It was a hot summer day in July 2016 when my wife and I attended Together, the largest Christian event ever held in the U.S. at the Washington monument in D.C. Thousands of Christians descended on the nation’s capital to seek God’s face and heart for our generation and to bring a message of unity amidst the growing divisions within our country. There were several Christian speakers and musicians who spoke and sang throughout the event, and one of the moments I’ve thought a lot about in recent days was when Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae came to the stage.
Lecrae performed his hit song at the time, “Welcome to America,” and then he pleaded for us to love our neighbor, and he brought up the parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable where the religious community turned past and ignored the plight of a man who was bloodied and lying on the street. Lecrae challenged us as family in faith to not make the same mistake that the religious community made in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I knew what he was referring to. Sadly, ironically, instead of coming together, in recent years I’ve been watching the divide between black and white Christians get largely wider, mirroring the divisions within our country. The problem is Christians are supposed to exhibit unity in the beauty of diversity, to be a shining city on a hill that draws in members of a puzzled society, where racial reconciliation is not an aspirational idea but a reality.
As evangelical Christians, we tend to be outspoken about certain issues, issues where rightly, our faith collides with our culture. We speak up about the plight of the unborn, we raise our voices and our votes when we fear religious freedom is under threat, and it’s time we be as outspoken about the reality of racism and racial injustice in America. It’s time we acknowledge the overt and subtle racial prejudices that continue to permeate our society. The recent rash of national headlines — ranging from a black man getting murdered for going jogging to a black birdwatcher having the cops called on him for no reason but asking a white woman to have her dog leashed (which was required in that part of the park) to the absolute horror of George Floyd’s murder video, which went viral — all may sound like these occurred during the height of the civil rights era, but they happened in 2020 America. The way all these men were treated illustrates the dehumanizing that harboring a racist mindset inevitably leads to, where we no longer see someone with a darker skin tone as sacredly, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
Racism and racial injustice has existed since the dawn of time, but has persistently been a stain on America’s ideals, and we can no longer act as though we are passed this, or it’s no longer a major problem. The first step to solving a problem, is recognizing there is one, and yes, racism and racial injustice remains a major problem. We can be part of the solution.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11:00 on Sunday morning.” Sadly, this remains to be often the case in churches across America, and the tragedy of that is, in light of the scriptures, that’s not the picture we get of what heaven will look like, nor of what the church should resemble today. Contrary to aiming for not seeing color in someone, the Bible implies that we should see color in someone, and we should celebrate it, because it’s part of the beauty of the Creator’s design. Heaven will look like a massive ensemble “from every nation, from all tribes, peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) worshiping the Savior for all eternity. Why wait? The church should lead the way with cultivating an environment where we are willing to dialogue and listen, something that sadly is disappearing in our society faster than cable TV.
My alma mater hosted a panel to discuss racism and I was stunned and appalled as several of my black brothers and sisters shared the overt and often subtle racism they experienced, in the church from fellow Christians. We need to be humble, to really build bridges with one another and remember that the church is not an American enterprise. It’s a multi-national, organic family, and we need to ask ourselves if we truly have been following Christ’s commandment to love one another as family, because if we do, we have arrived at a good time to show it to one another, and especially to the African American community.
Addressing ongoing racism, standing against racial injustices and responding to the crisis that has erupted in our country must not be seen through a political lens, as sadly I fear it is devolving into already. It is a moral issue, a societal issue and at its root, racism is a heart issue. We should support legal remedies and educational ones to addressing this, encourage dialogue between leaders and communities, etc. but the gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate remedy, which must be fully realized by those of us who proclaim the message. At its core, the gospel is a message of reconciliation. As famed evangelist Billy Graham once said, “Christ came to bring reconciliation - reconciliation between us and God, and reconciliation between each other.” As Billy Graham’s ministry became national in 1949, he came to be confronted with segregation and wrestled with how to respond to this contradiction to the gospel he was preaching. Finally, in 1953, at the city of Chattanooga, as he came onto the stage and saw the ropes that were present as was custom at the time to separate blacks and whites, he had enough. Billy Graham came down from the stage and ripped down the ropes. Today, we have ropes that are dividing us, and we have to decide whether to answer the call of the moment and tear down the ropes that are keeping us from full racial reconciliation.
Our nation is tearing apart at the seams. Peaceful protests, violence and vandalism have filled our streets. Chaos, confusion and political partisanship have filled the atmosphere, six months into a year that feels like it’s part of “Jumanji.” And yet if ever the church of Jesus Christ had an opportunity to rise and shine, it is now. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133). If ever we could embody the pleasant unity that should come racially through the cross of Christ, it’s now. There will never be a better time to rise up, speak up and show up. It starts with us, and if we are brothers and sisters in faith, let’s love like it.
“Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”- Micah 6:8
Stephen Mitchell is the senior pastor at Trinity Bible Church in Severna Park. He is also the author of “Taking a Stand in Our Dying Land” and has spoken at various churches and retreats.