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 / Aug 6

The Bible speaks directly to multi-ethnic ministry. God’s picture of eternal life is one of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Travis Wussow discusses this with Trillia Newbell, Juan Sanchez, Afhsin Ziafat, and Josh Smith at the Southern Baptist Convention Pre-Conference.

By / Jul 23

D.A. Carson discusses the origin of ethnicies and what that means for diversity in the Church. 

By / Jun 26

Jason Cook went to school and pastored in some of the most segregated areas in the South. And he’s currently on staff at a racially diverse church in Memphis, TN. So when he talks about race and ministry, we should pay attention. Listen in as he asks the question, “Should we give up on multi-ethnic ministry?”

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By / Feb 7

At the ERLC’s National Conference, Bryan Loritts, a pastor in California, spoke about the necessity of Christians crossing ethnic lines and investing in others who are different than us. His message,  Right Color, Wrong Culture: Pursuing Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement, is a must-listen, especially in our current cultural climate. This message will equip you to build relationships that look more like God’s intention for the church.

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By / Feb 12

Can you imagine not being able to differentiate between reds versus greens or blues versus yellows? Or, imagine if you could only see things as gray? This is actually a reality for many people.

Color blindness is the inability to see certain colors as they are. The most severe form of color blindness is achromatopsia; this is when everything appears to be gray. Though you might think it’s a rare occurrence, about one in 10 men have some form of color blindness, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Unfortunately, this condition can limit job opportunities, and because it is typically associated with additional eye problems, it can affect one’s way of life in general.

Those who are color blind are unable to take in the varied beauty of God’s creation, and yet, many well-meaning people aspire for all of us to be color blind.

Diversity doesn’t require color blindness

People will often say in relation to ethnic and racial diversity that they are “color blind.” Many times, it’s their way of expressing that they see all people as just that, people. Everyone is the same, and they never differentiate between people based on color. I’ve also heard it as a defense against racism, “I’m not racist. I love all people. Actually, I’m color blind.” But I’d like to suggest that we are not color blind, we don’t need to be color blind, and we should strive to not be color blind. Instead, I’d like to suggest that we embrace being color smart.

Color smart celebrates God’s design

Being color smart enables us to see people as made in the image of God just like us, while also acknowledging the beauty of our differences. As image bearers, we are all the same. In other words, God doesn’t discriminate against certain people groups in his design. Regardless of ethnicity, we are all created equally to reflect aspects of our Creator God. However, God does create each and every one of us uniquely. We are not all the same in regards to skin color, interests, likes, gifts and desires. He has created us different for a purpose, namely his glory. So, instead of striving to be color blind, let’s be color smart—recognizing the differences in others in such a way that expresses genuine interest in and love for our neighbor.

To further emphasize this point, here are five reasons why we should see the beauty of God’s creation in the people he has created.

1. God created us in his image. We are all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). No, we don’t look like him (John 4:24), but we reflect something about his character. So, if we are his image bearers, we should embrace different ethnicities instead of pretending there aren’t any. Our differences are purposed by God for his glory!

2. Racial and ethnic color blindness ignores reality. It’s simply not realistic to be color blind. As an African-American female, I cannot (and have no desire to) erase the fact that I am how God made me. There is no hiding my milky-brown, freckled skin. I am who I am. When I walk in a room and I am the only black woman, it’s obvious. There’s no benefit in pretending. What I’m not saying is that we need to act awkward around each other. If we’ve embraced that God has created us as equals, there’s no need for that. If someone who is culturally or ethnically different from you comes around, it is unrealistic, unhelpful and possibly unloving to pretend that you don’t notice.

3. Our culture and background affect who we are. Our culture is often tied to the color of our skin. Denying this diminishes God’s wisdom in ordaining our culture and background (Acts 17). As Christians, we know that our ultimate identity is in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and we have the hope that Christ will redeem our history. Yet, there is no doubt that our upbringing, family history and culture affect who we are. To really get to know someone—and thus love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)—means getting to know their unique background and how it has shaped them. If we erase color, we potentially forfeit a deeper relationship with someone who’s not like us.

