2019 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the fifties and sixties the racial gaps in income and home ownership narrowed but since the seventies they have actually widened. We have elected black candidates including a president, we have more black mayors, members of Congress and the Senate, police chiefs and school superintendents yet the problems of fatherless homes, gaps in educational performance, crime rates and poverty have increased. Dr. King saw everyone as members of the human race. His dream that people should be judged on the content of their character rather than skin color has turned into a nightmare of blame, so-called micro-aggressions and identity politics. His two-fold solution of civil rights for all coupled with personal responsibility and moral character is lost in a culture of victimization that filters everything through the lens of race. Dr. King recognized that there were problems in the black community as well as the white community.
Is there need for further reconciliation? The obvious answer would seem to be yes but reconciliation implies that the parties involved once had been united. Racial harmony between black and white on a societal level has no historical precedent in America. It never existed; slavery divided the races from the beginning. Therefore we need to begin with conciliation, the process to overcome any and all harm, distrust, injustice, misinformation and hostility.
For the last few decades the problem has been attempted to be solved systemically (social justice). Some efforts have led to fair access to housing, the workplace, marketplace and improved personal safety thus increasing access to liberty and justice for more. Other efforts, void of any real dialogue, have only ramped up the rhetoric of the blame game and increased the fortification of the dividing wall between black and white. It’s not until I accept you as neighbor, regard you as friend or welcome you as family – it’s not until I truly love you that we are one regardless of our differences in color or background. Not until we recognize we are headed in the same direction, with like-minded values and beliefs will we successfully and peacefully travel through life together.
The contemporary notion of reconciliation does not carry with it the need for radical transformation. Humankind’s reconciliation to God warranted drastic action (Rom. 5:10). It cost Jesus his life. The social and racial conciliation we seek—and desperately need in America—comes at a cost: crucifying the sinful self (Gal. 2:20). Racial harmony without such commitment merely provides a temporary Band-Aid to the problem. The gospel announces (among many things) that Jesus died for the sins of diverse groups of humans and that God raised him from the dead (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). Jesus now reigns with the Father over all things in heaven and on the earth (Eph. 1:20-22).
Though all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), God has acted to unify all things and all people in Christ (Eph. 1:9-3:10), who died for our sins to deliver sinners from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Racism is part of this evil age. By faith in Christ, Jesus’s blood and resurrection reconcile a diversity of humans into one transformed and ethnically and racially diverse Christian community (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:9). When I approach you as one for whom Christ also died I see you with the mind of Christ. My whole perspective changes. It creates in me a desire to get past what I don’t understand or even like about you. Evidently we still don’t get it because Sunday morning has been and continues to be the most racially divided hour in America.
The problem will never be solved if seen only as a social, economic or political issue. We need to get to the heart of the matter which is a matter of the heart. We will never solve the problem until we are truly able to get over ourselves, our self-preserving, self-justifying, sinful selves and get past our own biases and culturally conditioned world views.
Only when we intentionally and persistently step outside our homogenous relationships will we understand and appreciate each one’s unique gifts as well as the challenges of one’s own life experience. The gospel levels the playing field. The Gospel confronts us with the reality that we each have much to repent of when it comes to the great divisions among people. The Gospel also directs us to the means of unity and the homogenization process to realize it. The Holy Spirit creates it and we are tasked with the job of maintaining it (Eph. 4:3).
Systems don’t change with any lasting change until human hearts and minds have changed. Hearts and minds need the regeneration that comes from above. The root of the problem is the spiritual condition of the heart which determines what the heart desires. Human effort cannot accomplish that which only an outside source can do. Conciliation involves solving dispute between two parties through the aid of a third party capable of getting those involved past their own agendas. The only third party I can think of that completely understands both sides and can, and will be completely just for all concerned is the one who is both Judge and Advocate, Jesus the Christ.
“The Christian ideal hasn’t been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” (G. K Chesterton)
Racial unity is a God-sized project that requires an all-knowing, all-powerful, completely good God. Race relations need to be solved relationally and it begins and ends with our relationship with God.