By / Oct 4

Racial diversity and racial unity are ongoing topics of discussion among Christians. But more than that, they ought to be realities that we prayerfully and fervently pursue within our churches and communities. This is especially true for urban churches in places like New York City, New York, where a large number of different people groups are concentrated in relatively small spaces. Ramny Perez, the lead pastor of Fordham Community Church, an urban church in New York City, talks below about the heart of racial unity and the blessing of a diverse and unified church.

Julie Masson: Some Christians be experiencing compassion or conversation fatigue as we talk about racial unity. Why do we keep talking about this issue?

Ramny Perez: First and foremost, we talk about racial unity because Christ has died and purchased a diverse Bride (Rev. 5:9). Secondly, we are to guard the unity of the Spirit in order to live a life worthy of the salvation we have received in Christ (Eph. 4). I believe that some have checked out of this conversation, in part, because of the callousness of heart that has set in. Others, particularly minorities, are just tired of trying to convince their fellow Christians that these are gospel issues. Personally, for our church, we want to build on what we see is biblically good and faithful and not concern ourselves with debating those who are uninterested in racial unity. 

Masson: Many of us think in terms of “black and white” when talking about racial unity. Should that be the case? 

Perez: It should not be the case. There is a unique and long history with the Black and white relationship in this country that cannot be ignored and needs to be discussed. Further, any leader desiring to shepherd a gospel-centered church in this country should have some familiarity with these issues and the surrounding conversations. But, it is not the only conversation that needs to be had. 

The country is more Latino than ever. The future of the American church lies not in black and white, but in the Latino church. Additionally, the conversation should be expanded because a lack of gospel-informed unity exists in a variety of backgrounds, not just Black and white.

Masson: What are some of the dynamics your urban church faces in New York City that make it harder or easier to pursue racial unity?

Perez: The Bronx is a borough made up of 1.5 million people, 91% of which are what most of the country would call minority groups. In addition, 30% are first-generation Americans and speak a different language at home. For our church, pursuing racial diversity and unity in the gospel is more than a black-and-white conversation. It includes many layers. Yet, there are shared experiences of living in an urban context that have given us a common-grace advantage. 

Masson: In your urban church plant, how have you seen a diverse neighborhood and church community shape gospel growth?

Perez: Our church, by God’s grace, has been able to reach and be composed of the diversity in our neighborhood. This has led us to focus on the proclamation of the gospel and the Word of God in a way that is not colorblind. 

Additionally, we have intentionally sought to cultivate a culture where being a part of our church means that you welcome and honor different cultures. We see this reflected in our music, the food we eat in fellowships, and the illustrations in our sermons.

Masson: How has your church changed demographics over the years?

Perez: We started our church with 11 people, the majority being Latino, some white, and others Asian. This correlated well with our neighborhood. Since the diversity in our church has grown, we now have Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Black, Nigerian, Sierra Leonean, Senegalese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Honduran, white, Bolivian, and more people groups reflected in our Sunday gathering. 

Masson: How do you shepherd your church to build relationships with people of different backgrounds for the sake of the gospel?

Perez: As leaders, we have sought to model this. I have learned over the years that the ability of leadership to multiculturally connect is the biggest indicator of whether a church will do this healthily. 

We have also emphasized the expository preaching of God’s Word, which creates a meal we can all gather and build relationships around. In addition, we encourage a Christ-centered identity that remains welcoming and lovingly curious of other cultures. For example, we often have food from different cultures in our members’ meetings, we sing songs that are diverse every week, and we encourage people to believe the best of each other. 

Masson: What is one piece of encouragement you would give another urban church planter who is seeking to build bridges with people of different backgrounds?

Perez: Church planters should learn to develop cultural agility. The ability to meaningfully relate to and connect with other cultures, without dishonoring others, is vital. This cultural agility will come out in preaching, interpersonal conversations, and leadership decisions. I’m convinced this is the necessary main ingredient that is often missing. 

By / Jun 30

Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings you should know about. The decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court often directly affect Southern Baptist pastors and churches and the people they serve. That’s why every year the ERLC actively engages in the judicial process on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel.

But the court also issues rulings in cases that, while they aren’t directly related to the issues we work on, intersect with or are related to topics of concern for Southern Baptists. Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings from the most recent term. 

Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. UNC 

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on two cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc (SFFA). The cases—SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. President and Fellows of Harvardaddressed the consideration of race in college admissions. The court was asked to consider whether institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in admissions, and whether Harvard College was violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

The court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as an express factor in admissions, a landmark decision that overturns long-standing precedent. In the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court considered a quota system in place at the University of California and established the constitutionality of affirmative action programs 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the only Black woman on the court, wrote that the majority had “detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences.” But Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black man on the court, said, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

United States v. Texas

In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge immigration-enforcement guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. These guidelines were issued in a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security to the Acting Director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructing ICE officials to prioritize the removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.

The purpose of these guidelines was to provide a framework for ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement and to promote consistency and transparency in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Biden administration also argued that these guidelines were necessary to prioritize limited resources and focus on individuals who pose a greater risk to the country. However, Texas and Louisiana challenged the legality of these guidelines, arguing that they restrained ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge these rules, reinforcing the federal government’s unique role in setting immigration policy.

Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh 

On May 18, the Supreme Court issued opinions in two related cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. In the Taamneh case, the court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack. 

In both cases the plaintiffs made arguments related to the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Additionally, in the Gonzalez v. Google case, the plaintiffs argued that Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, aided, abetted, and conspired with ISIS by allowing the terrorist group to use its platform to spread propaganda and recruit members. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s algorithms and revenue-sharing practices contributed to the spread of ISIS content on YouTube, and that Google should be held liable for the deaths of their family members in an ISIS attack in Jordan in 2016. In the Twitter v. Taamneh case, the plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out an attack in Istanbul in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants provided material support to ISIS by allowing the group to use their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit members.

The court unanimously ruled in the Taamneh case that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the attack. Based on that ruling, the court declined to address the issues raised about the application of Section 230 protection from liability for aiding terrorists in the Gonzalez v. Google case and remanded it back to the lower courts.

