What does God say about Race?

According to the Associated Press, the top news story of 2014 was the killing of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by the police in Missouri and New York City.  The deaths of Garner and Brown have sparked widespread debate about police force and race in America. Our country has a very complex history of race relations and, as we have seen in recent months, race continues to be a hot button issue in our culture.  And as our country as a whole has had a unique experience of race, all of us individually have been shaped and conditioned by our own experiences.

I remember the first time I heard someone use the “N-Word.” I was 12 years old in my bedroom when a music video came on and one of my friends referred to the performer as the “N-Word.”  My parents never used that language, so I had no frame of reference for its meaning. As I progressed into high school, I never really considered the differences of race. My high school was a good representation of the national culture. I played sports and my teams were always mixed and that seemed normal.  It was not until I was in college when I really started to consider the issue of race.  I remember taking a class on race in America and it was the first time I remember in my life having an open, honest, very blunt conversation about race in a mixed environment.

During that semester, I remember going on a retreat with Campus Crusade for Christ.  The speaker spoke on race and asked us to analyze our hearts and thoughts.  My best friend was black and I after the talk I looked at him and asked, “Am I a racist?” He looked back and laughed. I did not live like a racist or act like one, but God was revealing things in my heart. He was showing me my underlying prejudices and thoughts that were not in line with God’s Word. 

These revelations, led me to the inner city of Washington, D.C. where I became a teacher at Dunbar Senior High School after college. Dunbar was the first African-American High School in the United States. It had a long and storied history. My first year there I was the only white male teacher.  I got a glimpse of how it felt it live as a minority.  It is hard to explain all that God did in my life during that time, but he used my time there to give me a passion for racial reconciliation.  I spent 5 years in D.C. living and working primarily in the black community. After five years in D.C. I was never accused of being a racist, but within my first few months in South that is exactly what happened.

  My experience in the Midwest and Northeast was very different than my time in the South.  Before moving into the pastorate, I ran a group home of teenage mothers who were in foster care.  A very common question that I was asked by people from the community was, “Are the girls there mostly black?” Their underlying assumption was that unwed, impoverished mothers were black.  And yet, during my five years, the residents of the group home was always diverse.  For ten years of my life adult life, I lived in a multi-ethnic community. 

That is only part of my story with race.  Everyone here has their own story about race.  It would be naïve to assume that my experience is similar to someone born in the 1920’s or 1930’s and being raised in the South.  We all have our own story. We all have our own preconceptions and prejudices.  The challenge for all of us is live in light of Romans 12:1-3:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Our experience may have conditioned us to think one way, but God’s Word re-conditions us to have the mind of Christ.

            This issue is important because live in community. We are called to work out these issues of race among the other issues of our day together.  During the height of the Ferguson case, I read an article by a prominent black pastor who was being chastised for not sharing his opinion on the case.  He had been traveling in Africa and had no idea of any of the particulars of the guess.  The article made some great points, but this really caught my eye.  He said,

As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.

I am responsible to help you think through these issues from God’s Word.  These messages will not be designed to answer every question, but hopefully provide guideposts as we engage in discussion.

God Designed Dignity

We have to view race and ethnicity from God’s perspective. We know from Genesis 1 that God designed dignity for every race.  Genesis 1 is the foundation for every conversation of race. Here is the account of the 6th day of creation:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Every person, male and female, black and white, Latino and Asian, were made in the image of God.  Every single human being has dignity. 

This has to frame every conversation of race. Any conversation where one ethnic group is viewed as less than another is against the Word of God. Any language that degrades, denigrates, or disparages another race is not of God, but of the devil.  To speak down against another race is to forget God’s Word that they were made in the image of God.  Humanity as God’s image-bearers is one of the reason we do not lie to each other.  People who bear the image of God deserve the truth. This is why we do not gossip or slander someone, because people who bear the image of God deserve respect. 

            Do you view all races with dignity?  Do you consider others your equal? Last week, I made the point that confession frees us from living in the darkness. Confession places our confidence in the blood of Christ that covers our sin.  The reason I asked my friend if I was a racist was because I was exposed to my prejudice.  The Spirit of God showed me that I believe that I thought I was smarter than he was because of the color of our skin.  It was an ugly, evil, worldly thought that needed to be confessed and brought to the light so the healing balm of the gospel of Christ could conform my thinking to the Word of God. What do you need to confess? 

God Designed Diversity

As we look back at the creation account, at the end of each day God says, “It was good.” After God made the roses, tulips and perennials, he said that it was good. After he made, lions, turtles, and giraffes, he said that it was good.  After he made dolphins, blowfish, and sea horses, he said that it was good. God delighted in the diversity of his creation.  If God delighted in the diversity of fish, don’t you think he also delighted in the diversity of us who were made in God’s image?

