God is colorblind.
I used to say that from the pulpit. I, like many other white people, am not a racist. So, whenever a moment of national attention to the plight of black people would come across my newsfeed, I’d quickly detach myself from it. I didn’t do it, after all. Just another crime like any other, right? Why should I trouble myself?
This strategy worked fine until a man from my church took me out to lunch. Lovingly and slowly, he explained that my detachment from racial issues was understandable but unloving to those members of my church who don’t look like me—which is most of them. “If we’ve all been born again,” he asked, “doesn’t that mean that we’ve been born into a new family—the same family? Don’t families care about each other?”
Conviction. Deep conviction.
He was right, and I now better understand what he meant. As a white American I was free to detach myself from issues of racial injustice. But as a Christian I no longer was. Why? Not because of white guilt. Not because of political correctness. Not because of social pressure. I was compelled to care because now the victims of injustice weren’t faceless humanity, out there somewhere. They are my brothers and sisters. My friends. My family.
God isn’t colorblind. He sees colors quite clearly.
Kingdom of Color
The picture in Revelation 7 isn’t of a grey, amorphous humanity. It’s one of persons from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation before the throne of the Lamb. God sees their color, culture, songs, and stories. He chose them from before the beginning, that his kingdom would be a multi-ethnic one. And if the coming kingdom is a multi-ethnic, then my ministry ought to approximate it as much as possible.
Some will bristle at this point. Does that mean embracing the Black Lives Matter movement wholesale? Or agreeing with a politically liberal social agenda? Does this mean abdicating heritage? Of course not. It simply means allowing the gospel to humble us enough to change us.
As a pastor serving a multi-ethnic people, here are four things I’m learning to do.
1. Ask hard questions.
That man who took me out to lunch loved me enough to ask a hard question and offer a difficult truth. It was risky. But gospel love takes relational risks.
As a pastor of a diverse people, I must draw near to them in their pain and anger, not push away. I should actively seek their input on my sermons and my leadership. In recent days I’ve simply asked How are you doing? to my black friends. Sometimes the answers made me uncomfortable. But Jesus hasn’t called me to what’s comfortable.
2. Repent publicly.
My white friends often say what I would often say: Racism isn’t my problem. I’m glad Jesus didn’t share this attitude. Ours is a gospel in which God took upon himself a problem that wasn’t his. No wonder his people are called to go and do likewise.
When white pastors like me disconnect from the racial problems in our nation, we’re guilty of two errors: We affirm the negligence of those who look like us while affirming the fear of those who don’t—namely, the fear we don’t really care about them. Both are wrong. White pastor, own what people who look like you have done to people who don’t. Apologize publicly and ask forgiveness. I know it’s scary, but it’s right.
3. Call for forgiveness.
This one is harder, but just as important as the first. The gospel isn’t only the story of the powerful one becoming powerless. It’s also the story of the innocent one facing injustice, and forgiving. So just as I must call my white congregants to humble repentance, I must call my non-white congregants to hard forgiveness.
The call to forgiveness is, perhaps, the most difficult message I will ever preach to my black friends. Hearing it from a white man only makes it more difficult. But if we shrink back from that message, then the cycle of offense and reaction will never stop. The only hope for peace is in Jesus Christ. To get there, we have to preach the whole message about him—the message of repentance and forgiveness.
4. Preach gospel possibility.
The Christian story unites us all in at least three ways: the imago Dei, total depravity, and gospel possibility. We’re all made in the image of God—black and white, young and old, rich and poor. We’re also all shattered and strangled by sin. But we can’t stop there. The gospel also means that peace is possible—peace with God and peace with each other.
Pastor, inflame the sanctified imagination of your congregation to hope for a world they don’t yet occupy, a world free of racial hatred and shaped by holy affection. Give them the imaginative tools to desire the kingdom of God. Don’t let them settle for the latest version of man-centered utopia pawned by politicians and prognosticators. If we can get this right in the church, then the church will showcase an inexplicably good story to the world.
Real Perils, Real Promise
I’m grateful for that man in my church who loved me enough to come to me with a hard truth. The perils of multi-ethnic ministry are real, yes, but so is the promise. I left that meeting feeling loved and challenged. I needed to go be with God alone.
I needed to repent and rethink. And maybe I’m not alone.