Too often, the church trails the culture. For that matter, too many evangelicals were holding the hoses at Selma, not standing for equality. The church still trails.
There are hopeful signs. In 2019, sociologist Michael Emerson reported dramatic growth in the percentage of evangelical churches who are multiethnic as defined by 20% or more of the church is of a different race than the majority. Emerson noted a growth from 7% to 23% from 1998 to 2019 among evangelical churches. While there has been definite progress here, we must candidly state there is yet much work to go. So, what do we need to do?
We need to care about the issue of race in America and particularly the trajectory evangelicals need to take moving forward. We need to start working on some evidence to show that we are committed to this.
Here are three ways Christians can show greater understanding of race.
Look at Scripture with fresh eyes.
I planted my first church among the urban poor in Buffalo. Having been raised in a racially isolated community near New York City, I never thought much about race — but in Buffalo we had little choice. We were forced to address issues of race because our community was a multicultural milieu. It forced us to read the scriptures with more awareness of race —and an acknowledgement of its challenges. Looking at the Bible with fresh eyes helps us see truths we sometimes overlook.
We found that race is often emphasized in Scripture. Even though few Anglo churches seem to notice, Scripture frequently demonstrates God’s concern for race and ethnicity.
Luke illustrates the coming of the Spirit with diverse expressions of tongues (Acts 2), even identifying the languages being spoken. And a glimpse of eternity in Revelation shows that men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation make up the choir of eternal praise (Rev. 7:9). If the writers of Scripture take notice of ethnicity, so should we.
Even though few Anglo churches seem to notice, Scripture frequently demonstrates God’s concern for race and ethnicity.
Scripture not only identifies race and ethnicity, but John hints at prejudice concerning Jesus in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Furthermore, Jesus intentionally offends ethnic and racial sensibilities with both the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Why go to so much trouble to emphasize their ethnicity if it does not matter?
Elsewhere, Jesus elevated the place of Samaritans in a culture filled with prejudice toward them in his treatment of the woman of Samaria and in the example of the Samaritan in the parable.