Haaland v. Brackeen 

In the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal statute that aims to protect the future of Tribal Nations (i.e., the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations) and promote the best interests of Native American children. The case was brought by a birth mother, foster and adoptive parents, and the state of Texas, who claimed that the ICWA exceeds federal authority, infringes state sovereignty, and discriminates on the basis of race. 

The ICWA is a federal law that was passed in 1978 to protect the well-being and best interests of Native American children and families. The law aims to uphold family integrity and stability and to keep Native children connected to their community and culture. ICWA establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Native children from their families and placement of such children in homes that reflect the unique values of Native culture.  

The Supreme Court rejected these challenges and upheld the ICWA, a victory for the Biden administration and several Native American tribes that defended the law. The majority opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the court “declines to disturb the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that ICWA is consistent with” Congress’s authority under the Constitution in Article I. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only justices to dissent. 

Moore v. Harper 

The case of Moore v. Harper involved the controversial independent state legislature theory (ISL). This theory arose from the redistricting of North Carolina’s districts by the North Carolina legislature following the 2020 census, which the state courts found to be too artificial and partisan, and an extreme case of gerrymandering in favor of the Republican Party. ISL asserts that only the state legislature itself has the power to set the rules for making state laws that apply to federal elections, from drawing congressional district lines to determining the who-what-when-where of casting a ballot. 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted a rehearing in the underlying case, which prompted the justices to request additional briefing on whether they still had the power to rule in Moore. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the congressional map violated the state constitution and dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The case was decided in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh filing a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas dissenting. The case was one of the most high-profile cases the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years, with former federal judge Michael Luttig calling it the “single most important case on American democracy—and for American democracy—in the nation’s history.”

By / Jun 12

I serve in a city with a rich heritage. It is the birthplace of Mardi Gras, the home of Hank Aaron, and a place known for seafood and Southern hospitality. With our rich history also comes painful wounds from the past. There are scars from the Jim Crow era in the hearts and minds of many, and lingering challenges from redlining (a type of housing discrimination practice). 

Yet, my hope and prayer is that my city will also be remembered for its legacy of racial reconciliation, as churches in our city chart a course for a better tomorrow.

In a previous article, I unpacked the reasons why I am committed to a racially reconciling church. Here, I am going to give some of the theological pillars supporting that commitment. 

My understanding of race starts with how the Bible defines the image of God and how it describes different people groups. I also see God’s heart for racial reconciliation demonstrated in his radical call of Jonah, through Jesus’ confrontation of racial prejudice, and his reconciling death. Peter and Paul both grappled with racial reconciliation, as well. They addressed it in how they taught the Church and planted churches. All of these scriptures have been instrumental in convincing me of God’s priority of racial reconciliation. 

The image of God and race

I believe the image of God in the Bible is defined by internal features, not external ones, especially regarding how we look. Humans alone were created with the capacity to have relationship with God (Acts 17:26-28; Rom. 1:19-22). The creation account focuses more on the purpose of the human race, rather than a description of race (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:7, 15-28).

Since all human beings have common ancestry, the human genome has always included diversity. When different people groups appear in the Bible, they are almost always categorized based upon their place of origin, heritage, experience, or culture, rather than the pigmentation of their skin. According to civil rights hero John Perkins, race is a modern concept that often can be too broad to accurately describe a person’s ethnic heritage.  

For example, at my church we have people from five different countries in South America. Although their complexions might be similar, their culture and heritage are very different. Years ago, when we considered having a celebration for Hispanic families in our church, we considered Cinco de Mayo, but our families graciously informed us that they did not celebrate that holiday because it was only significant to families with Mexican heritage. 

The image of God is what unites all people as part of the human race. What distinguishes a people group is a diverse integration of factors and experiences. If the Church is to live as one unified people of God, then understanding these distinctives is paramount.

Ethnic animosity and God’s salvation

The story of Jonah and the Ninevites is a clear indication of God’s commitment to saving people groups that were far from him. The Assyrians and the Jews had long-standing animosity. Jonah was God’s reluctant prophet, caught between his sense of God’s call and his sense of nationalism. The situation was complex for Jonah because of the history of hatred and brutality between his nation and the Assyrians. For Jonah, racial reconciliation meant uncovering persistent and painful wounds. 

The story of these two nations is not unlike the story of our nation. If the Church is to face issues of racial reconciliation, then matters of nationalism and political ideology among people groups must be addressed. But also like the story of Jonah, the only hope for both people groups is a merciful God, ready to heal, save, forgive, and draw diverse people into his family. 

Jonah’s story is one of many in the Old Testament where God intentionally weaves different people groups into the tapestry of his covenant people.

The cross and reconciliation

Jesus continually fought back against the racial biases of his day. The Jews and the Samaritans were engaged in an enduring ethnic feud. Yet, he traveled to Samaria and interacted with those that his own people regarded as untouchable, preaching the Good News. God was not just saving people in Jerusalem; he was saving people in Samaria too. 

Jesus shared the love of God with a people group that he was supposed to hate. He confronted powerful Jewish leaders with the hypocrisy of their lack of love for the Samaritans. Jesus’ life and teaching centered on reconciling people with God and with one another (Luke 15; John 17; Matt. 5:43-48, etc.).  

The cross was the ultimate act of reconciliation. Jesus not only paved the way for human race to be fully in relationship with God, but he also paved way for human beings to be restored in relationship with one another. As he prayed for forgiveness over his lynch mob, he led the way in reconciliation.  

I have been asked by pastors how I keep racial reconciliation from decentralizing the gospel. Can you separate the Great Commandment from the Great Commission? I do not think that you can separate the endless lengths that Jesus went through to reconcile the human race to God from the endless efforts that he calls the Church to pursue in reconciling people to himself. 

The cross of Jesus will forever stand as the metric for God’s desire to reconcile. Jesus’ Church is to be a reconciling embassy. 