An unfortunate side effect of not appreciating our neighbor’s culture is a general misunderstanding when we see racism in the news or in our backyards. We can minimize the outrage we see and think, Aren’t we past this? Because we have tried to move past color, we’ve minimized our genuine cultural differences, and this can lead to a lack of mercy and grace toward those who think differently than us.   

4. All nations are found in Scripture. One of the most important reasons to recognize the precious colors of God’s creation in human beings is that he doesn’t erase these distinctions in Scripture. The oft-quoted passage in Revelation reveals to us that not only will there be many colors when Jesus returns, these tribes and tongues and nations will be worshipping together (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). This is a beautiful picture of the reconciliation of the Lord—first in reconciling us to himself, then us to one another. Heaven will be filled—gloriously!—with people of all colors.

5. The gospel is for all nations. The most important reason to be color smart is that the gospel is for all nations! God celebrates his creation and redemption of all people. The Bible tells us that we sinned greatly, putting everything out of order (Gen. 3). Throughout all of Scripture, God is working toward the redemption of all people through Christ (Gal. 3:8; Eph. 2). And he will be glorified on that last day when all nations are worshipping together because it will be a fulfillment of his promise to redeem every tribe, tongue and nation.

So, instead of pretending like we are color blind, let’s celebrate God’s creation and be color smart. Instead of pretending like there are no differences, let’s get to know one another. The pursuit of ethnic harmony doesn’t require us to ignore how God uniquely designed us. When we celebrate our differences, I believe we reflect what God has demonstrated in his Word.

This month (and all year!), find someone not like you and learn about their joys, upbringing, food likes, faith, trials, loves, family, and culture. Enjoy their friendship, and remember they’re a person made in the image of God—just like you. Refuse to be color blind, open your eyes and enjoy the different shades of God’s beauty reflected in your neighbors.  

By / Feb 2

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.

Download the .pdf here

Big Picture: In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul shows that racial reconciliation reflects how we are new creations in Christ who experience the unity of peace as those who are now part of the household of God.

Point 1: Racial reconciliation reflects how earthly divisions are torn down for those who are in Christ (2:11-15)

  • Key idea: Despite their ethnic differences, Jews and Gentiles are made one in Christ
  • What it says: Citizenship in the Kingdom of God is not a function of ethnicity
  • Why it matters: Membership in God’s family requires an embrace of the diversity of peoples called to membership in Christ
  • What to do:
    • Recognize salvation isn’t attributed to status, class, or ethnicity
    • Recognize salvation is a gift offered to all the nations of the world (Rev. 7:9)

Point 2: Racial reconciliation reflects that unity comes through peace with God (2:16-18)

  • Key idea: Reconciliation with one another comes through Christ’s crucifixion
  • What it says: Christ is our reconciliation and our peace
  • Why it matters: Animosity with God and with one another no longer defines our existence
  • What to do:
    • Celebrate the diversity of the redeemed
    • Celebrate that our former differences have been crucified in Christ
    • Embrace that the only marker of our “identity” is the blood of Jesus Christ

Point 3: Racial reconciliation reflects that we are part of the household of God (2:19-22)

  • Key idea: Jesus Christ is the builder of a household with many, diverse members
  • What it says: Through the Holy Spirit, God is building a household where the foundation is Christ
  • Why it matters: Spiritual growth involves the whole household of God in all its diversity (v. 22)
  • What to do:
    • Seek ways to build up the household of God in all its diversity
    • Seek ways to encourage the household of God to grow spiritually

Conclusion: The Kingdom of God is not recognizable by race or ethnicity. It is recognizable only by those who claim the cross of Christ. Because God does not look at ethnicity or race as a factor for who is “in Christ,” neither should we.

Download the .pdf here