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Jesus died to reconcile all things and all people to God and to one another. He states in Luke’s gospel that he came to preach the gospel of peace to the poor and the captive (Luke 4:18-19). Ephesians emphasizes that (1) Jesus died to reconcile Jews and Gentiles (everyone who is not Jewish) to God and to one another, (2) that God unifies all people and all things in Christ through the gospel, and (3) that he preached to Jews near and to Gentiles far off from the promises of God (Eph. 1:10; 2:11-3:8). Numerous biblical passages elsewhere (e.g. Rom. 14-15; Phil. 1-4) emphasize that reconciliation and unity require “all” people in Christ to walk and live in a manner worthy of the gospel.

If the above is a biblical expectation of gospel reconciliation for all people in Christ regardless of the ethnicity, an important question arises. Why do discussions about reconciliation in certain Christian circles often focus almost exclusively on what “white” folks should do in order to be reconciled to “black” folks or on how “white folks” need to sacrifice their cultural preferences to welcome minorities in their churches? These discussions often go on without either anything or with very little being said about the sacrifices that we as minorities must make in pursuit of reconciliation in predominate minority churches. My answer to this question is at least twofold: (1) theology and (2) history.

First, theology: Adam’s historical transgression devastated the entire cosmos (e.g. Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-21; 8:18-25), which included humanity’s vertical relationship with God, humanity’s horizontal relationship with fellow human beings and with creation. Second, history: the social construct of racial hierarchy, and the fallacious arguments used to support it, racialized groups based on perceived biological superiorities and inferiorities. One result of racialization was the privileging of the construct of whiteness and the dehumanization of the construct of blackness.

The evangelical Christian movement in this country and many of our evangelical institutions emerged as a result of this white supremacist teaching of black inferiority. The evangelical Christian movement both began and thrived in the U.S. within the context of many (though not all) white Christians believing in black inferiority—a belief that had massive political, social, and theological implications. This historical reality, therefore, causes some Christians (white and black) to place the burden of reconciliation solely on the white majority, because many blacks and some whites believe the white majority is the group that has historically benefited the most in the U.S. from racial discrimination and racial hierarchy.

Lest I be accused of things that simply are not true, let me be clear. In both my academic and church work in the area of gospel reconciliation, I’ve been quick to point out that reconciliation requires all Christians to honestly discuss the effects of white supremacy on American Christianity, systemic racism, privilege, personal responsibility, and other related issues. A quick reading of anything that I’ve written at either the academic or popular level about gospel reconciliation reinforces my belief that racism is much worse than Christians think because of the universal effects of Adam’s transgression on both human systems and individual choices.

I’ve also stated elsewhere that while systemic racism is a reality because of the universal power of sin and its effects on systems and individuals, not every disadvantage experienced by minorities necessarily stems from racism. However, there appears to be some evidence in parts of the U.S. to the contrary (e.g. educational gaps amongst poor blacks, poor Latinos, and poor whites, etc.).

Gospel reconciliation might require us to emphasize the need for specific groups to be reconciled to each other at certain points in history. But gospel reconciliation should neither exclusively be limited to one or two groups in need of reconciliation nor should it make only one group bear all of the responsibility for reconciliation, because the entire creation is cursed because of Adam’s transgression and because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23; 5:12).

Adam’s universal transgression has devastated the entire cosmos (Gen. 3). As a result, the entire creation currently groans in agony, because of his transgression, as it awaits its future liberation and the redemption and revelation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-25). This future liberation has invaded this present evil age and pertains to God’s cosmological act of reversing Adam’s universal curse and restoring what his transgression lost in the Garden (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:12-21; Gal. 6:15; Rev. 21-22).

Therefore, gospel reconciliation requires “all” people in Christ to make the necessary sacrifices and concessions in the church for the purpose of building the kingdom, spreading the gospel, and edifying the body of Christ so that as many people as possible in each community from diverse backgrounds (e.g. ethnic, economic, cultural, educational, etc.) will be able to understand and benefit from the gospel ministry of the church. Both ethnic majority and minority brothers and sisters in Christ must be willing to make difficult sacrifices to achieve multi-ethnic gospel reconciliation with the diverse people in their communities.