Peter’s battle with racial reconciliation

After Jesus’ resurrection, God used Peter to preach the gospel in 17 different languages, leading to the immediate diversification of the early church (Acts 2:1-42). Yet, Peter still had his struggles with accepting God’s desire for a diverse family. God repeatedly made his heart for racial reconciliation clear to Peter. God confronted him with a vision, took him to Cornelius’ house to witness non-Jews receiving salvation, and used the Apostle Paul to rebuke him before he understood and embraced God’s desire for a multiethnic family (Acts 10:1-48; Gal. 2:11-14).   

Be encouraged: Much like Peter, anyone that is on a journey of racial reconciliation will have points of disbelief, hesitation, or disillusionment. Racial reconciliation is a continuum of relationship, not a destination. 

Paul’s theology of racial reconciliation

When Paul states that there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, he is not doing away with these distinctions. Rather, he is making a case for gospel unity superseding these distinctions. While these distinctions describe the family of God, they are not the basis of their identity. Instead, identity in God’s family is based upon adoption in Jesus (Gal. 3:26-29).  

Throughout his writings, Paul addresses distinctions within people groups that lead to tension within the Church. In many of the situations, the point of tension is methodology, not theology (Rom. 14:1-23; Col. 2:16-23). Because methodology is driven by cultural norms, people groups of different cultures often collide. Culture is a reflection of the diversity within those created in God’s image, but division based upon those cultural distinctives is a reflection of the fall. As followers of Jesus, our love for people should be based upon their dignity as those created in God’s image, not simply a response to their color, class, or culture.  

A theology of racial reconciliation means striving for unity in our diversity, valuing the distinctives that make each person unique, and refusing to give up our unity as one human race made in the image of God. And as Christians, we worship the God who made us one in Christ, and we call others to do the same. 

By / Mar 1

It is no secret that contemporary American society continues to be embroiled in conversations about race and interracial tensions. America has a blemished history as it pertains to historical racial injustices and that history’s reverberations continue to resound today. 

However, as I look at the complicated issues here in the United States as they relate to prejudice and the tendency to segregate, I find myself seeing these current issues through the lens of our experience having lived abroad in the Middle East. And the tensions we encountered there led me to a deeper sense of why it is so important for the church to lead the way in exhibiting a reconciliation between people who share in the same blood of Christ despite bearing different tones of skin.

On the mission field 

One of the problems we faced in our ministry in the Middle East was how best to help believers from a Muslim background enter into fellowship with those from a Christian background. As I sought outside counsel, I was told by a well-respected missionary strategist, “You should just start two different kinds of churches—one for Muslim background believers and one for Christian background believers. It will slow things down too much if these new believers have to work through all the historical and cultural baggage that comes from bringing former persecutors into the community they persecuted.”

To be honest, I was stunned by the answer. I asked him later in the day if I had heard him correctly when he said we should not encourage believers from a Muslim background to fellowship with those believers who grew up culturally as Christians. He confirmed that I had heard him correctly: start two different kinds of churches because there is too much baggage to hope for unity.

This was a man who had overseen some reportedly incredible movements of people to Christ in another context. He had been brought into our training as an expert missiologist. But his advice to avoid dealing with conflict within the fellowship of believers was grossly dissatisfying—both theologically and practically. 

The more I reflected on it, the more frustrated I got. The pragmatism reflected in this advice was being allowed to trump the beauty of the enemy-reconciling effect of the gospel. I mean, think about it: What would have been the result for the early church if in Acts 9 Ananias had refused to receive Saul because of the sociological tension that it would cause to fellowship with a former persecutor?

Back at home

These sentiments, however, aren’t exclusive to the mission field. I also had a disappointing experience in a classroom in the U.S. once when a Christian professor dismissed the discussion about multiethnic churches altogether. His comment was that this is just a fad that is responding to contemporary sensitivities and that churches would do better to stay culturally homogeneous. 

Is it true that bringing together different communities might require each community to begin to appreciate expressions and forms of worship that are not native to their subculture? Certainly. But is the potential for discomfort sufficient reason to not pursue fellowship with brothers and sisters who share a common faith and theology? Hardly. 

What is lost if segregation of churches remains a practice of convenience? We lose multiple opportunities to learn from one another as we seek to live out a shared faith in different circumstances. And we lose multiple opportunities to display to a watching world how compelling the fellowship of the gospel is.

Beautiful unity as an embodied apologetic

A few years after the disappointing advice from the missiologist, however, I got a taste of what could happen if we didn’t allow socially-defined distinctions to determine the composition of our fellowship. 

I had been given the privilege of getting to teach a church planting course in an underground Bible school. The 20-or-so students who composed the class came from various Christian upbringings, and some had come to faith in Jesus out of Muslim families. Some of those of a Muslim background were even connected to high-ranking government and military officials who would have been responsible for overseeing various waves of targeted persecution of Christians throughout their country.

Standing in front of the classroom and observing small groups of those diverse students huddled together and strategizing about how they might link arms and plant churches together was one of the most stunning displays of the unifying power of the gospel I have ever seen. Those who were formerly aligned with persecutors were collaborating with those whose families had encountered persecution. And the only thing that brought them together was a common gospel-given identity and goal. 

The pain and history they shared was not erased or forgotten. But the gospel was sufficient to call both parties to walk through the painful history toward repentance and forgiveness and to continue working together toward a shared vision of the future on the basis of a present understanding of the gospel they held in common.

As those communities began to work toward planting churches, their friendship, fellowship, and partnership displayed the healing power of the gospel. It was not unlikely that there would be conflict and tension along the way. Still, that they were drawn together by a common task and vision testifies to the reconciling power of a shared gospel identity. This unity is encouraging to those sharing in the fellowship, and it is compelling to those observing from the outside.

Applied theology

So how does all of this discussion relate to contemporary American churches and their approach to addressing ethnic tensions? From the outset, I hope it gives us a confidence in three things:

  1. We are all sin-stained and in need of reconciliation to God and then to one another as God’s people.
  2. The community of believers draws confidence in the work of reconciliation to one another that comes from a shared reconciliation to God.
  3. The secular world is attempting to manufacture human unity without a compelling reason to believe it is possible.

Yet as they observe the Church manifesting and enjoying a unity amidst diversity, they have to stop and marvel. It will take intentional work, but the result will be an embodied apologetic that supports the gospel claim to make one new humanity in Christ. The work and effort that it will take is worth it—both due to its theological foundation and its missiological impact. 

