The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have brought into question the dignity and value of human life. Tragedies like these remind us that we are still living in a broken world, the domino effect of Adam’s rebellion. Adam’s rebellion against God has been categorized as the fall, as man’s relationship with God, self, others, and the remaining created order was broken.
While creation remains good structurally (good in the way it is ordered, i.e., sun goes up, moon comes down, etc.) even after the fall, the same cannot be said directionally. Now, human beings order both their social and cultural activities toward idols rather than the one true and living God (Rom 1:18-32), and this is sin.
Racism: A spiritual and moral problem
To be clear, racism is a spiritual and moral problem; it is one of the many ugly fruits of sin. Racism entails discrimination and assessment of superiority and inferiority founded mainly upon physical features such as skin color. Adam’s rebellion against God has been phrased as the original sin of mankind.
While racism’s roots can be traced much further back than the founding of our nation, some have argued that racism manifested in the forms of slavery and segregation has been coined as the original sin of America. Varying forms of racism can transcend individual actions to form systemic racist patterns. Admittedly, even the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) inception was entangled in those same issues in 1845, as Baptists in the South separated from northern Baptists over the role of slavery in commissioning missionaries.
Southern Baptist Convention repentance
The SBC has since publicly repented via the 1995 Racial Reconciliation Resolution, denounced the sin of racism in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, and in recent days, in the wake of the Floyd’s death, called for the end of racial inequity in the distribution of justice in our country.
In acknowledging the regretful beginnings of the SBC, Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, rightly celebrates God’s redemption of an awful genesis by stating, “Only God’s redeeming love and the reconciling power of the gospel could result not only in repentance, but in a convention of churches today that is among the most diverse in the world and whose membership includes thousands of African American churches and many other ethnicities.”
Now, the SBC is literally a preview of the eschatological Kingdom of God (Rev 5:9)! As the Apostle Paul said, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). To be sure, Paul did not mean that we cease to be Jews or Greeks when we accept Christ any more than we cease to be male or female; instead, our identity in Christ has simply become weightier than distinctions such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status. As a Southern Baptist, I am convinced that both our understanding of the gospel and its implications led to this transformation.
Learning from history
The question becomes, then, how can we leverage what we have learned from our history as Southern Baptists that can lead the way in healing the racial strife in America? The theological foundation of Christianity is reconciliation. God reconciled men, women, and children to Himself through Jesus Christ, and He has given those same individuals, the multi-ethnic body of Christ, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Therefore, reconciliation means reconciling people to God through the power of the cross, and then reconciling people to people across the barriers of race, class, and gender (Ephesians 2:14-16).
This ministry of reconciliation is what we the missionary people of God have experienced, learned, and now have been called to do! So this is not a time for the church to escape by silence, attack by verbal assault, or compromise by aligning racially, but it is a prime moment for us to both mobilize as a multi-ethnic body of believers and engage the culture by presenting the same gospel that has been bringing racial healing within the SBC – a sign of the gospel’s influence.
Jesus commissioned us to make disciples, which commences with GO, not hide, attack, or compromise (Matthew 28:91-20)! When the church engages the culture in this way, then we are truly obeying Christ and being good witnesses! In doing so, we provide a preview of what is to come.
Identify the corruption in a broken world
As a people on mission with God, we must seize the opportunity before us to both preview the image and share the means for vertical reconciliation with God and horizontal reconciliation with man. Additionally, as a missionary people, we must identify the ways in which this broken world has become corrupted and misdirected by sin (i.e., systemic racism) and do everything in our power to help bring healing and redirection.
The mission of the church is to participate in God’s mission to not only restore all of human life, but the whole creation, spiritually, physically and socially; therefore, if the scope of salvation is as broad as creation, then it only makes sense for the church’s participation to be as equally broad.
The gospel is a gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus Christ broke into history! The Kingdom entails the restoration of God’s rule over the entire world, so the supremacy and/or privilege of any race, gender, or class over others is incompatible with this Kingdom! I will say it again, the church as a sign, preview, and means of the Kingdom of God in the world must engage the culture with both its words and deeds declaring Jesus is Lord over all!