“Pastor, why is racial reconciliation important for our church?” This is a question I often faced as a pastor, posed by sincere church members who wanted to grow and learn. Here are three reasons why I believe racial reconciliation should be a church priority.
1. Racial reconciliation is important because every single person was created in the image of God.
The Bible is clear that there is no other way to look at your fellow human being other than someone sculpted by the hands of a loving God (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 139). It is this idea of the imago dei that informs our ethic. This means that there is no such thing as an “other”, only humans, image bearers of their Creator.
Prejudice is fueled by sin, sin that corrupts and divides. Sin causes us to favor people who look and sound and think like we do and causes us to disrespect and diminish the value of people who don’t. Christ came to heal that sin, to tear down walls, and to bridge the divide between races.
When we work toward racial reconciliation, we are saying, by our actions, that we agree with the gospel.
2. Racial Reconciliation is important because the Church is an outpost of the kingdom.
Revelation 5 and 7 describe a scene in Heaven where every nation, tribe, and tongue gather before the throne of God. This is not just some embellishing detail in John’s vision, this is an intentional display of the unifying power of the gospel to bring together in a new humanity what sin destroyed in the Fall. This tells us that racial unity is not just a nice thing for ideal communities, but something close to the heart of God. The vision of the Kingdom in Revelation tells us, this is what God desires.
Churches that work intentionally to model diversity show the world a glimpse of what is to come in full when Christ comes. Church becomes the place where disparate people from all walks of life are united by their love for Christ and their need for grace.
3. Racial reconciliation is important because it is the way we love our neighbors and contribute to their flourishing.
Christians are called to seek the welfare of the city, to love their neighbors, to be an agent of gospel renewal to the communities they serve. Many of our communities are beset by racial strife and filled with people who long for unity but feel powerless to achieve it. The church has the answer in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we intentionally cultivate a thriving and diverse community, we offer a model for the rest of the community.
Racial reconciliation is one way we love our neighbors, by empathizing with the minorities in our communities who feel marginalized and by listening to the stories of our minority Christian brothers and sisters who might feel marginalized by the American Church.
Imagine if local churches could be safe places for people from different walks of life could work through their differences, incubators of racial reconciliation. Imagine if the Church became the one place where what is envisioned in Revelation 5 and 9 actually started happening and burst through the doors and into the community?
Racial reconciliation is not an idealistic notion; it’s a gospel imperative. It is difficult, slow, risky work whose full fruits will not be seen this side of Heaven. But those who bear the name of Christ are compelled by His love to pursue it, not only as a fresh gospel witness, but also to make glad the heart of the Father.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). He is a regular contributor to Leadership Journal and the author of several books, including his latest, Activist Faith. He regularly blogs at danieldarling.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDarling.