Racism is under scrutiny this year and the climate is tense. Some people refuse to see any problems, others refuse to see compromises or solutions. For a Christian, it can be difficult to know how to respond, and to whom. Fortunately, Christians have a resource that directs us in times of uncertainty: The Bible.
A centuries-old book might seem a strange place to start, but for a Christian, the Bible is more than just a book. It is the Word of God, even if it is too often neglected as a guide.
The Bible is a story of love and reconciliation. Throughout the Old Testament, over and over again the Israelites doubt God and sin against him, but God does not abandon them in his wrath. Instead, he sends Jesus, who reconciles us to our Father. God does this out of love for everyone, not just his “chosen people.” Colossians 1:20 explains this idea of reconciliation for all. What God did in this paradigmatic gesture can and should be imitated by us as we strive to reconcile with each other, no matter our race or culture.
But reconciliation is not easy. Perhaps this is why we don’t see more Christians spearheading racial reconciliation. For God and man to come together, it required Jesus to die on the cross. For races separated by centuries of anger and distrust, what would reconciliation require?
The Bible shows us. It requires a change of heart and a break from comfort zones. The virtues of love, forgiveness, and humility distinguish us as Christians and teach us how to respond differently from the way “the world” responds to bias and hate. Nor need we wonder how to go about applying those principles. Jesus demonstrates for us how to enter into this conversation about race not in cold doctrinal terms but in concrete action. Look at him in John 4, when He meets the woman at the well.
Approaching the town of Sychar in Samaria, Jesus is drained from his lengthy journey and heads towards Jacob’s well for refreshment. He asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. Samaritans were ethnically and racially distinct from the Jews. The Jews looked down on them, denied to talk to them, and refused to eat on plates they’d touched. But Jesus shattered these ultimately meaningless prejudices.
We should imitate our Lord, refusing to retreat into our cultural bubbles. We should meet each other face-to-face and offer each other the refreshing gift of seeing and speaking to one another. This gift can lead to many others. Note that as a result of their conversation the woman and the entire village found their faith.
Because Jesus asked, so the woman gave Him water to drink. And because she asked in turn, Jesus gave her living water (spiritual nourishment and wholeness). Let us similarly ask of each other across the racial veil. There is no test one must pass, no special feature one must have, to do this. Let’s drop those ultimately meaningless prejudices. Admission to God’s kingdom is not conditioned by race. In our polarized society, we tend to forget that God cares less about what we are (the specific aspects of our identities) than whose we are (his children).
Though our identities are important and shouldn’t be dissipated into sterile uniformity, in God’s eyes they are not decisive. Adopting such a God’s-eye view for ourselves (what the Bible calls metanoia) is one tool we Christians have for reconciliation.
The Samaritans urged Jesus to stay with them for two days. He accepted. He immersed Himself in a culture not His own. He shared time and space with the “untouchables,” and received their hospitality. This doesn’t require us to become infatuated with cultures different from our own, to disparage our own culture in order to lift another’s up, or to wave around our knowledge of and experiences with other cultures as trophies of distinction. But it does tell us to build bridges of understanding across chasms of prejudice, to listen and to speak, to respectfully imagine ourselves in the other’s shoes, and to divest from the illusion that our own fraction of reality is all that there is.
It is easy to say “love one another,” and to point out that the Bible supports reconciliation. It is much harder to step outside of our own ways of viewing and interacting with the world in order to follow the way of Jesus. But for Christians, the path is clear: if we want to overcome racism and work towards reconciliation, we should begin by living in communion with one another, appreciating each other’s individual identities as children of God, and never writing someone off because their culture is different from ours (and this obviously cuts both ways).
Jesus gave up His life for reconciliation with us. To follow Him means to reconcile with each other.