The Dividing Wall of Hostility

SharDavia Bell

Double Consciousness

“There’s a way you act at home and a way you act at school,” my mother would remind me as I recapped the events of the school day.

I learned quickly how to speak, act, and look in a world dominated by white faces. I learned to value what the majority population valued, but my parents made sure I knew African-American history— the rich history from which I came. When I was home (or around friends that were black), I became another version of myself—unconcerned with appearances, unashamed of my skin. This way of thinking and acting in certain communities was often instinctive and unintentional.

Inadvertently, I grew up learning to function in two societies; and I had good friendships with people that were black and people that were white. It wasn’t until college, in an African-American Literature class, that I learned that W.E. B. Du Bois coined this experience as “double consciousness”. In his book, The Souls of Black Folk, he describes the idea of double consciousness as follows:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, —an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (Chapter 1).

I rarely felt fully accepted by either community, black or white. To one or the other I appeared and was called a sellout, and this truth seemed inescapable.

Jesus’ Invasion & A Restored Identity

When I was 18 years old Jesus invaded my life. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, but for 18 years my heart was unregenerate and my eyes were blinded to the truth of the gospel. The Lord recklessly pursued me, and I responded to His call. First semester of my freshman year of college, God took out my heart of stone, replaced it with a heart of flesh, and gave me a new identity in Jesus.

I realized that this identity was different. It was an identity that was not contingent on my ability to “be black” or “be white” whenever it was appropriate. This identity was rooted in something far deeper than ethnicity, double consciousness, or myself; this identity was rooted in the finished work of Jesus Christ. As I am still learning, identity in Christ celebrates cultural and ethnic distinctions.

During spring semester of my freshman year, I got plugged into a college ministry called Campus Outreach—which was an answer to prayer at the time.

God used Campus Outreach to deepen my love for Him and to cast a vision for what He could do in and through my life. Deep friendships developed with other students that were nothing like me—both in race and in personality; the only thing we had in common was our love for Jesus and our addiction and need for His grace.

The Great Divide

My friends and I attended a Reformed Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) church throughout college, and each Sunday I noticed only two other African Americans in the congregation. The sharp contrast between the PCA church I was a member of at school and my parent’s Southern Baptist Church at home was evident. My love for Christ deepened through that body of believers at the PCA church, but there were times when the sting of loneliness set in.

For three years in college I traveled between these two worlds: a reformed, predominantly white, PCA church and the predominantly black Southern Baptist Church my parents attended.  The divide was obvious, and I wondered if anyone else noticed. I found my mind engaging questions such as: Are we not all united in our humanity? Are we not all depraved in our depravity? Are we not all in desperate need of a loving Savior? Do all believers not rest under the banner of Jesus’ words, ‘It is finished’?

One New Man

In humanity’s shared depravity and our fallen nature, racism isn’t unique to American history. Ephesians 2:14 addresses the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles. Although improvements have been made, this wall still stands between blacks and whites, and it’s never more evident than on Sunday morning.

Paul encourages the Gentiles in Ephesians 2:13 by reminding them that they’re brought near to God by the blood of Christ. Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility, between us and God – and us and mankind, and brought peace.

Christ’s desire is “to create in himself one new man in the place of two,” (Ephesians 2:15). The word “new” in this context is the Greek word kainos, which means “new” as it relates to kind. The word “new” in Eph. 2:15 is the same word used in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” This “new man” or “new creation” is something the world has never seen before. Through the cross, Christ creates a new man; who in turn is used by Christ to create new (kainos) communities.

In the universal body of Christ, are we building up what Christ has already torn down? And if so, how do we tear down this “dividing wall of hostility” between blacks and whites through the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Ethnic diversity glorifies God and makes Him look beautiful. Engaging this question on a heart level will be hard and painful, but the glory of God is at stake. Despite the challenges, it is imperative that we discuss this question and potential solutions.

What greater testimony of the supernatural power of the gospel than when groups with a hostile history stand firm “in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Phil. 1:27)?

What are ways that Jesus’ relationships reflected the eclectic nature of the gospel? What does this say about the character of Jesus and what implications does that have for our lives?

4 thoughts on “The Dividing Wall of Hostility

  1. Greg Kern

    (1) Excellent points made about the unity of our indentity in Christ. (2) There is a “dividing wall of hostility” and “never more evident than on Sunday morning” simply because there isn’t a more numerically porportionate mix of colors in our congregations? Maybe it’s because various people groups attend the churches they most enjoy? (3) “…imperative that we discuss [ethnic diversity]…” Agreed: (a) We should begin with writers like this defining their terms and then making a persuasive case as to where the problems are (if any) and (b) Church leadership should, well, LEAD on this, with denomination-wide (or presbytery-wide) symposiums on this topic, full-page ads in local newspapers, and very public campaigns that notify the culture that the Church wishes to finally address this critical and painful topic. Short of that, any talk about Talking about this is just… talk.

  2. Rob Harris

    Excellent article and right on point….

  3. Tamika May

    Love love. Thanks!

  4. Anthony Darrell

    I’m so excited to have read this. I can definitely relate. I used to be called “gray” because of my functionality among the two societies.

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