In my ministry work I have the opportunity to speak with city leaders, non-profit directors, and people from other faiths that are working on solving the issues of racial injustice in St. Louis. Many of these leaders have been fighting systemic racism for years and others are coming into the situation with a new energy and desire to help make change. Since I am new to the city my posture is always one of learning, building relationships, and offering assistance with the things that are happening before bringing forth my thoughts and ideas. I do this so that people understand that I care about the same thing that they care about and they know that I care about them.
In a recent meeting, I had the opportunity to share that the city and the rest of society will begin to heal racially when the church continues to heal racially and grows to be as diverse as the Bible tells us we should. I have shared this many times before and the response to this comment is usually the majority will simply distill the comment down to the idea that I’m a pastor that wants to make the church diverse and leave it at that, but there is always the one person who hears the whole statement and asks “So, do you believe that society is only going to change once the church changes?”
For most people this is a crazy assumption, especially for people who are not Christians. However, I have found that a fair number of Christians don’t fully believe this statement to be true. Non-Christians tend to believe in the foundational humanity of mankind. They believe that mankind is ultimately good and all we need to do is convince the majority of people to do the right thing and society will change. So the need for God to be apart of societal change is ridiculous for them. They are fine with us Christians using God or the Bible to convince our groups to do the right thing, but they reject the idea that God or the Church has any influence over the rest of the world. The Christians who do not believe that the church will lead this change in the world do so because they can’t imagine a diverse church in the first place. They usually believe that a diverse church is a good idea, but because of our sin nature and cultural preferences it is something unachievable. Therefore, the church can’t lead society in this way because we can’t do it ourselves. Perhaps you may even fall into this way of thinking.
My answer to the question posed is an emphatic “Yes, I believe the world will only change once the Church does!” My reasoning is very simple: I do not believe in the intrinsic humanity of man. I believe that we are all driven by our flesh to protect and provide for ourselves and the people who we care about, even at the expense of others. My belief is not only rooted in scripture, but all of history has provided the data to prove that humans left to our own vices are self centered at best and a powerful destructive force at worst. We only need to read a history book or look at the world today to verify this fact. Next, God is the only solution for our personal and societal ills for which racism is one. This answer is only partially satisfying for non-Christians because they will then ask why is the church the solution? Why not another religion or all religions working together? I love it when we get to this question because that means they have progressed to the idea that God is the solution.
If we can entertain the idea that God is the solution then we need only to look at the Bible to see that our God has always been about reconciliation and bringing people together while others have focused on self improvement or individual actions pleasing God. While Jesus is clear that our calling is to love God and to love one another, reconciliation to God and reconciliation to one another is the unifying threat throughout all of scripture. The Bible is full of scripture talking about believers being reconciled to each other, whether it’s John 17:20-23, Rev. 7:9, or Gal. 3:28, to name a few. So the Bible lived out in the church is the only spiritual voice of reconciliation there is or has ever been.
The reconciliation in the Bible extends to any separation in the church and therefore applies to the racial divide in the church of America. We can see that the church is supposed to be a diverse body reconciled to one another worshiping in communities on Earth as it is in Heaven. From a practical point of view we can see how this will change the way people in the church live their lives at work, school, and home. When their closest friends are people of different races they will respond to societal racism differently and that will begin to change the American culture. Most importantly, when we, the Church, are truly reconciled to each other across racial lines we will not be divided by politics or social agendas and the world will see love that has not been seen since the first century church. That will move the world to turn toward Jesus and their hearts will be changed. That will be the end of systemic racism in America.
I have no doubt that the church is the solution to the race problem in America. Once the Church embraces this understanding we will see the Church leading change in the area of racial equality along with other biblical justice issues.
Brandon Wilkes is a contributing author and the Pastor at One Church in St. Louis, Missouri.