is so incredibly pervasive that it corrupts interracial relationships. We are angry that racism is real and that so many of our fellow white brothers and sisters still fail to admit there is a problem. We get upset when our white neighbors trivialize the emotions of our black neighbors. We want to be a part of a generation that acknowledges our sins and failures and breaks the bonds of injustice.
So, I write this post to convey a simple picture: we desire to plant a local church that is intentional about racial reconciliation. In no way do we presume to be two guys who will lead the charge to mend that which injustice has broken, but we do want to be a part of the solution. By the way – we recognize our great need for our non-white brothers and sisters to come alongside us to make this kind of church possible. Actually, we hope that by talking about this early on these precious saints will feel compelled to join us in planting this kind of church.
For now, however, please allow me to offer why I think America needs more intentionally multi-racial churches.
They offer a genuine picture of Christ’s body.
The true body of Christ is the collective group of born-again Christ-followers the world over, and is composed of every class, race, and social strata. As His body, the Church, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The Church is the visible testimony to God’s vastly creative imagination.
Racism, then, is both counter-ecclesial and blatantly sinful. Unfortunately, we feel that not enough churches have sought for the reconciliation that God so desires. According to Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, “racial reconciliation is God’s imperative…[and] Christians’ work is to show God’s power by reconciling divided people” (Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America). Let us not forget that one aspect of Christ’s work is to unify races – to destroy the “dividing wall of hostility” between them and to unite them under Him. An all-_____ church in the midst of a hugely diverse culture is antithetical to the Gospel.
A church, however, that pursues healing on both an individual and corporate level, proves to the world that Christ’s death and resurrection really does destroy prejudice, hatred, and ignorance. It shows that all people are broken, and that all people have intrinsic value to God (not only “this” kind of person). It also celebrates what was formerly strange or different, and creates an environment where conversation and confession can take place, and healing can begin.
They encourage conversation about race.
On that note, intentionally multi-racial churches bring together people who would not otherwise build relationships together. Sports teams, the workplace, and civic clubs may be diverse by default, and may be a source for interracial relationships. They may even create opportunity for conversation about racial injustice. They cannot, however, offer the total solution to reconciliation. At its very root, again, racism is sin. The damage caused by sin can never be healed through fleshly means. Sin needs an Advocate, a Mediator – one who can rebuild the damage left in its wake. Only Jesus has the power to do this.
When Jesus is at the center of a relationship, the barrier once erected between them caused by sin has been destroyed (Ephesians 2:14-15). Together, they “are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v 19). Fundamentally, they are now alike in that their sins are forgiven and Christ now lives in them. However, they now also both “drink of the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13), whom the Father sent to the Church in order to guide them into the truth and glorify Christ (John 16:13-14). When brothers and sisters of different races and cultures come together, the Holy Spirit is already at work within revealing sin and sanctifying us. Although it is never a “given” that discussions about these issues will occur, humble saints doing life together with the Gospel at the center are free to discuss that which the cross has already exposed.
They prove that racial reconciliation is possible.
Lastly, intentionally multi-racial churches prove that Jesus does tear down walls! It is obvious that America is a hotbed of racial tension at the present time, just as it has been in decades past. Emotions are high, fears are elevated, and racism is real. But, the Church of Jesus Christ possesses the hope of healing within her members. Again, while we do not presume to understand the depths of our nation’s racial issue, we (Joshua and Aaron) believe that Christ’s followers need to be what the world is not. We need to be truly counter-cultural in the way we conduct our lives and ministries. How beautiful is it when Christians from various ethnicities, cultures, and languages gather together, even if on a smaller, local scale, and celebrate the salvation granted them in and through Christ Jesus!
This is no small task. While conversation, confession, and repentance must take place on an individual level, reconciliation must be a corporate, not merely individual, endeavor. It is our experience that many white Americans see the need for change, but few acknowledge the systemic inequality that exists within the social structures of our culture. Racism is literally embedded in America. But when the local church begins to work for reconciliation on a local level, these structures will begin to crumble on a wider scale. The Church has been changing her surrounding culture since the first century, even when its ideals (the culture’s) are rooted deeply. We believe that as more churches set out on mission to “destroy the barrier” Christ died to topple, we will begin to experience the reconciliation we long to see in our generation. The Church will become the picture of unity that Christ died to build!
This post is not meant to generalize a deeply serious issue. It is rather meant to incite within its readers a picture of what we feel like the Church can and should be. (After all, when Jesus comes again and establishes His eternal reign, every believer from every era and from every ethnicity will worship Him side by side – shouldn’t His Church today reflect what will soon be?) This picture is the kind of church Aaron and I desire to plant. Our country is in desperate need of pastors and churches that recognize the effects of the Fall as they pertain to the prejudices in our own hearts. Our prayer is that God will surround us with people and families who want to join us on this mission!