Hearing the word “race” can overwhelm us. Our newspapers and social media feeds have bombarded us with stories of racial violence involving African Americans like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland. While the details of these cases are disputed, the fact that similar events happen more often than not shows us how far our country remains from having a biblical view of race.
Embracing the Gospel
Most of us want to help, but we have no idea where to start. Some of us believe it’s not our problem, so we focus our energies on meeting regularly with our own circle of friends. It’s easy to think that the restoration of strained racial relationships isn’t a central focus of the gospel. However, we cannot fully embrace the gospel while at the same time ignoring the need for the oneness that God intended for it to bring (Eph 2:16–22).
As believers, our love for God manifests itself in our love not only for him but for others, and the ultimate demonstration of our familial love comes when we walk in unity. The apostle John paints a beautiful picture of every nation, tribe, people, and language one day worshiping God in unity (Rev 7:9–12). So, if that’s the future reality that awaits us as believers, what prevents us from experiencing unity in diversity now?
The answer is sin—specifically the sins of partiality and pride (Jas 2:1–9). So the solution lies in the truth of the gospel and its effect on our attitudes and behavior. Before the beginning of time, God set a plan in motion to save us from our sin and to reconcile us to himself. And he also intended that our vertical reconciliation would have horizontal results. The apostle Paul wrote about this to the Ephesian church (Eph 2:11–22). The first-century church was quite familiar with divisions rooted in ethnicity.
United in Christ
Instead of seeing their status as a means to bring peace to a broken world, the Jews (God’s chosen people) looked down on the Gentiles and vice versa. Although both Jews and Gentiles had come to faith in Christ, attitudes of superiority still affected their Christian fellowship.
Paul emphasized how the two ethnic groups, Jews and Gentiles, had become one in Christ. Positionally speaking, there was no more division because their ethnic identity had been superseded by something more important—their faith in Christ. The believer’s identity in Christ linked them—and links us—with other believers worldwide.
Our position as unified, redeemed children in the same family has practical results. Our oneness in Christ should result in unity in our relationships. So when we turn a blind eye to divisions caused by ethnicity, we turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters in the faith. As believers, we don’t have the option to disengage. Our faith calls us to pursue oneness, to advocate for our brothers and sisters so we might fulfill the heartfelt prayer for unity that Jesus asked of the Father (John 17:21).
Pursuing Unity in Diversity
Actively pursuing unity in diversity requires steps of faith. So where do we begin? Consider the following starting points:
Ask God to soften hard hearts and reveal blind spots. He is the only one who can do so (Ps 139:23–24).
One easy way to engage is through social media. For example, follow these Twitter and Instagram handles from newspapers, prominent speakers, and bloggers who write about Latino and African American culture:
- @LatinoVoices—Huffington Post Latino voices
- @blackvoices—Huffington Post Black voices
- @ThabitiAnyabwil—Pastor and Gospel Coalition blogger
- @jackiehillperry—Spoken Word artist, Bible teacher
- @RAANetwork—Reformed African American Network
Lack of information leads to disengagement. Reading books and articles will expand understanding on
issues of ethnicity.
The resources listed below lay a foundation for learning the history and theology of race, especially in the United States, as well as provide practical ways to promote restoration and oneness in our communities:
- United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, by Trillia Newbell
- Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom, and How We are Stronger Together, by DTS grad Dr. Tony Evans
- Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Bryan Loritts, editor
- Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice, by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil
- Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, by Dr. John Piper
Take the time to build cross-cultural relationships. Food connects people, so be intentional about inviting coworkers or neighbors of a different ethnicity for a meal. Learn about their relationship with God and their cultural traditions and practices while sharing your own.
Step out of your comfort zone, and worship at a church where the predominant ethnicity differs from yours. If you worship and live in a diverse community, gather a few friends to form a small group. Latasha Morrison’s, The Bridge to Racial Unity is a great resource to help friends walk through tough issues together.
As you build relationships, commit to a consistent practice of confession and forgiveness. In the spirit of Matthew 18, promote healing through loving each other intentionally. While the process of restoration is messy and complicated, the result is beautiful.
As I reflect over the years I have spent surrounded by people of different ethnicities, I remember friends, mentors, roommates, and employers who invested in my life. Some encouraged me to attend seminary; others walked with me during seasons of hardship and grief; all have brought joy. I know I would have missed out on blessings had I not made intentional choices to “do life” in a diverse community.
About the Contributors
Elizabeth Woodson is the singles coordinator at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. She is a passionate Bible teacher and conference speaker who loves to disciple women. She is also pursuing an MA in Christian Education at DTS.