Adapted excerpt with permission from Hope for American Evangelicals by Matthew Bennett. Copyright 2023, B&H Publishing.

By / Feb 8

I serve in Mobile, Alabama, a city that is scarred by its racial history. My city is where the last slave ship landed, and the last black man was lynched. Yet, I have a great hope that our past does not determine our future and that God is capable of raising up a diverse church in the heart of Dixie.

As I have studied Scripture and served these past seven years, I am convinced that a racially reconciling church pleases God and is a powerful proclamation of the gospel. I have seen God bring together people from different backgrounds and languages, and merge them into one family in Christ. I have even seen an 85-year-old white woman worship to Christian hip hop. Through it all, I have learned about the beauty of the image of God as it is reflected in those from various cultures.

Among the important lessons I’ve learned, here are four that make me deeply committed to a racially reconciling church.

A racially reconciling church displays the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham 

As you walk through the unfolding of God’s plan revealed in the Bible, it is clear he intentionally weaves every tribe, tongue, and nation into the tapestry of his covenant people.

God handcrafted the first human being in his image, revealing that all humanity has a common ancestry. Then, God sought out a man named Abram, calling him to a covenant through which a Savior would bless all the peoples of the Earth. Through God’s work of creation and his covenant with Abraham, it is obvious that God’s redemptive work is a multiethnic movement.

God’s promises and power are ultimately displayed as Jesus fulfills God’s covenant to Abraham. Through his atoning death, he reconciled humanity with God—a humanity that was once his enemy, now made his friends. He turned an ethnically diverse, brutal, fearful, and oppressive humanity into a family. After his resurrection, he instructed his disciples to draw people from every corner of the world to follow him and join God’s people, solidifying a family as broad as the face of the Earth. God’s redemptive plan continues today through his Church. 

A racially reconciling church is essential for reaching the next generation

Over a half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his angst over the fact that church gatherings on Sunday were the most segregated hour of the week in America. There is a disconnect for people in our culture when they see diversity in every other sphere of their lives, yet many churches remain monoethnic.

By the year 2030, the majority of the working class will be nonwhite, and by the year 2060, 57% of the population will be nonwhite. In other words, the next generation will be multiethnic. If churches do not adjust their methodology for the changing mission field, they might miss reaching the next generation.  

Thankfully, over the past two decades, the percentage of diverse evangelical churches has grown to 20%, but there is still a long way to go. Among the next generation, there are many who are skeptical about the Church and are watching closely to see how she deals with matters of race and politics. My prayer is that many churches will adjust their methodologies to reach their changing communities with the timeless message of the gospel.

A racially reconciling church displays the power of the gospel 

In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17). He prayed over his disciples, who had very different perspectives, and he prayed for future generations of disciples who would surely have differing perspectives. 

Issues of race and politics, in particular, are more polarizing than unifying for people today. Often, this is because people live in “echo chambers” and do not have relationships that are diverse in political, social, and cultural points of view. Because the early Church was a multiethnic and multi-class movement, the New Testament is marked by conflict between Jews, non-Jews, the poor, and the elite (e.g., Acts 2; Rom. 11; Gal. 2). Likewise, churches today that seek diversity will also find conflict when cultures and preferences collide, but because this is normative for the New Testament church, it should also be normative for the modern-day church.  

At the same time, the Church should be a center for reconciliation both with God and people. The power of the gospel is on display whenever the Church functions as God’s reconciling agency. 

Helping people reconcile with one another usually happens through developing deep empathy and understanding. Jesus’ ministry was marked by a deep empathy for the pain that others experienced (Matt. 8, 14; Luke 7; John 5, 8, 11). Paul tells the Romans, “Weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another” (12:15-16). This passage does not say to judge whether they should be weeping, which is often how people respond today. The Church has a great opportunity to be people that seek to empathize and understand like Jesus, standing in stark contrast to a culture that has often lost its ability to empathize.

Western culture often focuses on the individual, but the Church can display the power of God to bring people groups that have been divided to a place of forgiveness and unity through the pathways of empathy and understanding. The world is deeply in need of the supernatural power displayed through diverse people glued together by the life-changing power of Jesus.

A racially reconciling church displays a preview of heaven 

Fast forward to the end of history in Revelation 7:9 where every tribe, tongue, and nation are gathered together, worshiping Jesus as one family while maintaining their distinctions of color, culture, and language. This is the end goal—God’s redemptive masterpiece presented as the mystery of Christ is “displayed in high definition when a mosaic of multicolored, multiclass, multigenerational people learns to love each other as God so loved them.” The population of heaven is comprised of a redeemed people from all classes, races, and people groups worshiping one risen King.

Building a racially reconciling church is more difficult than building a monolithic one. There are challenges with: 

  • developing a multicultural leadership team, 
  • developing a multigenre worship style, 
  • honoring cultural differences, 
  • cultural assimilation, 
  • ethnocentrism, 
  • and political allegiances. 

But all of these challenges pale in comparison to the opportunity to raise up a beautiful, diverse bride of Christ that previews what heaven will eternally portray!

By / Apr 12

Lamar Hardwick was 36 years old when he discovered he was on the autism spectrum. As a pastor, his diagnosis prompted a journey of considering how the church treats its disabled members. Disability and the Church: A Vision for Diversity and Inclusion is a practical and theological exploration of the church’s responsibilities to the disabled community. Often disabled persons are overlooked, pushed away, or made to feel unwelcome. Hardwick insists that the gospel affirms God’s image in all people and offers practical strategies to build stronger faith communities that better include disabled brothers and sisters. He shared his valuable insights in the interview below. 

Disability and the Church is not only pastoral and theological, it is personal as well. Why did you decide to write it?

In December of 2014, after years of silently struggling with social anxiety, sensory processing challenges, and a host of other challenges, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s). I was 36 years old at the time of my diagnosis. Although I had already been in pastoral ministry for several years, my discovery led me to examine the difficult journey that I had into pastoral leadership and many of the ways that autism had apparently impacted my experiences with the church. I realized that among all of the success that I had experienced, there were still significant barriers that I had to overcome. A large part of my calling to serve the church is to help the church understand how it can become more accepting and inclusive of the disability community, a community that is often not represented well in local churches.

What were the circumstances leading up to your autism diagnosis?

Although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, I always knew that I was different as a child. I began to understand that there were significant differences between me and other children around the age of 7 or 8 years old. The best description that I can give is that it has always felt like the world was in on an inside joke that I didn’t understand. In 2013 when I was transitioning into a lead pastor role at a church, I hit a proverbial wall. I was really struggling with making the transition socially, and I had begun to hear stories of people reporting having negative interactions with me. 

Until that point, my ministry had primarily been serving the youth and young adults of the church. I like to joke that all teenagers are socially awkward, so socialization wasn’t as much of a struggle for me. Eventually, I had to ask myself the difficult question, “What do people experience when they experience me?” It was a tough question to ask, but I knew that I was missing something, and I needed to find the language to articulate what I had been struggling with my entire life. I would eventually seek help from a professional psychologist who would diagnose me with autism spectrum disorder.

How did your autism diagnosis impact you? How did it impact your ministry?

My autism diagnosis actually provided me with much-needed clarity as well as confidence. For the first time in my life, I understood myself in a way that made sense and that helped relieve me of the pressure to be someone that God did not create me to be. I had spent my entire life trying to be the type of person that everyone thought I should be, which was extremely difficult to maintain. When I was diagnosed, I felt a sense of relief. I finally accepted my humanity and became more confident in God’s plan for my life. I actually spent approximately two years with the therapist that diagnosed me working on unraveling the very complicated history of living so long without a diagnosis. As a result, my ministry actually begin to flourish. As time moved on, I began to gain a greater sense of what God was calling me to do in service to his church. For me, getting a formal diagnosis made my life, ministry, marriage, and parenting much more enjoyable.

You titled your introduction “A Love Letter To The Church From An Autistic Pastor.” What do you hope the church understands after reading your book? 

My prayer is that the church understands the profound love that the disability community has for the local church. The disability community has long been knocking on the church’s doors not just because we need the church, but because we love the church. 

How does the biblical theme of table fellowship speak into conversations about disability and the church?

In Luke 14, Jesus attends a dinner party where a man with a disability is also invited. Upon seeing that the party hosts only invited the man to exploit him and to trap Jesus in a Sabbath day controversy, Jesus heals the man and dismisses him from the dinner party. Jesus later tells a story at the dinner party about how to build a banquet. The banquet, or table fellowship, was an analogy for the kingdom of God. In both his address to the party hosts and in his parable, Jesus prioritizes the disability community as the community that is first invited to the table. In inviting them first, Jesus demonstrates that building his kingdom and his church begins with inviting and including this community that is often pushed out on the margins. Unfortunately, we continually build the banquet (the church) backward because we don’t prioritize the disability community first. 

What advice would you give to individuals with disabilities who would like to serve in the church?

The church has been a difficult place to navigate for disabled persons. I know this struggle well. With that in mind, I believe that persons with disabilities have incredible insight, wisdom, and gifts to offer the church, and I would encourage them to contend for their faith by finding ways to contribute those gifts. As a Christian, belonging to and serving in the church is a part of their birthright, and it is time that we help the church grow by offering our service to the church Jesus is building. It may be challenging to find just the right opportunities and location to serve, but don’t give up. The church needs you. 

How are individuals with disabilities overlooked in conversations about diversity and inclusion? How can the church amend this oversight?

The disability community is actually the largest minority group in the world. Around 20% of the world’s population identifies with some form of disability. To have a robust and honest conversation about diversity, we must turn our eyes to the largest and often marginalized minority group in the world. As the church continues to push the boundaries for becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, we need to zoom out and pay attention to a much broader definition of diversity.  If we can address the issue of disability within the diversity conversation properly, it will empower the church to become much more efficient at addressing issues of racial and ethnic diversity. 

What are ways that the church can advocate for and champion disabled persons?

I often say that you can discern an organization’s commitment to diversity by evaluating who it allows to lead. If the church truly wants to champion people with disabilities, we must become more intentional about placing disabled persons in leadership positions within our churches. Their voices will be crucial in shaping the future of our churches and will assist us with the necessary learning needed to strengthen the church’s commitment to this community. Without the voice of leaders with disabilities in the church, there will always be a void of disabled people in the church. 

What are some unique lessons the church can learn from our disabled brothers and sisters?

One of the primary images of the life of faith found in the New Testament is the image of the ongoing contest between flesh and the spirit. The Apostle Paul writes about it often. In many ways, persons living with disabilities know this contest well. Our bodies often make decisions for us that we do not choose, many times leaving us with only our faith to help us forge forward into a world that is not always accommodating or understanding of the challenges we face daily. In many ways, people with disabilities model the contest between flesh and spirit in very practical, everyday, ordinary ways. Our bodies are in constant competition with our hopes, dreams, and faith in a better, brighter future. In that reality, I believe the church can learn from the disability community about the role of faith in a Christ-follower’s life. 

You can purchase Disability and the Church: A Vision for Diversity and Inclusion here

By / Feb 10

“Daddy, he looks like me!” My young black son pointed to the only black basketball player on the court that night at my overwhelmingly white seminary. Even at a young age, he immediately felt represented by the one man on the court who shared his appearance. Without knowing it, my son was experiencing “representation.”

What is representation?

Representation can describe either the way different kinds of people are portrayed or the presence of someone who represents something about us. The way different kinds of people are portrayed is important, because it shapes both the perception and self-perception of their group. Similarly, the absence or presence of people like ourselves can send a powerful message about how we might be received in a group we’ve encountered.

It was good for my son to see a man who represented him on the court that night. But if he grows up seeing black men portrayed only as athletes or entertainers or criminals, he’s being told that athleticism or entertainment are requirements for his success… and that criminality is a way society might view his manhood. In the same way, if my black daughters grow up with only classic American dolls, they’re subtly learning that light peachy skin and straight blonde hair and baby blue eyes are the standard — a mono-cultural image they can never replicate, and one that discounts their own striking features.