We may not mind diversity, but do we delight in it?  Do we view diversity more as an inconvenience or an expression of the mind and heart of God? Diversity often makes us uncomfortable. We are creatures of habit. We want things the same and things that are familiar. Do you delight in the diversity of music or would you prefer everyone to conform to your preference? We must transform our minds to delight in the diversity of our world.

God Designed Unity in Descendants

Although we should delight in diversity, we must always remember that all humanity shares the same parents.  All humanity came from our first parents, Adam and Eve.  If we trace our family line all the way back, we will get to common parents. In our DNA, we are more “like” other ethnicities than “not like” other ethnicities. It may appear on the service that our cultures are very different and distinct, but our blood still bleeds red and we are all in Adam. Theologian and author, David Clark, writes, “From the unity of the race, ancient rabbis rightly inferred racial equality. “Why was humanity created a single, solitary human being? So that it might not be said that some races are better than others.[1]”  Our common ancestry in Adam equalizes us because we all are fundamentally similar rather than different.

And because we are all in Adam, we all share the nature of Adam. We are all sinners.  Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” We all are sinners.  We share the same fallen nature. It is hard for us remember that we are more similar than dissimilar. If we are so similar, why does it seem like we are so different? Genesis 11:1-9,

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

Human pride divided and dispersed people throughout the world.  This pride shows the outcome of life without God, without a biblical worldview: separation and confusion.

            If the world without God brings separation and confusion, then what should a life with God bring? Should not the life of God bring unity and order?  To transform our minds to test and approve God’s will is to desire to live in community with people that were formerly scattered.  So we have the opportunity to live out our lives seeking unity or enjoying the fallen separation birthed from the prideful heart. We all naturally will choose those who are like us and those who will not cause us to work for unity and order.  It is much easier to stay in our in our ethnic bubbles.

The natural bent to gravitate to people that think and look like us is the way of the world. We subconscious think of ourselves as fundamentally different rather than similar.  We all share a common humanity, common ancestry, and a common fallen nature.  And as we are one in Adam, we therefore are also one in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. 

God Designed Unity in Deliverance

            Salvation has been promised to all people through Christ. Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The offspring of Abraham would bless all the people of the earth.  The blessing is offered to every tribe, tongue and nation through Christ. The offering of salvation is for every person, from every nation under heaven.  For “whosoever believes should not perish but have eternal life.” (John3:16) “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)  “Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:22b-25a)

            God designed unity in our deliverance through the One Lord Jesus Christ. The theology of our shared deliverance must affect how we live. All theology is practical theology meaning what we believe about God and his world will affect how we live. Does your understanding of the gospel encourage you to view those from another ethnicity as brothers or sisters in Christ (or potential brothers and sisters in Christ)?

            The gospel unites all people in Christ generally, but the gospel unites people specifically to a united body of Christ.

God Desires Unity in Diversity

One of the greatest issues facing the early church was racism. The church had to deal with the unity of a diverse community, Jews and Gentiles, living together.  Peter was showing favoritism to the Jews over the Gentiles so Paul rebuked him because his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2: 14). The first problem that arose within the church documented in Acts was one of racial tension. Acts 6:1, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” The office of deacons was established to create unity in the diverse community of faith.

An important text in regarding unity within the church is Ephesians 2. Jesus died bringing us peace so that,

He might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:15-22)

The church should be the most unified diverse community on the planet.  Jesus Christ died to break down the hostility of our differences to unite us in his blood. Those who do not desire unity in the body of Christ do not truly understand the gospel.

            Our church community should be a reflection of our heavenly community.  We are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizens and members of the same household of God.  We are called to display the glory of God in our unity here on earth as a reflection of how our life will be there in heaven.  In Revelation 5:9-10, the heavenly community sang,

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.

We must long with our whole hearts to display this unity in diversity in our family of faith.

            This sermon was not designed to give you 5 easy steps how we can become more unified in our diversity. The truth is that unity is never easy, but it is worth it.  The goal was to help you not to be conformed to this world’s thinking about race, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind to test and approve God’s will, His good, perfect and pleasing will. We must allow God’s design and God’s delight in diversity displayed in God’s Word to give us God-like desires.

            We must recognize how we have been shaped by our culture and our own experiences of race so that we can engage in the warfare of the heart to transform our minds to reshape our views in light of the gospel of Christ.  The gospel should affect every area of our lives, including our views of race.  Beloved, let the power and the beauty of the glorious gospel of Christ expose and transform your heart to delight in our God’s designed diversity and to strive for God’s desired unity so that we can display a glimpse of the heaven as the ransomed people of God from every tribe, tongue and nation as we sing to our great Savior, “Worthy are you who was slain.” Beloved, Jesus is worthy.  And if we believe that we will strive for unity in our diversity. 

[1] Clark, David. To Know and Love God.  Pg 127
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