God makes it clear that no man is superior to another.
Editor’s Note: The following was written by Jemar Tisby the author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. This book provides a history of racism in the Church in the United States with the aim of causing the Church to confess, repent, and allow the Holy Spirit construct it as God would have it as it is now and will be in heaven, and on Jesus’ return to rule the New Jerusalem for ever.
Scripture’s Motivation to Seek Racial and Ethnic Unity Right Now
“These words are a call to abandon complicit Christianity and move toward courageous Christianity.”
History and Scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.
Although activists have achieved a remarkable amount of racial progress at great cost, racism continues to plague the church. One of the reasons churches can’t shake the shackles of segregation is that few have undertaken the regimen of aggressive treatment the malady requires. It seems like most Christians in America don’t know how bad racism really is, so they don’t respond with the necessary urgency. Even when Christians realize the need for change, they often shrink back from the sacrifices that transformation entails.
The Color of Compromise is about revealing racism. It pulls back the curtain on the ways American Christians have collaborated with racism for centuries. By seeing the roots of racism in this country, may the church be moved to immediate and resolute antiracist action.
Why The Color of Compromise May Be Hard to Read
Reading The Color of Compromise is like having a sobering conversation with your doctor and hearing that the only way to cure a dangerous disease is by undergoing an uncomfortable surgery and ongoing rehabilitation. Although the truth cuts like a scalpel and may leave a scar, it offers healing and health. The pain is worth the progress.
The goal of this book is not guilt. The purpose of tracing Christian complicity with racism is not to show white believers how bad they are. It is simply a fact of American history that white leaders and laity made decisions to maintain the racist status quo. Even though the purpose of this work is not to call out any particular racial group, these words may cause some grief, but grief can be good. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (ESV). This kind of grief is a natural response to the suffering of others. It indicates empathy with the pain that racism has caused black people. The ability to weep with those who weep is necessary for true healing.
Though the work of racial justice is difficult and will never truly end in this life, God has provided a colorful portrait of the goal. In a cosmic case of beginning with the end in mind, God pulls back the curtain of eternity to provide a glimpse of future glory. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” In that heavenly congregation, we will finally see the culmination of God’s gathering a diverse people unified by faith in Christ. We will not all be white; we will not all be black. We will surround the throne of the Lamb as a redeemed picture of all the ethnic and cultural diversity God created. Our single focus will be worshiping God for eternity in sublime fellowship with each other and our Creator.
This picture of perfection has been bequeathed to believers not as a distant reality that we can merely long for. Instead, the revelation of the heavenly congregation provides a blueprint and a motivation to seek unity right now. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Christians have been mandated to pray that the racial and ethnic unity of the church would be manifest, even if imperfectly, in the present. Christ himself brought down “the dividing wall of hostility” that separated humanity from one another and from God (Eph. 2:14). Indeed, reconciliation across racial and ethnic lines is not something Christians must achieve but a reality we must receive. On the cross when Christ said, “It is finished,” he meant it (John 19:30). If peace has been achieved between God and human beings, surely we can have greater peace between people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The Imperative for Immediate Action
Although our eternal peace is secure, a diverse but unified body of Christ will only come through struggle in this life. A survey of the history of racism and the church shows that the story is worse than most imagine. Christianity in America has been tied to the fallacy of white supremacy for hundreds of years. European colonists brought with them ideas of white superiority and paternalism toward darker-skinned people. On this sandy foundation, they erected a society and a version of religion that could only survive through the subjugation of people of color. Minor repairs by the weekend-warrior racial reconcilers won’t fix a flawed foundation. The church needs the Carpenter from Nazareth to deconstruct the house that racism built and remake it into a house for all nations.
By surveying the church’s racist past, American Christians may feel the weight of their collective failure to consistently confront racism in the church. This should lead to immediate, fierce action to confess this truth and work for justice. Then, perhaps, Paul’s words to the Corinthians might ring true for today’s church: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting” (2 Cor. 7:9 ESV).
Progress is possible, but we must learn to discern the difference between complicit Christianity and courageous Christianity. Complicit Christianity forfeits its moral authority by devaluing the image of God in people of color. Like a ship that has a cracked hull and is taking on water, Christianity has run aground on the rocks of racism and threatens to capsize—it has lost its integrity. By contrast, courageous Christianity embraces racial and ethnic diversity. It stands against any person, policy, or practice that would dim the glory of God reflected in the life of human beings from every tribe and tongue. These words are a call to abandon complicit Christianity and move toward courageous Christianity.
— Jemar Tisby, adapted from his new book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.
Jemar is a Christian, historian, writer, and speaker. His passion is to glorify God by fostering engagement between African Americans and Reformed theology for the transformation of individuals, families, and communities.