If you want to understand representation, look no further than the outpouring of love, honor, and grief over the recent death of actor Chadwick Boseman, who became an international hero for people of African descent through his portrayal of King T’Challa in Black Panther. Playing an African king, Boseman displayed goodness, dignity, humility, and strength — especially when the world learned that he was silently battling cancer during the later stages of his rigorous career. Many testified that T’Challa represented blackness with nobility and honor, challenging many of the less noble portrayals of blackness in our world.

Always representing

It’s helpful to remember that we’re always representing and being represented. This isn’t wrong; it’s just reality. Because human beings are God’s image-bearers, we represent his rule in the world (Gen. 1:26–28). Adam represents humanity as our first father (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 47–49). Children also represent their parents, employees represent their companies, athletes represent their teams, and bands represent their labels. When a pastoral scandal is exposed, I can’t pretend like it doesn’t relate to me. I’m a pastor, too, so I grieve over the deep pain of the survivors and the fresh shame on the profession.

Because of how we’re wired, we consistently portray both ourselves and others in specific ways, whether we realize it or not. I was once working with an all-white team on a missions event. We were looking for videos to communicate our message, and someone played an example. Its verbal message was biblical, but its visual message was disturbing: the people doing good were virtually all white, while those who were dirty, desperate, and hurting were all black and brown. In the world of this video, which exposed the worldview of its creators, one race does the saving, while all the others need saving. Black and brown people were nothing but the mission field, and apparently, whiteness was a sign of holistic health.

Even well-meaning Christian communities are not immune to internalized attitudes of racial superiority and inferiority. The implications are far-reaching if we’re willing to search our souls.

So why did I notice, and why did I care? Because I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching over the years — a happy and humbling journey of discovery that will continue for the rest of my life.

A seat at the table

Many years ago, Cindi and I attended a traditional black church during our senior year of college. We were some of the only non-black believers there (I’m half-Japanese; she’s white). We were loved well, and gained some lifelong friends. But we also learned what it felt like to be different at church. Over time, our perspective kept widening as we adopted four African children, traveled to different countries, talked candidly with black friends, saw racial themes surging through Scripture, embraced racial matters as lifelong issues, and recently moved to a global city where we hope to live this out in community. God’s vision of a new humanity redeemed from all nations and gathered before his throne is now very personal to us (Gen. 12:3; Ps. 148:11–13; Dan. 7:14; Acts 2:5–11; Eph. 3:6; Rev. 5:9).

But the most practical reason why that missions video stood out to me is this: four beautiful black faces have a permanent seat at our table, so their perspectives and concerns are permanently represented in our hearts. As a family, we instinctively notice the ethnic makeup of every space we enter — a church, a school, a restaurant, even a video. We also notice how black and brown people are portrayed — especially when they’re denigrated. So after the video played, I was compelled to point out its biased portrayal of the kind of people who need the hope and help of Christ. I shared my perspective with our team, challenged us toward a more biblical worldview, and urged us to create promotional materials with a variety of people both hurting and helping.

Potential pitfalls

Cultivating appropriate representation is a worthy pursuit, but it’s not simple. The path is rocky, and there are pitfalls. For starters, it’s tempting to content ourselves with visual diversity alone. But welcoming someone’s color while sidelining their culture isn’t much of a welcome. Selfish or shallow pursuits of diversity can produce tokenism, where somehow all three black students at the small Christian school end up in the admissions brochure each year, without the school ever growing in its ethnic reach. Or the way photo selections from the mission field can expose that we’re more concerned about sharing our exploits than helping those in need. Tokenism exposes that we’re more concerned about perceived diversity than true community.

Even in a mixed community, we often settle for clumpy diversity, each of us magnetized to our own groups. Or we flatten people’s unique features by viewing them only as interchangeable symbols of their “kind.” Our passion for inclusion can even lead us to ignore or condemn certain groups simply for their demographic clout, falling into a second ditch as we flee the first.

Wisdom calls us away from seeking diversity for its own sake, a twisted path that always ends in some form of favoritism. Instead, our pursuits should follow the flow of God’s own redemptive storyline: his creation design, his Abrahamic promise, his reconciling gospel, his integrated church, his unifying Spirit, and his promise of a new risen humanity, international heirs of a new creation (Gen. 12:3; Ps. 96:1–3; Isa. 19:23–25; Rom. 15:5–7; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:14–16; 3:14; 4:1–6; Rev. 5:9–10). On these firm foundations, a diverse Christian community can rise, bonded with a shared faith and a common love.

Intentionality will always be required, because left to ourselves, most of us gravitate toward those we deem similar and easy. But intentionality must never become partiality, because Christ calls us to love all kinds of people. Along the way, we must stay thoughtful and reasonable, patiently considering the nuanced dynamics of each situation, the makeup of our own groups and communities, and the pointed guidance of God’s Spirit.

Representation in Scripture

On the surface, it’s easy to claim that biblical impartiality should make us blind to color, culture, and class, and if we’re consistent, gender and age, too. But Scripture tells a different story, a story filled with eye-opening concern for every kind of person. It’s true that every human being bears God’s image, making us equal in dignity, value, and purpose (Gen. 1:27; 5:1–2; 9:6). Yet our distinctions are often highlighted, not downplayed, to show God’s fatherly care for the full spectrum of humanity.

Abel, the first victim in the Bible, is clearly righteous, not tarnished (Gen. 4:3–10; Heb. 11:4). Rahab’s gutsy faith brings Israelite spies into her home and a Jericho prostitute into God’s family (Josh. 6:25; Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25). Mephibosheth, handicapped by a childhood accident, is sought out and restored by David as a representative of Saul’s fallen family (2 Sam. 9).

A nameless little slave girl introduces her Syrian captor Naaman to the healing ministry of Elisha (2 Kgs. 5:1–14). The same Syrian general is later used to illustrate God’s border-crossing grace (Luke 4:27). A Ninevite king bows before Jonah’s God in a citywide revival that angers the prejudiced prophet (Jonah 3:5–10; Matt. 12:41). Esther’s courageous representation in the Persian court keeps her adoptive father from execution and her Jewish people from genocide (Esth. 4:13–16).

