The American church has yet to have a real and honest discussion about racism. For one group, there’s a tremendous amount of pain; for the other, a tremendous amount of shame and embarrassment. If the church doesn’t have a real and honest conversation about racism, it will be do nothing but perpetuate the pain and shame.
We have to get to a point where white Christians are able to embrace historical embarrassment (in light of the cross), and truly be humbled by it. This humility will allow them to enter into a posture of learning, rather than insisting that they’re the ones who need to teach minorities. On the other side, blacks have to truly bring their pain to the cross, allowing Christ to swallow up the bitterness and resentment that racism has caused. Honestly, I am no longer optimistic that this will happen in my generation. The American church has placed a beautiful looking Band-Aid over an infected wound which has yet to truly heal. I pray that the next generation will pick up the baton and carry it on.
Though I’m not optimistic, I’m still hopeful—hopeful that the church will reject the secular proposal for racial healing: the unbiblical concept of colorblindness. I hope that the church will instead pursue a biblically informed idea of beauty in diversity. I’m hopeful because the mission of the church is to go throughout the world and proclaim a message that wins people’s citizenship to a celestial kingdom, not an earthly one. That kingdom is made up of every tribe, people group, and language under the sun.
America is a racialized wilderness. For centuries, it has watered soil which has had no healthy seeds planted in it. I pray that the Lord will raise up more voices who will cry out in this wilderness for ethnic reconciliation. I pray that those voices will plant healthy seeds of a robust and consistent Gospel that will not shy away from removing the bandages and actually deal with the wound that plagues this nation.
There is no way for racial healing to take place without honestly dealing with our country’s prioritization of “whiteness.” Without honest conversations about white privilege, racialized oppression, and historic white supremacy, and how deeply they have permeated not only schools, politics, and institutions, but the church, healing will not take place.
These are serious conversations which need to be had—but too often, people within the majority culture are offended when they’re even brought up. There will never be progress until the majority culture in this country (which has often been the victimizer) stops being offended by the slightest mention of this reality from the victimized. In our country, racism can never be rooted out because the very ones with a heritage of racism refuse to talk about it. This inability to grow is only enhanced by the fact that they consider anyone who does talk about it to be divisive. This denial only breeds bitterness and resentment in minorities. Instead of being listened to, they’re denied a voice. Thus, the wound of racism continues to fester and spread, never beginning the process of healing.
This doesn’t have to be the case. The Gospel of Jesus Christ not only saves sinners, but provides them with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love. His ministry is to cultivate divine love (love for God and for other people) within the hearts of the people of God. The church is the only hope for racial/ethnic reconciliation in this country. The festering wound of racism has spread unaided throughout the bloodstream of this nation for too long, and there are no secular means to cure it. If racism is to be cured in this land, it will be through supernatural love—the love of the Spirit abounding in the people of God, his church.
The Myth of Colorblindness
America has attempted to heal this wound by adopting the concept of colorblindness. It’s a well-intentioned attempt to combat racism. Racism is birthed out of the idea that one ethnicity is superior to another, so colorblindness attempts to reject this by not “seeing” color. Sadly, the implications of this attempt actually feed the very thing it seeks to starve. Color-blind ideology assumes that the problem is color. It presents the argument that the answer to racism is for people not to see color. This just normalizes “whiteness,” presenting color as a problem that needs to be ignored or overcome. In other words, unity is contingent upon not seeing a person’s color, rather than through changing the majority culture’s heart towards the colors they see in God’s image-bearers. In other words, color-blind ideology requires a person of color to deny their color in order to be unified with the majority culture.
Instead, the answer for racism is to embrace a worldview which says that diversity is beautiful. As a biblical counselor, I often encourage my counselees to be more aware of the graces and successes of others than their shortcomings and failures. Similarly, America’s problem is that we’re more aware of ethnic and cultural differences than of the unity we all share as image bearers. The festering wound of racism will never be cured in America until we begin to see beauty in diversity and glory in our unity.
When I was a child, there was a set of books called “Magic Eye.” The books had various pictures in them filled with a variety of beautiful patterns of color. Behind all the colors was an image. If you just stared hard enough, you could see it behind all the diversity of the colorful page. Racism isn’t cured through denial of color. We must not ignore differences, but embrace them and look hard enough to see the picture behind them: the manifold wisdom of God.