Many individuals have contacted me privately in order to express that they strongly disagree with the trajectory of the accepted conclusions on ethnic strife, but are afraid of being slandered for speaking out on it–since slander and vitriol often ensue when someone speaks out about his or her concerns. It is perfectly understandable why people would be reticent to speak up; but, as Christians, we are called to truth-telling individuals. We are called to be people of conviction who will not allow falsehood to thrive, if we believe that falsehood is being propagated. As the Larger Catechism teaches, we must come forward, stand up for truth, and stand publicly alongside those who proclaim the truth, in spite of the consequences. This usually means that we need to forego politeness and we ought to speak frankly with one another about what truly matters.
In recent days, social media has been inundated with podcasts, articles, and videos in which individuals have sought to speak to the issues surrounding ethnic tensions and relations. While there has been much controversy, there has also been growing hostility and contention regarding ethnic strife within American conservative evangelical churches. In this post, I wish to briefly address those who may be reticent about discussing this topic publicly.
First, we need to be honest about the true state of affairs regarding ethnic tension within our society in general. It is certainly true that there has been substantial progress over the past fifty years regarding the protection of minorities under the law and in the public perception of racism. However, there are still many layers of stereotyping and prejudice that affect interpersonal relationships among ethnic groups. Some of this can be explained by ignorance, but at the heart of this, there is genuine enmity between different ethnic groups, which has consequences within American society. This is not merely white racism towards minorities; this also involves the perception of white southerners among minorities. Within the church, this manifests itself in the lack of openness, uneasiness, and mistrust between various ethnic groups.
Striving for Unity
Second, we must acknowledge that the New Testament only addresses this topic within the context of the Church. The major source of ethnic tension in the Scriptures is centered around Gentile-Jewish relations and Paul spends a great deal of time addressing this topic. Central to Paul’s discussion in Ephesians is the unity of the Church. From Paul’s perspective, the glory of the gospel is that there is one Church composed of Jews and Gentiles. Thus, two groups who were formerly hostile to one another have been brought together through the blood of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22).
This unity is the basis behind Paul’s exhortation to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (cf. Ephesians 4). Therefore, our fundamental identity is in Christ and any philosophy that seeks to undermine that source of our unity in Christ strikes at the heart of the gospel. It is our common fellowship in Christ that calls us to love all of our brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of the social strife that may exist. Therefore, if we are truly “people of the Book,” then we must be willing to address this topic in light of what Scripture teaches.
Third, do not believe the notion that there is only one approach in dealing with how ethnic/social strife ought to be dealt with in the Church. Contrary to popular belief, there is no direct New Testament teaching on how ethnic strife should be addressed outside the Church beyond the call to love our neighbor. There is the issue of ethnic strife among the widows in the early church, resulting in the formation/reorganization of the diaconate (Acts 6). However, there is no single answer to every form of ethnic strife in the New Testament.
In general, we may agree on what we should do (i.e. love our brothers and love our neighbor), but we do not always agree on how that should be done (i.e. the manner in which we demonstrate this love in tangible social and ecclesiastical ways). Since the specific methodology is not given to us in the Scripture, American evangelicals tend to have two approaches: (1) use vague inferences from theocratic Israel or the New Covenant church, or (2) use social science research and/or methodologies from prior historical movements to address it. There are obvious pros and cons to each of these approaches.