The Deeply Formed Life: Racial Reconciliation in a Fractured World

 Name the wall:
What does race have to do with the gospel? Everything! We see evidence of tensions around ethnicity (more on that in a moment)  in Galatians 2:11-21. Paul confronted Peter because he was not living in line with the gospel and would show ethnic prejudice against Gentiles when Jews were present.  Paul called him out for not living into the multi-ethnic vision and will of God and showing favoritism toward one group of people over another when they were all equal in the eyes of God.

Side note: Sociologists use the term multi-ethnic when no one ethnic group makes up more than 80% of the congregation (only 2.5% Protestant churches are technically multi-ethnic). But we are called to be and do more - we are called to be peacemakers by moving toward reconciliation. We have to name walls that divide us, and tear those walls down in the name of Jesus. Paul names the “wall of hostility” (Eph 2) as racial prejudice and states the gospel tears it down.

What do we mean when we talk about race? 
(Disclaimer -  there can be a lot of emotions when we hear the word race.  We have all related to race in different ways, some might feel sad, overwhelmed, angry, while others may have a positive view of their race or racial experiences. Embrace the tension and acknowledge that this is a loaded word with entire histories contained in them.) Ethnicity refers to common language, history, culture. Race is a social construct based on skin color to give some people inherent value to some and not to others.

Have you ever thought about where the term "white" came from? There was a time when “white people” weren’t white people (they were German, Russian, French, British, Italian etc). Racial difference in U.S. History was created as a necessary construct to justify slavery of African Americans and annihilation of Native Americans. Some were seen as superior and others inferior; some were human and others were less than human. Thus was born the ideology of race.

We see this ideology show up in official government documents that are considered the bedrock of our country. Declaration of Independence states “All men are created equal...” but then states that the inhabitants of our frontiers were merciless Indian savages who stood in the way of western expansion.  How else can you wipe out a whole people-group? How else do you justify enslaving people based on their skin color? The Constitution states that slaves were considered 3/5 human. Also, the legal principle of the “one-drop rule” codified slavery as a social caste system and later justified segregation.

When we talk about race, we are talking about an ideology that is embedded in our way of life that we can’t even see - it’s the air we breathe. Racism, then, is a system of advantage based on race. We can’t get around it.

Let’s step back and name this wall in American history (that is still present today). It lives IN us and all AROUND us. Some of us see it more clearly for what it is than others (especially if you have negative experiences based on your race), but we all have blind spots to how racism is present today.  And some of us, who think we are 'woke', are quick to point the finger at others before examining our inner thought lives and actions and seeing how they perpetuate these racial problems. So first, let’s name our history, acknowledge our past. Transformation in our communities and ourselves cannot happen without naming it, confessing it, and breaking free from its power. "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." - James Baldwin.

Breaking down the wall: we have work to do and that work begins in us, but must not stop there.  We have to change not just for ourselves, but for those around us. Christ destroyed the barrier between people groups and desires for ALL to know him, to be united under him, and to have peace. (Ephesian 12:14-16)  There is no unity or peace when we prop up these barriers that divide us.

There is a time for action and even outrage at the systems that are still present and oppressive.  We need to name these things and seek to fight against racism in our nation, our communities and our church...but that starts with us. So how are you being deeply formed, how are your attitudes around race and racism being formed?  Are you seeking to break down dividing walls and pursuing reconciliation and unity? Or are you content with the way things are and turn a blind eye to what you see?  Perhaps you are very aware and that awareness fills you with rage instead of peace. This is deeply challenging work, and God must be at the center of it.  So invite him in, let him reveal the areas where you have more work to do. And follow his lead as you pursue genuine, lasting peace through unity in him.