The presence of Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary in Jesus’ genealogy is a symbol of God’s equalizing grace that includes abused, foreign, or culturally scandalized women in the messianic line (Matt. 1:1–17). Jesus’ own ministry to the marginalized shouts a joyful welcome to broken people of all kinds, and his magnetic ministry to children puts the littlest among us front and center (Matt. 4:23–24; 19:13–15).

The Gospels often highlight the rejected and powerless both to dignify them and to confront the proud and presumptuous (Mark 3:1–6; Luke 16:19–31; John 9). The paragon of virtue in Jesus’ most famous parable is a “half-breed” Samaritan, while a prominent priest and a pure Levite are condemned as cold-hearted contrasts (Luke 10:30–37). The Gospels also tell how Zacchaeus the tax collector is transformed, a Roman centurion is enlightened, and two Pharisees honor the crucified body of Jesus, so that even the rich can know that God can fit them through the needle’s eye (Matt. 19:23–24; Matt. 27:54; Luke 19:1–10; John 19:38–42).

As the gospel spreads, the terrorist Saul is dramatically saved on his way to persecute Christians so that no one can doubt God’s mercy (1 Tim. 1:12–16). The Jewish Paul then takes on apprentices like Timothy and Titus as he plants racially mixed churches throughout the Gentile world (Acts 16:3; Gal. 2:3). When God’s kingdom dawns in Philippi, it liberates a high-end fashion dealer, a demonized slave girl, and a Roman jailer who is likely a military veteran (Acts 16:11–40). And when Paul writes to the Roman church, he goes to great lengths to greet his wildly diverse network, a mosaic of ethnicities and personalities showing off the gospel’s reconciling grace surging through the empire’s capital city (Rom. 16:1–16).

Whether male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek, rich or poor, civilian or soldier, powerful or powerless, prince or prodigal, every kind of person is represented in the redeemed church of Jesus Christ. Keeping in step with the Spirit’s work, Christian movements should humbly desire the same dynamic.

Inclusion and influence

For those on the fringes, being represented signals two main possibilities. The first is inclusion. When a Chinese man walks into an American church and sees people from his culture already present, belonging looks possible. When an elderly woman sees grey hair on the worship team, she can feel the possibility of participating. When the youth group sees a fellow teenager baptized, they can sense that grace and change are possible for someone their age. Representation embodies the possibility of belonging, participating, and being included.

But inclusion alone is not enough. Representation is needed at a higher level — the level of influence. All believers are a “holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5). In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Gal. 3:28). And the body of Christ needs every part fully operational in order to mature (Eph. 4:15–16). Therefore, a healthy church or organization will always be identifying and removing barriers to biblical forms of influence.

We can start by initiating conversations and hearing people’s perspectives. If we don’t pursue that family with special needs, who will tell us how our ignorance might be keeping them from full participation? If the elderly have no voice in our churches, who will let us know when we’ve skewed so contemporary that we’re unhinged from our own heritage? If a multiethnic group is led by monoethnic leadership, who will point out cultural idols, blind spots, missteps, needs, and opportunities? Most importantly, if our churches and movements and organizations remain homogenous, how will we make up for all the virtue, knowledge, talent, experience, and vision that our varied brothers and sisters are ready to bring to the table?

A masterclass

In Acts 6, when the gospel is spreading and the church is becoming more diverse, racial tensions ignite. The Greek-culture Christians lodge a legitimate complaint because their widows aren’t being cared for like the Jewish-culture widows (Acts 6:1). The church’s response is a masterclass in humble, strategic, unified representation. The apostles admit there’s a problem, they involve the whole church, and the church appoints seven Spirit-filled leaders to expand the care ministry across racial lines (Acts 6:2–3). Strikingly, all seven appointees have Greek names (Acts 6:5).

The Jerusalem church recognized that Hellenistic believers would be most effective at serving the widows from their own culture. Racial inequity was acknowledged, a homogenous team was diversified, “and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7).

Leaders who learn

Our family once toured a Christian school that was almost exclusively white. We asked about racial diversity, but rather than recognizing its absence, the principal emphasized their handful of black students — by name. She had fallen into a common trap that sees token representation as meaningful diversity. We would’ve been more encouraged if she’d acknowledged the lack of representation and explained how her team would be thoughtful learners and leaders. Yet this same administrator would later disallow our black daughter from having a typical black hairstyle because of a monocultural policy ignorant about the intricacies of black hair. We appealed as winsomely as we could, but it didn’t matter. Only one kind of accessory was allowed: “Just put a ribbon in it like all the other girls!” she told my wife. Black women everywhere know how naïve this sounds. But there was no one else to help this leader see what she didn’t know — or to help her team reevaluate the deeper assumptions keeping their school an ethnocentric community.

In contrast, I have a black friend who took an internship at a white church. The dress code for the program would have required that he purchase a whole new wardrobe—because the “equivalent” dress in his culture was unacceptable. Thankfully, he was courageous enough to speak up, and the leaders were humble enough to hear his perspective. They adjusted their culture-bound requirements — and no doubt grew in their own perspective. Later, my friend told me he would often wear his jeans and Timberlands to church, not out of disrespect, but to show any visitors from his culture that they too could belong.

As a pastor, I want to be a leader who listens. I want to know when people are being left out. An empty-nester recently told me that one of his adult sons said he wouldn’t fit at our church because he has a big beard and tattoos. I’d like to think he’d be welcomed, but there’s a reason he feels like an outsider, so I’ve kept his comments in mind. 

I was recently talking with a Japanese family new to the States and growing in their English. They were attending a Christian church — our church — for only the second time in their lives. As I talked with them after the service, I wondered: Had I preached clearly enough for them to understand? Was I thinking about people like them in our international city? Or had I gotten caught up in the moment, maximizing my vocabulary to engage only a certain kind of person here in west Houston? There’s always a balance, but had I considered second-language souls like this new couple when calibrating my approach? In the global city where I serve, I should.

Jesus our representative

As God’s divine Son, Jesus represents God to us, and as our human high priest, he represents us before God (John 1:18; Heb. 1:3; 2:14–15). To represent us, “he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way” (Heb. 2:17).

