Though all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), God has acted to unify all things and all people in Christ (Eph. 1:9-3:10), who died for our sins to deliver sinners from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Racism is part of this evil age. By faith in Christ, Jesus’s blood and resurrection reconcile a diversity of humans into one transformed and ethnically and racially diverse Christian community (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:9).
Thus, all kinds of racially and ethnically diverse people can be justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:21-4:25); repent of and turn from their sins (Acts 2:1-38); and be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:6-10) and to each other (Eph. 2:11-22). Throughout Scripture, we see that the gospel demands this diverse community intentionally to pursue one another in love (John 13:34-35; 1 John 2:10; 3:10-11, 14, 16, 18, 23; 4:7-12, 20-21).
When Peter, for example, stopped associating with Gentiles at table-fellowship in Antioch because of their identity as Gentiles, Paul says his behavior was out of step with the gospel (Gal. 2:11-14). If churches desire to offer any help to those enslaved to racist ideologies, like the ones recently on display in Charlottesville, or to those who suffer from white supremacy, they must first see the gospel as the basis for our response.
The Bible teaches God originally created only one race, the human race, in his image (Gen. 1:26-27; 11:6). A beautiful diversity of one human race created in the image of God came from Adam and his offspring (Acts 17:26).
However, churches must work to understand the American construct of race, racism, and white supremacy and the many ways—both personal and systemic—that these forces work against the gospel.
Many agree that race in the American experience is a social and ideological construct. White supremacists sinfully used this construct to establish a racial hierarchy that prioritized whiteness and dehumanized and exploited black and brown people. The impact of this racist construct is still felt in many parts of American life—including American churches.
Christians and churches must intentionally think carefully about how the gospel of Jesus Christ applies to white supremacy and racism in our communities. This at least means we must listen and learn from those most affected in our churches and communities by racism, while also considering practical ways we can love and serve our diverse neighbors as we pursue racial unity through the gospel.
As we do these things, we must fervently and regularly pray in our churches for God to unify all things and all people in Christ and to convert and transform racists through the gospel. We must also pray for ourselves and our churches to repent of our complicity in individual and systemic racism, while looking for ways to be agents of racial unity in our churches and communities.
Churches need a robust understanding of the old gospel and how it demands us to pursue racial harmony. We also need an informed understanding of race, racism, and white supremacy and the intentional and unintentional ways in which they work in our churches and in society. Then, our churches need to create specific goals and a plan by which to pursue racial harmony in our churches and communities.
May God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit give Christians and churches courage to lead their churches to pursue racial unity so that our churches would be agents of racial healing in these racially divided times and beyond.
Jarvis J. Williams is an associate professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. With Kevin M. Jones, he is the co-editor of Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives (Nashville: B&H, 2017).