Friday, February 21, 2014

Race Relations and Unity

Race relations and racial reconciliation have been on my mind of late.  Just last week I was invited to speak in Tulsa at the annual Unity Conference sponsored by the Ministerial Alliance and the NAACP.  Following are some of the remarks I shared that evening.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10 ESV).

I was born into the social unrest of the 1960s not yet a century removed from the end of the nation’s Civil War, and just ahead of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I was raised in a monochromatic environment with only one black classmate and friend. Though much of the turbulence of the day was witnessed more on the news than in our small town, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I became aware of how racially divided we as a society were.  Are.   

The entirety of my adult life has been spent in the academy. Not until I was a nearly thirty year-old professor at a state university did I become a follower of Christ. A few years later I was called to preach as a bivocational minister and pastor of smaller rural churches. In those years I’ve learned a few things about both the academy and the church. 

First, our great higher institutions of learning have stressed diversity to such a degree that they no longer seek anything that is unifying. I am convinced that the great hope for our future will be found in those institutions of higher learning that seek unity in diversity. At OBU where I serve, our one unifying point in a world of great diversity is found in the Person and work of Jesus the Messiah. He is the Uni- in our university. If there be any hope of unity, of racial reconciliation, or peace among the peoples of our communities, our nation, our world, it will be found in the Prince of Peace.

Second, I’ve noticed in both the academy and in the church our propensity to seek out others who look like us.  Nowhere is this more evident than along racial lines.  Separate but equal may no longer be the law of the land, but it seems to be the practice of our people.  And unfortunately this is true especially in the church.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, this ought not be. If there be one place on this planet where there should be great unity in our diversity and great celebration of our unity and Kingdom diversity, it ought to be Christ’s church.

I think of that scene in heaven where God’s Word neither ignores nor diminishes our differences but instead celebrates them. Every nation. Every people group. The full rainbow of His creation gathered around His throne. Together. In one accord. Unified by our Hero, Savior, Messiah, King Jesus.

Besides, I’m tired of a monochromatic worship. I long for heaven. I’m tired of separate but equal on Sunday morning. I long for Sabbaths that look like the glory of my Father’s House. 

Is unity possible? In the church? In the academy? Yes. For I see that very thing evident at the foot of the cross and I see it at the throne of King Jesus. I see it in the Word. There is one body, one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:4-6).

We cannot expect the world or governments or commissions or political operatives to unify us, if the church cannot even get together. Judgment begins at the House of the Lord. So let our churches lead the way. Let our Christian universities lead the way. And let the world know us by our love for each other.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity (Ps. 133:1). I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1Cor. 1:10). And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds [us] together in perfect unity (Col. 3:14). 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let it be so.

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