“I’m a Christian and I think white Christians don’t care about my black life.”
This was a raw but honest thought that weighed heavily on my mind this Summer of 2016. National news and social media were flooded with pictures, videos, hate filled tweets, and Scriptures addressing racial tensions in America, that were highlighted by the deaths of black people by cops and the retaliatory murders of cops by rogue black men. The loss of human life grieves me whether it is someone who looks like me or not, but after moving to a predominantly white neighborhood and attending a predominately white seminary for almost a year now, I was beginning to wonder whether or not my burden for black lives being lost was shared with others that I had the Gospel in common.
After holding diverse town hall-like meetings in my home, meeting with police officers, and long talks with fellow African American Christians, I was reassured that the Gospel is not only an unshakeable message about the gift of salvation for all people who place their faith in Jesus, but it also is the bedrock message for any true reconciliation that can happen in this country or anywhere else. I began to recognize through my interactions with Christians from diverse backgrounds that it is not just a cognitive belief in the Gospel that makes the difference in how people were responding to the racial tensions. The Christians I was comforted most by were those who understood that their belief in the Gospel is a commitment to the Great Commission. Christians who believe commitment to the gospel is tied to doing the Great Commission, must be committed to addressing racial injustice.
The Great Commission Makes us Confront Racial Issues
Now the previous statement may not seem intuitive, so let me do a little work to help you get with my above conclusion. Issues of race and injustice are all over the Bible. I think one of the clearest ways Satan is lying to the Church today is the popular notion that issues of injustice are merely political and tertiary to the Gospel, when the very Good News we believe is about the injustice committed against Christ so that the justice of God would be satisfied for us. Also, the Bible doesn’t avoid dealing with skin problems in order to get to the “real” sin problems underneath. Here are a few among many examples from the NT.
- Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman (John 4)
- Hellenist widows being overlooked in the Church by Hebraic Jews (Acts 6)
- Paul rebukes Peter for refusing to sit with Gentiles once Jews (like him) came around (Galatians 2)
If you read these passages it is clear that these occurrences were not accidental neither were they small issues that arose while doing Christian ministry. Two clear themes that these passages demonstrate is that, the integrity of the gospel was at stake if the racial issue were not confronted and that Jesus does not condone any ethnic or gender distinctions hindering the reception of the message or messengers of the gospel. Why else would Paul tell Peter that his choice of who he would eat with was conduct “not in step with the truth of the gospel?” (Gal. 2:14). Now I am not saying that ethnic distinctions such as Jew and Greek or Black and White are ultimate things that are just as important as the gospel, but I am saying that you can’t ignore the fact that these distinctions played an important role in obeying the Great Commission and building up the 1st century Church.
If you can agree on the biblical precedent for addressing race relations within the Church, then you should also affirm that the primary message of the Church is sufficient to provide answers and healing to the deep racial wounds highlighted this summer. In my experience, the individuals who have dealt with these issues the best are those Christians who see the Great Commission as more than a Sunday large group discussion topic. These Christians are the type of people who are gripped by the power of Jesus’ resurrection and are compelled to go to the ends of the earth to tell the world about him.
Racism and the Great Commission Are Incompatible
Now I can’t ignore the fact that historically white American/European “missionaries” haven’t always been on the right side of history concerning race relations, especially when I think about terms such as the “white man’s burden” or “imperialism”. However, the mission minded individuals I’m encouraging in this post don’t ascribe to the racial discrimination of the past that brought shame to name of Christ. I’m referring to people who are willing to lay aside all preferences and prejudice for the sake of sharing life with someone not like them. These people see the gospel as such an important message to be heard that they don’t want anything to be a hindrance to it being believed or celebrated among believers.
A commitment to God’s mission is a commitment to putting others before yourself. It would be hypocrisy for a Christian who understands the Great Commission to only value and engage people like them, since engaging all ethnicities is embedded in the command to “Make disciples.” To put it plainly, people who are serious about making disciples have to be serious about addressing and showing compassion to any issues that involve people, especially racial issues..
How Should We Respond?
I’m not saying that people who are serious about missions all agree on the issues that the Summer of 2016 highlighted, neither am I saying that being serious about missions is a magic antidote to racial prejudice. I am saying that as an African American Christian I personally felt encouraged and understood by white brothers and sisters in Christ who allow the gospel and the Great Commission to set the agenda for how they live and what they care about. It should be common for Christians to go beyond their personal experiences, preferences, and feelings for the sake of the Gospel, but sadly this is not always the case. We must go beyond having “black friends” and acquaintances of other ethnicities, but get to know those communities.
With that said, here are a few examples of what white brothers and sisters around me did that gave me comfort that they did care about my life as black man.
- They listened to my story and experiences with racial issues
- Admitted their own lack of awareness and compassion in the past
- Read books and other resources to educate themselves on issues of race from the African American perspective
- Admit and wrestle with their privilege to not be directly affected by the racial prejudice and injustice
- Cried with me
- Rejoiced in the bond we have because of the Gospel
These are just a few ways that I experienced the issues of this summer being addressed and I know this topic has deep complex roots in our country. I’m not trying to tackle every aspect of the issues of race and injustice in this post, but I am grateful that because of the gospel and the mission it compels us to I know that
1) The gospel does confront racial injustice
2) Living on mission must push us towards sharing not only the Gospel but our lives. (1 Thess.2:8)
Does your commitment to the Great Commission impact how you engage with the issues of the Summer of 2016?
Courtlandt Perkins is a Masters of Divinity student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with an emphasis on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry. Courtlandt and his wife live in North Carolina where he also serves with Kingdom Diversity at Southeastern. He is passionate about making disciples and has aspirations to pastor full time in the future.