Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel

December 29, 2014

Dr. Richard Land | President
Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC
Former President of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission

This article was previously posted at www.ERLC.com and was used by permission.

It grieves me to witness the extent to which racial mistrust and animosity still besets and bedevils America. However, given the visceral response generated by the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, it is clear that we still have a long way to go in our national life before we achieve Dr. King’s dream of a nation where people are not judged “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

No matter how one might feel personally about the precise nature of these two individual incidents in Missouri and New York City, the undeniable reality is that when black Americans and white Americans view them through such contrasting lenses, we still have a serious rift in the nation’s social fabric.  This rift must be healed and healed as quickly as possible because the longer it is left to fester and metastasize, the more alienation and damage is caused, the more difficult it will become to heal, and the more people will be victimized.

If we as a people and a nation are going to achieve true racial reconciliation and justice, it will be the Christian churches that will lead us to Dr. King’s “Promised Land.” It would seem that the “salt” of the law has done most of the heavy lifting it can do to relieve racial injustice. The salt of the law can change actions, behaviors, and habits. However, it is only the light of the Gospel that can change attitudes, beliefs, and hearts.

Racism is as old as the fallen nature of man. The Bible condemns it from Genesis onward, explaining that Eve was the mother of all (Gen. 3:20). The Apostle Peter reminds us “that God is no respecter of persons.” After we have been transformed by being born again from above by trusting in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we live in a new world in which all has been made new.  The Apostle Paul describes that world for us: “For ye are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28).  When we become part of Christ’s church of born again believers, our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20, NASB) and we are part of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is “here, but not yet.” Each church is to be a present model and positive reminder of the Kingdom of Heaven that will fully arrive upon the Lord’s return.

America’s problem with race goes back to our beginnings. From our first encounters as Europeans with Native-Americans in Virginia and New England, race has been the serpent in the garden. For all of her greatness, America’s treatment of non-whites has been an ongoing tale of prejudice, abuse, and malign neglect.  Unfortunately, the Nobel Laureate William Faulkner was right when he observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” There are always the ghosts of the racist past among us, coloring how we perceive the present. Our present is always informed and tinted by our past experiences. Consequently, while most white Americans were dismissive of theories that the police framed O. J. Simpson, many African-Americans, based on their past experiences, found such accusations far too believable.

Once again, in the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, people default to their past experiences. Like most Anglos, I must confess I have never had a negative experience with a police officer, white, brown, or black. I know few African-Americans, however, who have not had truly bad experiences with the police or know someone well who has.  The only way to truly bridge this divide, heal this rift, and move forward is for Christians, twice-born men and women, to come forward and take the lead in the immediate formation of ethnically diverse coalitions where people can tell each other their stories and begin to exorcise the ghosts of the past together.  Ultimately, we must seek to get out of our comfort zones and strive with intentionality to form truly multi-ethnic, multi-class churches where people of differing ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds worship together and minister to one another as equal members of the local body of Christ. Then we will hear and know each other’s stories, and we will put faces we know on racial and economic injustice. Such churches will truly transform our culture.

The Gospel must begin with the truth that each person must be born again and spiritually transformed by accepting Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross as his Savior. But it doesn’t end there. As a consequence or fruit of being born again, we are to go into the world as salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16), seeking to preserve against decay, disinfect against the infection of sin, and dispel gloom and depression with the light of the Gospel.  Being salt and light in society is part of the Great Commission mandate “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Back in the 1940s Lillian Smith, a white Southerner, wrote with breathtaking, broken-hearted pathos of her Georgia girlhood experience of racial segregation and how it victimized everyone.

“So we learned the dance that cripples the human spirit, step by step by step, we who were
white and we who were colored, day by day, hour by hour, year by year. . . . Something was
wrong with a world that tells you that love is good and people are important and then forces
you to deny love and to humiliate people. . . . in trying to shut the Negro race away from us,
we have shut ourselves away from so many good, creative, honest, deeply human things in
life. . . . what cruelly shapes and cripples the personality of one is as cruelly shaping and
crippling the personality of the other.” (Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream, 1949)

Yes, everyone is victimized when bigotry and racism are perpetrated. But Lillian Smith was wrong when she concluded its victims, white and black, were “stunted and warped” by the experience and “in our lifetime cannot grow straight again.”  The Gospel of Jesus reveals to us that we can. We can experience liberation in Christ. We can exorcize the ghosts of the past. We can grow straight again, together in Christ.

Several months after I felt called to full-time Christian ministry at the age of 16, I watched Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on television, August 28, 1963. I was captivated, convicted, and convinced. From that moment forward it was never enough to be opposed to racism and segregation (as I already was). I must confront it, speak out against it, and seek to be a Christian ambassador of reconciliation in my ministry. I have dedicated a significant portion of my ministry in the little over a half-century since that summer day long ago. I remain undaunted. I remain optimistic. I refuse to abandon Dr. King’s vision. With Jesus’ help we will finish the journey together, black and white, brothers in Christ leading the way.