On the one hand, I often hear my ethnic minority brothers and sisters rightly challenge the Anglo-centricity of American Christianity. In fact, although ethnic minority contributions to Christianity in America go unnoticed in certain Christian contexts, I’ve pointed out black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ have contributed much good to the Christian movement in the U.S. and beyond. I’ve also been highly critical of the fact that very few evangelical professors at evangelical colleges and seminaries require their students to read black and brown authors. Consequently, these students, and future servants of evangelical churches and institutions, will graduate without the necessary multi-ethnic and multi-cultural competence needed to do ministry in an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural world.

On the other hand, some ethnic minority churches find it difficult to sacrifice certain traditions for the purpose of reaching a multi-ethnic community. For example, certain black brothers and sisters often find it difficult to surrender some of the elements of the traditional black church because of the important impact and role this sacred institution had on civil rights. The traditional black church, lest we forget, was a place where black people were treated with dignity, honor, and respect and a place where they were free from the de-humanizing and de-moralizing laws of Jim Crow, unless white supremacists invaded their sacred space—which happened.

Some black brothers and sisters in traditional black churches understandably feel tension when they’re asked to surrender certain historic black church traditions for the sake of expanding the mission of the traditional black church to reach those unfamiliar with traditional black church traditions and to reach those outside of a traditional black church ethnic posture. From talking with and listening to diverse black Christians who grew up in what many would call traditional black churches (but remember that black churches are not monolithic!), I have learned that perhaps certain black Christians might also associate sacrificing certain forms of black church traditions, which might not have anything to do with the gospel, with surrendering certain aspects of their black Christian identity.

It’s important to point out, though, that not all black churches, black preachers, or black Christians desire or even like the same kind of preaching or expressions in worship. Some black preachers whoop, but I know many who do not. Some black churches have members who shout during the service, but I’ve preached in white churches whose pastors and members also shout—very loudly! And I’ve preached in and worshipped in black churches whose members did not shout. Sometimes certain traditions or expressions are more cultural and traditional than racial.

If gospel reconciliation means anything at all for the diverse Christian community (regardless of whether one is black, white, Latino, or Asian, etc.), all Christians (red and yellow, black and white) must be willing to sacrifice, submit, and even let go of “some” deeply rooted traditions if in fact these traditions are not biblical, hinder the advancement of the gospel, or if they keep churches from reaching as many diverse people as possible with the gospel in diverse communities.

Gospel reconciliation is not assimilation. Of course, some level of assimilation will happen no matter how many sacrifices are made by those diverse people in the church and the community. There will always be a majority group in the church, even within a multi-ethnic and diverse context.

But regardless of whether those traditions are white, black, red, or yellow, some traditions are simply distractions from the hard work of gospel reconciliation. And some traditions might shut people off from the gospel. For example, it’s hard for me to take churches seriously in matters of reconciliation if they create the biblical and Jewish Jesus in their own ethnic image and display those images throughout the church.

Jesus’ blood bleeds red for red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, citizen and immigrant, educated and uneducated, disabled and healthy, socially marginalized and elite, and for many other “others.” Therefore, the work of gospel reconciliation must not perpetuate the very racism, stereotypes, or exclusion that it endeavors to overturn by virtue of limiting its reconciliation efforts to one or two groups or by elevating church traditions above the gospel and mission of the kingdom, especially if those traditions hinder instead of propel gospel reconciliation efforts in ethnically diverse communities.

As the diverse Christian community continues to engage in the work of gospel reconciliation, it’s important for every Christian to remember that the gospel of reconciliation is for “all” people. And it requires all Christians to make difficult and painful sacrifices to reach the nations regardless of our ethnic backgrounds.

 

 

 

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