In the book of Revelation, we are given a glimpse into heaven, and see every nation, tribe, people and language living together in harmony; however, many American evangelicals seem conflicted on whether that sort of diversity is a societal trait we should strive for now.
Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate that non-white ethnic groups will make up the majority of the United States’ population by 2045, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) asked respondents whether this demographic trend would result in a mostly positive or negative change. Fifty-two percent of white evangelicals believed this trend would be negative, as compared to 31 percent of all respondents.
Racial Diversity Is What Jesus Told Us to Pray For
On Twitter, author and church planter Sharon Hodde Miller said, “I mean this in the most earnest way possible—the majority of Heaven will be non-white. Might we instead welcome this diversity as a taste of ‘thy Kingdom come’ that prepares our souls for the goodness of eternity?”
This statement in the Lord’s Prayer (“thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) sets aside Jesus’ provocation of Jewish ethnic nationalism, where he turns the hated Samaritan into the hero of a parable. There’s also the work of the Apostle Paul who challenged the early church’s mono-ethnic viewpoint both in his words (there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free) and actions (calling out Peter’s hypocrisy recorded in Galatians 2). In the book of Acts, we see the church experiencing the necessary growing pains of moving beyond its Jewish roots. From the inception of the Gospel message, racial diversity has been necessary in our present circumstances, on earth, as well as finding its completion in heaven.
While racial diversity should be a hallmark of the church, recent statistics show the church lagging behind a quickly-diversifying culture. In a powerful article for Lifeway, Pastor Daniel Hyun explains that creating a diverse church means creating a unified church, and that the pain of multicultural inclusion is a discipleship path many churches aren’t willing to walk. For some evangelical cultures, ethnic inclusivity in heaven is a wonderful idea, but heaven can wait. It’s too impractical now.
Political Views and Racial Diversity
A troubling implication of PRRI’s research is that white evangelicalism’s data exists cleanly along partisan lines. While 13 percent of Democrats believed a non-white majority was negative, 50 percent of Republicans said the same. Fear of a racially diverse future echo far-right websites such as Breitbart and Infowars, which believe an unbiblical philosophy where ethnic unity is impossible. While it’s irresponsible to suggest all white evangelicals who responded negatively to PRRI’s survey are supportive of alt-right ideology, it is worth asking whether a large portion of self-identifying white evangelicals are thinking less like the Bible, and more by a politically charged cultural climate. It also could explain why black Christians are leaving white evangelical churches, as it is hard to imagine a non-white Christian feeling comfortable in a church where half the members are skeptical about whether racial diversity is desired or possible.
Micah Fries of Brainerd Baptist Church calls this fearfulness toward racial diversity and the rise of nationalism (globally) sin.
How should a Christian think about the rise of global nationalism? Does the bible have anything to say about it? I touched on it briefly when preaching through Psalm 67 at @brainerdbaptist. pic.twitter.com/itd5kVeX4m
— Micah Fries (@micahfries) July 31, 2018
Churches That Work Toward Racial Diversity
It’s worth considering, then, whether leaders in the evangelical church need to double down on a Bibliocentric view of multiculturalism. One positive example of this is New Life Church in Colorado Springs, which on the night of President Trump’s election merged with Iglesia Nueva Vida, the city’s largest Spanish speaking church.
“Colorado Springs is the mecca of evangelical ministries, and it should serve as an example to everyone that larger American congregations should be thinking about adopting other Hispanic congregations and being intentional about breaking that separation line,” Rev. Jeremiah Tamarez said in Spanish to The Gazette, as his wife translated. “The bigger picture and the message we’re sending is that a larger church and a smaller church, when they come together they can be stronger and make a difference.”
Other church communities like Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, provide free legal immigration aid to those looking to become citizens.
The good news is that while the path of unity will be hard, there’s also an opportunity for evangelism. Racial diversity will only increase in America over the next few decades, and churches leaning into that reality now will have set themselves up to be a culturally relevant voice in the future.