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September 1, 2007Research

Racism in 9 Marks

The 9 Marks Journal recently asked me to respond to the issue of race. You can download their full journal here.

I had a small part in the pastor/theologians forum.

I am impressed with many of the responses, but was glad to hear from an old friend Juan Sanchez. Also, Eric Redmond, recently elected Second V.P. of the Southern Baptist Convention, writes one of the most insighful comments.

Redmond points out (my words) that the church typically only repents of racism when the society does. He writes:

There is a race problem in the American church, if for no other reason than the fact that there is a race problem in America, and the evangelical church's progress on race has, historically, mirrored America's progress on race.

Here is my conribution:

Race matters.

I planted my first church among the urban poor in Buffalo. Having been raised in a racially isolated community near New York City, I never thought much about race--but in Buffalo we had little choice. We were forced to address issues of race because our community was a multicultural milieu. It forced us to read the Scriptures with more awareness of race--and an acknowledgement of its challenges.

We found that race matters in scripture. Even though few Anglo churches seem to notice, Scripture frequently demonstrates God's concern for race and ethnicity.

Luke illustrates the coming of the Spirit with diverse expressions of tongues (Acts 2), even identifying the languages being spoken. And a glimpse of eternity in Revelation shows that men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation make up the choir of eternal praise (Rev. 7:9). If the writers of Scripture take notice of ethnicity, so should we.

Scripture not only identifies race and ethnicity, but John hints at prejudice concerning Jesus in John 1:46, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Furthermore, Jesus intentionally offends ethnic and racial sensibilities with both the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Why go to so much trouble to emphasize their ethnicity if it does not matter?

Yet the same Spirit that inspired the Scripture to identify race also provides the strength to overcome its challenges. Both our worship and our witness are made more perfect when we model gospel-centered diversity.

At the cross, there is "no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female." Yet at the throne there are men and women from "every tongue, tribe, and nation." We would do well to remember both.

Ed Stetzer is the Director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay Missiologist in Residence. He is also the author, most recently, of Comeback Churches.

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