 

 

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

To the host of SBC Today,

The gospel must begin with the truth that Jesus Christ is King and He offers entrance into His Kingdom through an experience called the new birth or being born again. Loving God and loving people are at the core of the gospel(Mark 12: 28-31: John 13: 34, 35); without which, one has not truly received the gospel. Therefore, racial reconciliation is a gospel demand. One cannot enter into the Kingdom of God except they enter through the door which is Jesus the King and His crowning work-the death, burial, and resurrection and the implications thereof.

The introduction to Dr. Land’s incredibly relevant, timely, and prophetic statement, as written by the editors/host of SBC Today, seems to be designed to skirt around the fact that racial reconciliation is a gospel demand. Is it true or not true, that the SBC Today host who wrote the prologue to Dr. Land’s statement, consider racial reconciliation to be a gospel demand?

    Kyle Gulledge

    Dr. Mckissic,

    Thanks for your interaction with SBC Today. I am the editor of SBC Today and I am a bit confused by your above question. You have stated and asked: “The introduction to Dr. Land’s incredibly relevant, timely, and prophetic statement, as written by the editors/host of SBC Today, seems to be designed to skirt around the fact that racial reconciliation is a gospel demand. Is it true or not true, that the SBC Today host who wrote the prologue to Dr. Land’s statement, consider racial reconciliation to be a gospel demand?” To which I respond–What prologue? If you are talking about the introductory or “preview” paragraph that appears when you first come to SBCToday.com then I would think that you obviously did not read the article–since that “preview” paragraph is Dr. Land’s own words taken right out of the article. The article was originally posted at the The Christian Post and then the ERLC posted it. Once permission was obtained we then reposted it. There have been no additions to Dr. Land’s article of any kind by SBC Today.

    I would also like to offer my own thoughts about race/racism and the gospel. I personally do not see that racial reconciliation is a “Gospel demand” as you have outlined it. However, I do believe it is a result of having believed and having been transformed by the Gospel. I have read, and re-read your above statements and I simply disagree. Before race reconciliation takes place in ones life–they must accept the gospel (the kerygma, if you will) and as a result their lives will be changed. The Gospel is the Gospel–we do not need to add to it, take away from it, or divide it. It is perfect on its own. The Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (no racial reconciliation needed here). Before I can demand that “algebra” is a demand of math–I first must make sure they know how to count, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Algebra is not a demand of math–but it is a result. Thanks for all that you do for the Kingdom Dr. McKissic. Have a blessed day.

    Bob Hadley

    Dr. McKissic,

    It was my privilege to meet you in Baltimore. It was a highlight of my trip.

    With respect to racial reconciliation, it’s effectiveness seems to me to be “in the eye of the beholder.” Take for example your response to Dr. Land’s article. There was none. Your criticism was that the article was “designed to skirt around the fact that racial reconciliation is a gospel demand.” I believe your response is completely out of line and written because Dr. Land wrote the article. I have read some of your articles and comments dealing with the unfortunate events that have taken place in Ferguson and New York as well as in Florida. While much of your argument is that the privileged white population cannot begin to understand the perspective the black community has, may I also comment that your perspective can be as flawed as you believe mine might be.

    I read Dr. Land’s article and found it to be very racially reconciliatory and cannot understand why ANYONE, white or black would find fault with his compassionate appeal for all men: “With Jesus’ help we will finish the journey together, black and white, brothers in Christ leading the way.”

    Is it not possible that your criticism of Dr. Land’s article is in and of itself a sad example of part of the problem in racial reconciliation? I am writing this with a heavy heart but am afraid one of the problems with the very thing I believe you compassionately want to see, must be seen the actions and responses of those who are on differing sides of the issue and the insinuation that one position is superior to the other. There does seem to be this unstated theme that racial reconciliation must come wrapped in a package that suits one side. I am believe racial reconciliation has responsibility on BOTH sides and when that responsibility is skirted by either side, it becomes more difficult to achieve.

    If you could not find anything positive with this article the first time you read it, I challenge you to take your rose colored glasses off and re-read it. The article was very well written and is indeed timely and relevant for ALL MEN.

Tim Barnette

Well said, Dr. Land. I appreciate your heart for this, and look forward to working with you and many others in the SBC and without, “together in Christ.”

Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Johnathan,

You are correct. The opening line was grafted from the body of Dr. Land’s manuscript. I’d read his piece earlier when it first came out. As a matter of fact I’d quoted large sections of his script in a blogpost I wrote published over at SBC Voices. Until I read this morning the intro piece that lead this particular publishing of Land’s script, lifted from the body of his message, I had not heretofore recognized that the opening statement appears to argue against the notion that the racial reconciliation is a gospel demand.

Johnathan I appreciate you addressing my question forthrightly. I am aware that Rick Patrick shares your viewpoint that racial reconciliation is not a gospel demand. Don’t know if Dr. Land would be willing to clarify his position, or weigh in on the question. But, inasmuch as these are Land’s words, not Carter’s as I originally erroneously thought, I am now asking does the author of this post-Dr. Land-believe that the racial reconciliation is a gospel demand?

