A Theological Reflection on the Problem of Racial Divisiveness in Our Nation

(What follows is a lightly edited version of an essay I wrote in seminary.)

1.  Introduction and Thesis Statement

The Vernon Grounds Institute of Public Ethics’ Rally for the Common Good took place in the Denver Seminary Chapel on April 9.  Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero served as keynote speaker, addressing the issue of how Christians should engage the current climate of racial divisiveness in our nation.  The purpose of this post, then, is to reflect theologically on the reality of racial divisiveness before presenting a theological solution to that issue.  Regardless of the multitude of factors which contribute to the divisiveness, there is only one solution which can bring true unity: the cross of Jesus Christ. 

2.  The Problem: Racial Divisiveness

In a country whose past is riddled with race-based slavery and civil rights movements centered primarily, if not exclusively, on racial issues, it is no surprise that racial tensions and divisiveness are still prevalent.  We are only 150 years removed from a national civil war, which was fought over the rights of states to own slaves.  Even more recently, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most famous civil rights leaders in American history, occurred just over 50 years ago.  Activist groups like the KKK and the Black Panthers are well-known, if perhaps for negative reasons, and there are still frequent reports of racial violence across the nation.

3.  The Solution: The Cross of Jesus Christ

There are, of course, a number of factors which feed the racial divisiveness we see today, but a thorough consideration of all of them would take us beyond the scope of this reflection.  Instead, I want to present a theological solution which seeks to address both the problem of racial divisiveness itself and the factors which contribute to that problem.  In searching for an adequate solution to these issues, many search in vain for some common ground upon which all might stand.  The cross of Jesus Christ, by contrast, is the only solution which provides genuine common ground for all, yet none can stand there.  We must approach the cross together on our knees, as beggars, humbled before the crucified Lord of glory.  In this light, we see that racial division, though dire in itself, is only one symptom of a greater disease: our separation from God.  The cross stands as that reality which brings us all, regardless of race, color, heritage, nationality, language, or any other distinction we might artificially make, to our knees together. 

When Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), he condemns us all: white, black, American, Asian, African, European.  Yet for those who are in Christ, for those who have recognized their sinfulness and consequently fled to the only Savior, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female,” there is neither white nor black, there is no American or African or Asian.  “All are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  This is the only solution to the problem of racial divisiveness in our nation. 

4.  The Response: Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost provides us with a paradigm for this solution as well as a picture of our proper response.  Present at Pentecost were “men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).  When Peter finished preaching his sermon, the content of which was primarily the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the Scriptures, all of the men present “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).  And Peter told them all, the men from every nation under heaven, “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). 

In effect, Peter says: take on a new identity in Christ and be washed of all your sins.  Turn from your wicked ways and behold the Righteous One.  This is also our proper response to the cross of Christ.  Only at the cross can there be true forgiveness, true reconciliation. 

So much of the current dialogue in our country consists of the need for whites to repent of their sins, yet there is no genuine forgiveness offered.  And where there is no genuine forgiveness offered, neither can be there be a hope for genuine reconciliation.  Whites and blacks will forever remain divided, unless we all fall to our knees in recognition of our sins, turning to Jesus Christ for true forgiveness.  A genuinely forgiven person is the only kind of person who can be genuinely reconciled to his or her fellow brothers and sisters, across all races, colors, and nations.

5.  Social Justice and the Christian Identity

Therefore, any identity or ethic which seeks to be authentically Christian cannot begin with any other foundation than that of being united to Christ by the Holy Spirit in virtue of Jesus’ work on the cross.  To formulate an identity or ethic rooted primarily in race, color, heritage, nationality, language, or anything else, is to entirely miss the point of the Christian faith.  There is no such thing as white Christianity or black Christianity, American Christianity or African Christianity.  There is simply Christianity.  No other label needs to be added, for Jesus Christ is sufficient to be our identity.  Thus, when we seek justice in our society, we do not do so as white Christians or black Christians, as Christians with power or Christians without.  We simply seek justice as Christians, calling all people everywhere to repent of their respective sins, not the sins of their ancestors, and turn to Jesus Christ: the only Savior. 

Thanks for reading.  Have any additional thoughts?  Leave a comment below.

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