Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel

Author: Craig Hardinger

From now on…we regard no one according to the flesh.

                        -2 Corinthians 5:16

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance…It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”                                       
  -Martin Luther King Jr. - Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

She was an unassuming seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, and frankly, she had had enough. Little did she know on that brisk December day in 1955 that her seemingly obscure action would be the tipping point to a movement that continues to this day.  Rosa Parks, like she did most days, boarded the public bus.  The rule/law was that because she was black, she would have to yield her seat to a white person if they demanded.   It was merely the way things were.  It was expected that black people would acquiesce to the wishes of white people when white and black occupied the same space – like restaurants, drinking fountains, public pools and, yes, buses.  It was a way for the races to “get along” – provided everyone knew their place.  It was a great system – if you were white. But on that particular day (December 1st), Rosa would not yield her seat to a white person. Like I said, she’d had enough.

At what cost?  

Truthfully, I’ve never had to muster the kind of courage that that young African American woman required to not do what people of her race had been forced to do ever since public buses were invented – move.  Did she not know that the whites made the rules?  Did she not know of the thousands of lynchings? The beatings? The burning crosses? The bricks thrown through front windows? The bombings? The public ridicule?  Was she ignorant of those in her community who stood up against the powers only to mysteriously disappear - never to be heard from again?  

More than 50 years have passed since that day on the bus, and I am simply in awe of that kind of courage and faith.  I’m also humbled and ignited by the reality that even though much ground has been gained in the area of racial reconciliation – we have so much further to go.  I think one of the reasons why the movement at times has progressed at near glacial pace is because the (predominately white) church of Jesus Christ has chosen to stay out of the fray.  

Why has the church at large not led the way in something that is precious to God’s heart – reconciliation?  Why is it that we champion the beauty of the vertical gospel of God paying the cost for reconciliation with us and yet we see the reconciliation with others as unimportant or too costly?  Racial reconciliation is not the gospel, but it is an expression of the gospel that we cannot ignore.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:  
From now on…we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:16-18, 20

  Reconciliation is something we have received through Christ, but it is also something we do by the power of his Spirit.  Whatever false divisions may occur in society (like race relations) we as the church must lead the way in seeking reconciliation between those who are divided.  Here’s the rub – it will cost us.  Reconciliation is always costly and often bloody because it requires that we die to ourselves, our perspectives, our opinions, the rhetoric that seems plausible and yes, the overtones and undertones of racism that we all share.

I guess that’s my beef.  It’s not with society.  It’s with the church.  We are the recipients of reconciliation.  We are the ones who have received it and therefore must be the ones who pursue it and stubbornly demand it among ourselves.  We cannot ignore Paul’s words, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

Will such endeavors require Rosa Parks-like courage?  Probably.

This should come as no surprise if you’ve been around Arcade for any amount of time. We are continually in the process of learning to take whatever is current in the culture and view it through the lens of the gospel. Feel free to email me responding to this question: What are some ways we can pursue racial reconciliation at Arcade and in our community through the lens of the gospel?