“The Kingdom of God advances on earth as it is in heaven when the people of God, loved and kept by Jesus, assume a public faith that includes, but is certainly not limited to, government. Public faith enriches the world not by grasping for earthly power, but through self-donation. This is how Jesus transformed Jerusalem. This is how Christianity transformed Rome. This is how Christianity can transform society, including our own” (Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines, 19).
I am both Hispanic and African-American, and I believe in racial reconciliation. I believe that racial reconciliation is a part of God’s work of reconciliation grounded in Ephesians 2:11–22, a passage in which the apostle Paul encourages the Gentiles that they have the same access in the Spirit to the Father that was previously reserved for the Jews:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19–22)
I believe in racial reconciliation deep in my gut, beyond what my words are able to express. But often I dislike talk about racial reconciliation—we talk but often forget that reconciliation is about real people and real relationships.
Racial reconciliation is hard to talk about. It needs to be pictured, felt, demonstrated, and lived. And for these reasons, I was deeply encouraged by Scott Sauls’s recent post “Sitting under the African American Voice.”
In his post, Scott Sauls writes about his deep friendship and respect for his mentor, Pastor Ronnie Mitchell, an African-American. Sauls wants us to understand reconciliation not as a political ideology but as the response of grace—a grace Jesus displayed in his own life as he poured himself out on the hard wood of the cross for the sins of the world. As he introduced his African-American friend to his church, as he prepared to give over the pulpit to this man who had taught him much about Jesus, Sauls shows what reconciliation is all about:
Pastor Ronnie has taught his people, just as he teaches me, to see color not through the eyes of cynicism and despair, but through the eyes of hope; not through the eyes of separation and alienation and otherness, but through the eyes of God’s Kingdom reflected in every race, nation, tribe and tongue. He has taught us about how much we all need each other, to learn from and listen to each other. By treating me as one of his people, and by calling me his brother from another mother, Pastor Ronnie reminds me that being united to Jesus also unites us to each other. It means that through Jesus, our definition of “us” must expand, and our definition of “them” must shrink.
These words give me hope. With all the struggles in our church bodies to pursue racial reconciliation, Sauls gives an example of what that looks like in everyday life: a willingness to spend time with one another, to listen, to pursue friendship, to learn, to begin to think in terms of “us” and “we” as opposed to “them” and “me.”
Racial tensions probably won’t ever fully disappear, inside or outside the church. It’s natural for people to fear difference, but reconciliation as the work of God is not a lost cause. For the Christian, it is not even merely a call. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a work that God has promised to do.
As we continue to pursue life together, God is with us. He is healing us. He will accomplish what he has promised. God has given us a vision of his reconciled people, a vision that God will make a reality:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9–10)
God has given us a vision that we can pursue. God has pictured a promise that he will keep. God is building a diverse worshiping community that will embrace all kinds of people. The question before us is this: Do we have the courage to pursue it? Will we listen? Will we learn? Will we befriend? Will we trust God to make us into a people who embrace one another as Jesus embraced us?
As we remember God’s promise, we can find the courage to pursue the grand vision of a reconciled people. I hope that these words of mine don’t cause you to feel guilty or tear you down. I hope, instead, that they encourage you to pursue love, to embrace people, to find new friends, and to imagine a bigger family of God. I hope this picture of the church gives you the hope I feel.
If you have the time, please listen to Pastor Ronnie Mitchell’s sermon preached at the church Scott Sauls pastors. It may challenge and encourage you with the work that God is doing. You can access it here.