As the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, continues to dominate the headlines, I find myself saddened and wondering “what if the Church was different?”–ultimately asking what we in the Church can learn from this ugly and unfortunately all-too-familiar tragic story.
IN EACH OTHER’S SHOES
We don’t know all the details of what went down in Ferguson on Aug. 9 when Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year-old Black teenager, was shot and killed by police. But what we do know is that Black evangelicals and white evangelicals interpret these types of situations very differently.
What if Black and white evangelicals attended multiethnic churches instead of segregated ones? What if Black and white evangelicals, as well as other ethnicities, shared life with each other in a local church community and heard each other’s stories and walked in each other’s shoes?
If this Christ-exalting life became our reality, we could address racism, oppression, and injustice together. I believe we would abandon our suspicions and mistrust of one another and replace them with love for one another.
Sadly, only 13.7 percent of evangelical churches in America are considered multiethnic. And according to respected sociologists Michael Emerson and Gerardo Marti in their article, “The Rise of the Diversity Expert,” many multiethnic, local congregations don’t really discuss racial issues anyway. This “renders racial injustices invisible and thereby perpetuates racial inequality,” they write.
As my good friend, Trevin Wax, a brilliant, young, white Southern Baptist theologian wrote in his blog this week, “Ferguson is ripping the bandages off the racial wounds we thought were healing but instead are full of infection.” And, “It is exposing the scabs of our failure to live up to the ideals put forth in our Declaration of Independence.”
RACISM, INJUSTICE AND OPPRESSION
Racism and injustice are nothing new in our broken world. The first century, in which Jesus’ Church was birthed, was besieged with racism, injustice and oppression.
As Frank Viola and I wrote in a previous blog post, “In the mind of a first-century Jew, Gentiles (Africans, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Asians, etc.) were created to fuel the fires of hell. When a Jew called a Gentile ‘uncircumcised,’ he spit it. It was a name of profound contempt.”
If a Jew married a Gentile, the Jewish parents held a funeral service for their child. In their eyes, their child was dead.
On the flip side, Gentiles regarded Jews to be subhuman. Historically, the Jews have been an oppressed people, living under the thumb of one Gentile nation after another (e.g., Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece and Rome).
In all of history, there has never been so much animosity, hatred, and violence between two groups of people as there has been between the Jew and the Gentile.
But God birthed a group of people whom He recreated in His eternal Son Jesus to transcend this racial hostility, injustice and oppression. He did this by means of Jesus’ death on the cross, so that our hostility toward each other was put to death.
For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death (Ephesians 2:14-16 NLT).
The reason the Church is segregated is because we don’t believe deeply enough in the power of the cross. It seems to me that evangelicals seem to not really believe that the cross of Christ has anything to do with racism.
But the Gospel-reality is that “… Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:16 NLT).
THE NEED FOR MULTIETHNIC CHURCH PLANTING
Maybe I’m just naive and believe what the text says?
We need to plant multiethnic churches that have ethnically diverse leadership like in the church in Antioch (Acts 13).
We need to plant multiethnic churches that address all sin issues, including racism, injustice and oppression from a gospel-inspired perspective.
We need multiethnic churches in urban, suburban and rural areas.
We need multiethnic churches that show the world what reconciliation looks like.
The Apostle Paul did this in Colosse:
Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and He lives in all of us. Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives (Colossians 3:10-16 NLT).
PASTORS & CHRISTIANS, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
One of the reasons we planted Transformation Church was to not just assure people they go to heaven when they die, but to give the world a picture of what heaven will look like as the gospel transforms us here on earth:
“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a Kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.
“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’” (Revelation 5:9-12).
Are we just going to scream “racism” and “injustice” from behind our segregated church walls, or are we going to start planting and building multiethnic communities that embody what God desires for our world?
I choose to build.
Check out this short video–my favorite picture of Revelation 7:9:
Derwin Gray is the planter and lead pastor of Transformation Church based in Indian Land, South Carolina, and will be one of six speakers in the upcoming Post-Launch Forum at Exponential West. Follow his blog here.