It appears to me that SBC personalities are miles apart on this question, as they are on several others. I also find it interesting that those that don’t consider racial reconciliation to be a gospel demand seem to be quite supportive and sympathetic toward the officers who unnecessarily shot and killed, or put policy violating choke-holds on unarmed Black males, and a 12 yr old playing with a toy gun in a park, one block from his home in Cleveland. Those who believe that racial reconciliation is a gospel demand, seem to find these actions suspect, unnecessary, racially approached, or a criminal violations. Those who find these killings “justifiable,” don’t see racial reconciliation as a gospel demand. Quite interesting?

Again, the particular paragraph highlighted in the intro-that is now clear to me as to it’s origin-sparked my interest as to how the author of those words felt about whether or not racial reconciliation was a gospel demand. You, Rick Patrick, Randy White, and perhaps Kevin Stilley are clear on this question. Do you know where Dr. Land stand on this question? Thanks.

    Kyle Gulledge

    Dr. McKissic,

    Again thank you for your interaction! I cannot speak for Dr. Land–but I do believe his article has spoken volumes and his intent was clear. Your argument above is:
    “I also find it interesting that those that don’t consider racial reconciliation to be a gospel demand seem to be quite supportive and sympathetic toward the officers who unnecessarily shot and killed, or put policy violating choke-holds on unarmed Black males, and a 12 yr old playing with a toy gun in a park, one block from his home in Cleveland. Those who believe that racial reconciliation is a gospel demand, seem to find these actions suspect, unnecessary, racially approached, or a criminal violations. Those who find these killings “justifiable,” don’t see racial reconciliation as a gospel demand. Quite interesting?” It may be interesting to you but it has nothing to do with your point. Your point, as you have stated several times, is that race reconciliation is a Gospel demand–so let’s stick with that. I offered an analogy to you about this (math/algebra) but you seemed to have not acknowledged it–so let me try again. In scripture one must be reconciled to GOD before they can be reconciled in their relationships to one another (see 2 Cor. 5:17-21). The only demand of the Gospel is to be reconciled to God–and once that takes place we are able to be reconciled in our human relationships AND THEN are given the command of the ministry of reconciliation. Are you trying to tell me that in order to be saved you must first have your race relations correct? Where is that in scripture? Dr. McKissic I truly am grateful for your voice on this issue–as racism is simply wrong and is a problem in America and even in our churches. But racial reconciliation is not a Gospel issue. Blessings to you my brother in Christ.

      norm

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Jonathan; nor could I disagree more with anyone who says that racial reconciliation is a gospel demand. That word gospel, and the truth of it, shall not be stretched further than John 3.16 or 1 Cor. 1-3 (or similar). The overt gospel demand I find in the Bible is that God commands ALL men everywhere to repent (Acts 17.30).
      Now, if someone wants to posit that racial reconciliation is a *discipleship* demand, then I stand with that brother and shout AMEN!
      I also agree with you that the result of conversion after responding to the gospel ought to wrought many things in a believer’s life, including racial understanding. As for me, I cannot reconcile what my forefathers did on this continent, or what others’ did elsewhere. I am not powerful enough to ‘reconcile’ those matters. It seems to me that the gospel is the channel through which all sorts of reconciliation may occur. The gospel exemplifies just how liberating forgiveness is. So, if I do have any semblance of “reconciliation power,” it is through the liberation of forgiveness that may be empowered only by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Otherwise, I would be forever held by an ancient grudge.
      BTW: I am weary of the word gospel being tagged in a commercial way to so many ‘for sale’ items and other ‘pet’ notions about soteriology. Others’ attempts to enhance and broaden the gospel scope by appending words to that word merely obscure the true gospel.

Rick Patrick

It occurred to me that perhaps it might help Dr. McKissic to view our “racial reconciliation is not a Gospel Demand” position a bit more charitably and objectively if we listed a few other *Non-Gospel Demands.*

To be pro-life is not a gospel demand. Having a daily quiet time is not a gospel demand. Tithing is not a gospel demand. Visiting the sick is not a gospel demand. Mailing an Operation Christmas Child box is not a gospel demand.

To be clear, these are all righteous deeds and attitudes springing from a sanctified Christian life. I’m FOR all of the above, including racial reconciliation. But these are not Gospel Demands. They are Gospel Results.

The demands of the gospel are repentance and faith, turning from our sins and trusting in Christ. The transformation of our lives takes place as God works within us to bring about all of this wonderful Gospel Fruit.

Our disagreements here are merely over words, brothers. We ALL favor racial reconciliation. We simply disagree on whether it is more properly described as a Gospel Demand or a Gospel Result.

    norm

    Agreed. Well-stated, Rick.
    In all of this — as with so many such discussions — we sometimes miss the most important tree for the rest of the forest.
    How about Matthew 28:18-20, and Acts 1:8 as gospel demands? — norm

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available