When we look to Jesus, from incarnation to ascension, we see a full human being. Jesus is human, like us, but lived righteously. Jesus was tempted, like us, but never sinned (Heb. 4:15). Now that we’re united with him by faith, we share in all that belongs to him: his righteousness, his sonship, his ministry, his family, and his future.

The message is clear: Our salvation and service, our redemption and participation, our inclusion and influence, are all possible not only because Christ is God, but because he came as the God-man — because, in my little boy’s words, “He looks like me!”

By / Nov 23

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

Generally speaking, in the field of Christian ethics, conversations about race and the issues surrounding race historically have either been excluded, discussed briefly, or have vaguely affirmed the universality of the human race, equal image-bearing, and the sinfulness of racism—though progress is being made. This reality is puzzling considering the affect race has on American life and the church. 

Recently, the topic of race and the issue of racism has been a source of heightened tension, division, and fractured relationships among evangelical Christians in America since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death acted as gasoline to an already simmering fire within black Americans who for generations have experienced and witnessed forms of racism and injustice. Additionally, with the frequent deaths of black and brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement, and vigilante civilians, the dividing lines across ethnicities are growing wider and thicker. This is to say nothing of the rhetoric toward and treatment of immigrants in the United States.

For the last six years, a growing desire for a better Christian ethic on race has led to numerous genuine efforts of repentance and learning. Additionally, there is a growing interest in sociological concepts as tools in racial reconciliation, and Christians find themselves debating whether these are legitimate frameworks to utilize when considering issues related to race. Living in the tension of their new humanity but grappling with the realities of their ethnicities, many Christians are asking: what is the church’s response to our racial climate?

Understanding racial reconciliation

D.A. Horton’s 2019 book, Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World, provides Christians with an introductory-level answer to the question above. He invites Christians to think deeply about race, ethnicity, and the biblical response to our racially-tense climate. Horton, convinced of the misguided nature and inadequacy of racial reconciliation, points Christians to “ethnic conciliation” through an appeal to the de esperanza (the hope) of the gospel.

Though many churches and Christians stress “racial reconciliation,” Horton offers ethnic conciliation as a better alternative for two reasons. First, he reasons, racial implies that there is more than one race of people, which the Bible does not affirm. Additionally, the modern concept of race is a social construct and is not a biblical concept. Instead, the Bible demonstrates that God intentionally created humans with different ethnicities.

Second, reconciliation implies a return to an original state or condition. Horton argues “conciliation” points toward an original state of freedom from animosity, distrust, and hostility. Our only knowledge of conciliation comes from Genesis 1 and 2 where Adam and Eve lived with God in a relationship free from these things. Americans have never lived without the animosity, distrust, and hostility caused by racism and therefore have not experienced true conciliation with one another. Therefore, we cannot be (re)conciled. Instead, the right focus for Christians is ethnic conciliation, which involves both the recognition of ethnicity as God-given and the call to remove that which fractures the relationship between different ethnic groups. 

The blueprint for ethnic conciliation derives from the progressive revelation of redemption. The story of redemption unfolds in a fourfold narrative: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. In the revelation of God’s redemption, the hope of humanity lies in the person and work of Christ, who bears the punishment of sin by dying on the cross and provides hope for humanity in the midst of a fallen world. As a result, born-again believers experience fellowship with God free from animosity, distrust, and hostility. Our reconciliation to God not only provides Christians with a blueprint for ethnic conciliation but also empowers Christians to live with their fellow brethren.

Practical ways to pursue diversity

Horton offers practical ways for Christians to walk toward ethnic conciliation through the development of compassionate character and communication that is manifest in visible compassion toward our communities (p. 52). Compassionate character aims at dismantling animosity, which involves removing exclusionary patterns in our relationship building, allowing believers to engage in meaningful crossethnic relationships. Compassionate communication, which takes aim at distrust, involves speaking truth with a gracious and loving tongue about those outside our own ethnic group. Finally, our compassion must be visible toward those in our communities, in ways that lead toward the dismantling of hostility between ethnicities. 

Unfortunately, partiality and “colorblind Christianity” often hinder the compassion necessary for ethnic conciliation. Partiality is the superficial evaluation of another person’s worth and judgement that proceeds true knowledge of a person and their story (p. 69). Racism is partiality. Horton writes, “When we rename racism as this sin, we as God’s people will begin to leverage His character and His Word as our standard for living” (p. 85). In light of the writings of Paul and James, the proper response to partiality includes adherence to God’s Word, true repentance, and actively including those from other ethnic groups.

Though repentance of the mind and heart is the starting place, the Church must also look for tangible ways to repent. Horton asserts, “The fruits of repentance are not just heartfelt apologies but action steps providing healing for victims, new guardrails for internal policies, and an awareness of how deeply people have been hurt” (p. 115). Citing texts such as Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Psalm 79:8-9, and referencing the act of repentance of Richard J. Cellini, Horton presents both biblical and present-day examples of active repentance.

Several actions are suggested for active repentance. Among them is that Christians must remove their presuppositions about those on the margins of society (Matt. 9:36), examine their engagement with the marginalized to ensure that an awareness of the existence and needs of the marginalized is present (Matt. 9:35), and combine the first two actions with fervent prayer (Matt. 9:37-38). 

In addition, Horton asserts, “If we are ever going to be healed and whole, our communities need Jesus-centered, multiethnic, multicultural, and multigenerational-led churches modeling long-lasting engagement, intersecting six avenues of life with the gospel, mobilizing others to do the same” (p. 138). 

Many of Horton’s practical strategies will collide with Christian faith that validates itself through political affiliation. Ultimately, though, Christians must be concerned with kingdom ethics where the social and spiritual commands of Jesus inform everything we do (Matt. 4:19; 5:3-12, 17, 37; 7:12; John 3:3-8; 14:15) (p. 175). And this is because the strategies for ethnic conciliation prioritize the kingdom of God above all else. 

By / Jan 14

Mika Edmondson discusses how the diversity of the Kingdom should motivate us to pursue a diverse church.