Racism and prejudice are big issues in our world right now. There’s always a new news story, new blog post, new conversation, new experience, or new video about how one group of people are sinfully mistreating, abusing, or oppressing another group of people.
But this issue is nothing new.
Racism and ethnic prejudice were fundamental challenges for the first century church. We see blatant racism in places like Acts 11 when the “brothers and sisters”, or church leaders of the community, were having huge problems with Peter and criticizing him for his gospel inclusion when they heard that Gentiles were being saved. We see it in Ephesians 2 where Paul writes that at one time, Gentiles were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” We can also see it in Galatians 2 where Paul confronted an entire church for their racism and ethnic prejudice. He wanted them to see how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection breaks down the racial, ethnic, gender, and socio-economic walls that would naturally divide them.
We need to see how the gospel brings together what was once separated.
We need to see how the gospel unites those who would naturally be at opposition.
We need to see how the gospel informs the way we view race and ethnic diversity in our church.
The question becomes, how do we address the issues of racism and prejudice in our community? How do we help our brothers and sisters see the glories of a gospel-informed view of race and community? How do we partner with Jesus to see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done as it is in Heaven which will ultimately mean we become a family made up of brothers and sisters from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9)?
Let me suggest 3 ways we can begin to see this happen:
1) Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
Bearing one another’s burdens is not easy. It is messy. It is difficult. You sacrifice time, energy, comfort, and ease for the sake of your brother or sister. But bearing one another’s burdens cannot simply happen on a Sunday morning or through a one-off conversation here and there. It definitely cannot happen through social media alone. It requires you to be in community with each other. One of the ways we can see this happen at Westside is by intentionally participating in diverse Community Groups. When everyone in our CG looks, talks, and acts the same way we do we miss out on some of the beauty of being a family. We need people who represent different ages, marital statuses, tax brackets, ethnicities, and biblical literacy when we gather to unpack Scripture, share a meal, and pray with one another. When we celebrate and encourage diversity in our community, we begin to see and hear about the challenges and struggles that people go through, and become more and more capable of being able to bear one another’s burdens. This doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re married, invite a single person over for dinner. If you have money, look for ways that you can bless and encourage those with less than you. Even simply taking someone of a different ethnic background out for coffee or a meal in order to get to know them can be a great blessing. If we are going to be a church that accurately represents God’s Kingdom, we need to bear one another's burdens.
2. Live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18)
Racial biases are not uncommon and can sometimes be seen in conversations we have, comments we make, things we post online, or generalizations we make about people without even thinking about it. It may be a hashtag, offhanded comment, or an insensitive “joke”. Again, it may even be completely unintentional. Regardless of how our sin plays out, we need to be people that are quick to repent and live at peace with all men. We need to be people who graciously ask for forgiveness for ways that we’ve fallen short. Admitting our sin, repenting, and running to Christ should be our first response to those we’ve sinned against. We need to be a community that is quick to listen, quick to listen, quick to listen, and quick to listen (emphasis on the quick to listen part). We also need to be a community that is slow to speak, slow to become angry, and eager to offer grace to those around us. If we are going to be a church that accurately represents God’s Kingdom, we need to live at peace with all men.
3. Lay down your life for your brother and sister (1 John 3:16)
Often times, the “lay your life down” mandate only gets put on husbands. Though husbands are absolutely called to lay their lives down for their wives, John calls all disciples of Jesus to lay their lives down for their brothers and sisters, regardless of one’s marital status. We, as ambassadors of the gospel (2 Cor. 5), are called to put others before ourselves. In the same way that Christ laid down his life for the church, we are called to lay our life down for our brothers and sisters. We are called to be like Jesus— to live in community with and lay our lives down for those who may offend us, criticize us, or even sin against us. Laying our lives down includes loving, supporting, and praying with those who may not see eye to eye with us. Laying our lives down also includes being patient and listening to those who come from different cultures, upbringings, family of origin, backgrounds, and experiences while humbly seeking to understand how and why they think the things they do. If we are going to be a church that accurately represents God’s Kingdom, we need to lay our lives down for our brothers and sisters.
Racism and prejudice may be issues in our world right now but they are not the issue, sin is. These issues are symptoms of a bigger problem and the solution has been/is/and will continue to be the gospel of Jesus Christ. But in order for us as a church to influence the world we live in with the Gospel we need to be people of grace. We need to be people marked by humility. We need to bear one another’s burdens, live at peace with all men, and lay our lives down for our brothers and sisters. In short, we need to be further transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). Only then will we to begin to see our hearts, church, and ultimately, our world transformed by the good news we proclaim.