The need for gospel-centered racial reconciliation

May 05, 2014

NOTE: The 2015 ERLC Leadership Summit will address “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families, and their churches. This event will be held in Nashville on March 26-27, 2015. To learn more go here.

President Obama’s historic election to the White House in November 2008 spoke volumes about how far the United States has come on the race issue since the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, many Americans, and especially Americans of color, were naively under the delusion that an African-American elected to the United States presidency would end certain forms of racism and racial discrimination. Some initially promulgated at water cooler conversations that Obama’s victory proves that we are now living in a post-racial America. Even some voices in the media and in different political organizations declared that the election of President Obama and the emergence of several African-Americans to positions of power in the public square demonstrate that there is no longer a need for basic civil rights organizations that work to fight for the equal rights of people of color.

However, the numerous racially motivated crimes in the United States alone (not to mention in other parts of the world); the recent racist remarks directed toward African-Americans recorded in the media, and the recent legal decisions not to allow race to play a role in college admission suggest that racism still exists. In light of the nation’s current racial strife and our recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — noted from the White House press room to the dining room, and from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the steps on many front porches — African-Americans, people of color and other Americans are asking why so many blacks fall prey to gun violence. Why are African-Americans and people of color often racially profiled simply because of the color of their skin, even racially profiled, I might add, by other African-Americas and people of color? Additionally, many African-Americans and families of color are forced to answer difficult questions from their children about racism, and to have difficult conversations with them about the great injustices that many people of color still experience in the 21st century despite the election of Obama. But the question remains: why does racism still exist in 2014?

Many people of color blame racism on the “white man.” However, in my view, to do so is racist. The Bible explicitly states that racism exists because of sin. Sin alienates all races from one another—not just blacks and whites. Sin is the reason why the entire human race needs to be reconciled first to God and secondly to one another. Racism should not be limited to the black and white divide. Race is a biblical category for “otherness.” This otherness can be classified as Jew and Gentile. The gospel suggests that racism is a universal power that rules and reigns like an evil tyrant over all Jews and Gentiles–over all of the different races scattered throughout the world due to the universal power of sin (Rom. 1:18-3:20)–and because of the fall of Adam and Even in the Garden (Gen. 3-4, 11). Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus died and resurrected from the dead to kill all forms of sin (John 1:29; Rom. 3:25; 5:12-8:11; 1 John 2:2)–even the sin of racism, so that Jews and Gentiles would be firstly reconciled to God and secondly to one another (Eph. 2:11-22) so that those who have faith in Jesus Christ and who live in the power of the gospel can experience genuine reconciliation with God and their fellow-man (Gal. 2:11-14). This way racial reconciliation would actually be practiced and experienced in both church and society in practical ways by those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 14-15).

Over the course of three blogs, I want to foster a discussion about race and racism in light of the conversation about race that has emerged in recent days. The blogs will emphasize some gospel-centered answers in Scripture with the intent of moving the current discussion of race and racial reconciliation from the political, legal and public relation realms to the biblical, theological and spiritual realms. This approach serves to point people to the eternal hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of the despair that comes from living in a sinful world dominated by sin, especially the sin of racism. My approach is especially necessary since secular discussions about race, racism and racial reconciliation continue to offer the hopeless solution of tolerance, since many Christians unfortunately do not think of race, racism and racial reconciliation from a biblical and theological perspective. Many Christians do not think of racism as a gospel issue, and many people continue to ignore that the category of race or racism exists. To the contrary, I propose that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the life changing solution to the problem of racism. I additionally propose that if Christians believe, live and boldly proclaim the message of a Christ who died, resurrected and who transforms by the power of the Holy Spirit all of those who have faith in him as the Jewish Messiah, then the sin of racism would be mortified. The result of faith in the proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ would translate into Spirit-filled love that would move all people from all nations within the Christ-following community to endure one another in love.

In the rest of this blog, I want to discuss sin as the root cause of all forms of racism and suggest that racism is in fact sin against God and that racism had its origins in the historic fall of Adam of Even in the Garden of Eden. In the second blog, I will discuss that Jesus’ death for all sins and his resurrection from the dead are God’s provision for all forms of racial hostility. In the third blog, I will discuss that Jesus’ death for all sins and his resurrection from the dead actually (not hypothetically) accomplished reconciliation for all who trust in Jesus by faith. The latter blog will also suggest that racial reconciliation must be and can be pursued in practical and intentional ways by those redeemed by Jesus and by those who want to experience it in the real world in both church and society.

Sin as the root cause of racism

Genesis 1-3 is the foundational biblical text that informs us about the reason for racism. In Genesis 1-2, God created the heavens and the earth. The entire creation is perfect and without sin, so God calls everything that he makes good (Gen. 1:18, 25). In Genesis 2:17, God commands Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest he dies. Unfortunately, both he and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent, disobeyed God and brought the curse of death and sin into the world (Gen. 3:1-19). In Romans 5:12, Paul emphasizes that death and sin entered the world through Adam and death through sin with the result that all without exception now sin. In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul states that “all die in Adam.”

Immediately after Adam and Eve sin in Genesis 3, both their relationship with God is severed (Gen. 3:8), which is why they run away from him. Humanity’s relationship with fellow-man is severed (Gen. 4), which is why Cain murdered his brother. Humanity’s separation from God and ethno-racial division are fundamentally the result of the devastating consequences of sin’s entrance into the world through the sin of our first parents: Adam and Even. Before racism can be obliterated, its chief cause must be destroyed. In my view, the gospel of Jesus Christ suggests that Jesus’ death dealt with humanity’s sin-problem, killed the enmity between Jews and Gentiles and reconciles them to God and to one another when alienated sinners place faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-22), who died to deliver sinners from every tongue, tribe, people and nation from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4; Rev. 5:9). The first step toward racial reconciliation is to recognize that racism is sin and the direct result of the historic fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden.