Growing up in California, my earliest memories of elementary school buddies include Sean Taylor. Sean was funny, smart, athletic…and African American. That just didn’t matter. Like two kids playing catch as warplanes fly overhead, neither of us was aware of the cultural histories, hostilities, and dividing lines inextricably assigned to our shades of skin. We were just friends.
My first memory of racial divide came a few years later in middle school when a friend told me about a fight after school. “Who is fighting?” I asked. “Some white kid and some Hispanic kid.” “Why?” I asked. “Because our people don’t like their people and they don’t like us.” This is my earliest memory of humanity categorized as ‘our’ people, ‘their’ people, and ‘those’ people.
Our family moved from Los Angeles County to Bolivar, Missouri when I began high school. The only African Americans in our town were college students at the university. I loved playing pickup games with some of these guys. I never felt a tinge of racial animosity from them or for them, nor did I ever consider what life was like for them to live in a town like Bolivar.
Years later I attended the local university as a student. I remember the day when the mission trip opportunities were announced. When a trip to Zimbabwe was announced, I was ready to go. Even as the racial divide between white people and black people grew in America, the months I spent in Africa placed me before some of the most loving people I have ever met.
What I’m trying to say is that, unlike so many, I don’t have a file of troubling racial experiences in my personal past. I know my heart isn’t above such things, but I don’t carry angst towards any particular race or ethnicity. So, ten years ago when asked to engage in racial reconciliation, my initial response was simple: “I don’t need to involve myself. I don’t have any broken racial relationships that need to be reconciled, and those who do, need to forgive and move on.”
Now if you are a Christian and just found yourself agreeing with that sentiment, I am going to ask you to do just what I needed to do: repent. Before I get there, let me try to explain what the Lord showed me in His Word that crushed my indifference.
I. JESUS IS EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN WHAT HE CREATED
The indifference in my heart began to melt when I considered Jesus’ pleasure in the work of His hands. Jesus created every person and delights in them (Psalm 139:13; Colossians 1:16). If Jesus delights in all people, then surely He takes offense at the mistreatment of all people. When you consider the grief we feel as parents when our kids are mistreated, imagine the intensity of grief welling up in Jesus’ pure heart when people, created in His own image, are mistreated.
The frequency with which racial tensions explode around the world tempts us to disengage. It is just too much to carry. Now consider the fact that Jesus never emotionally disconnected from the pains of His people. Jesus never feels indifferent. The very thought of Jesus being emotionally moved at the unjust treatment of people meant that I too had to move if I was to follow Him!
II. JESUS DIED ON A CROSS TO CREATE A UNIFIED PEOPLE
Over the past twenty years, I have had the privilege to visit many places in the world. No matter where I have gone, I have found at least two groups of people who don’t like each other. Every tribe has a rival, and between these rivals are walls and wars. The only solution revealed is found in Ephesians chapter two, where Paul is addressing the centuries-long divide between ethnic Jews and all the other ethnic groups of the Near East called Gentiles. He begins with the obvious. “You were separated…and strangers” (v.12). At the end, we find hope. “You are no longer strangers…but fellow citizens of a new unified body” (v.19). What happened to bridge the gap? “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v.13). Let me be clear: the only solution for racial and ethnic suspicion, hatred, and alienation is the cross of Jesus Christ.
When I saw that God’s design in the death of His Son was not only to reconcile us to God, but also to reconcile alienated ethnic groups to each other in Christ, I could no longer be indifferent about racial and ethnic tensions, even tensions I didn’t feel. If reconciliation through the gospel was on God’s heart, then reconciliation through the gospel of Jesus had to be on my heart.
III. JESUS TOLD US TO BE EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN RACIAL RECONCILIATION
Jesus cares deeply about what is on our hearts, because whatever is heavy on our hearts finds its way into our prayers. This is why we are told to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). And why we are told to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus wants our heart to be emotionally invested in the noble and awesome realities in heaven so we can pray for evidences of them to be seen here on earth.
What do we find in heaven? “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God…’” (Revelation 7:9-10). Tribes, peoples, and languages are not just earthly things. God won’t do away with such distinctions in heaven, for the sight of such diversity worshipping His Son only magnifies His grace!
When I saw ethnic tensions through the lens of Jesus’ pleasure, His cross, and His throne, I had to repent. Repentance is simply turning from known sin in the power of the Holy Spirit. I had to repent of my indifference, my pride, my hopelessness, and my denials that created endless self-justifications. What does this repentance look like for me?
- Turning from indifference means praying for racial and ethnic peace.
- Turning from pride means engaging in conversations with people of other races and ethnicities to learn about their fears and experiences.
- Turning from hopelessness means committing to talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ whenever I speak or shine a light on the problem of racial tension.
- Turning from denials means opening my eyes to the ugly truths of human mistreatment.
God was so gracious to me, and still is! His promise to the repentant is overwhelmingly good. “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19-20).
So my friends, if either racial hatred or racial indifference is part of your story, I invite you to repent and receive the kind of godly refreshment that moves you forward with hope!