By Larry Griffin, LaTanya Tyson, and David Fincher
(The column about racial justice, equality, and reconciliation was written by three Christian college presidents. Larry Griffin serves as president of Mid-South Christian College, Memphis, Tenn.; Dr. LaTanya Tyson serves as president of Carolina Christian College, Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Dr. David Fincher serves as president of Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Mo., while also leading the Association of Christian Church Colleges and Universities.)
As presidents of Christian church colleges that serve the Restoration Movement, we lament the examples of injustice and division that have sadly become too commonplace in America. The police brutality, peaceful protests, and destructive violence that have been displayed highlight the painful situations our students, staff, and graduates struggle to reconcile. We want to challenge ourselves and our churches to emphasize the truth that reconciliation begins in the church as you consider four important questions.
Jesus died so the church could be a place where all races could be one. We exist because of that sacrifice. We unite, not by emphasizing our differences, but by coming together around what we all share. We are not made one by the U.S. Constitution, the American flag, or the rule of law. We are made one by the three members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—modeling pure unity. Ephesians 2:14-22 indicates Christ’s purpose in the cross was to break down barriers. Jesus is the only One who truly brings unity to divided people. His example reminds us that reconciliation always requires sacrifice.
The worldwide church is a shining example of racial unity. We celebrate that global and heavenly reality. Around the globe and in every major city, men and women of every ethnic group daily look to Christ for guidance and direction. On Sunday, prayers are offered and Scriptures are read in every major language by thousands of people groups.
“In my own church, African Americans, Caucasians, and Latin Americans will unite around the table of the Lord as a united family,” said Larry Griffin, president of Mid-South Christian College in Memphis. “We don’t really agree on politics and we don’t all enjoy the same privileges. While our solutions to the current crisis are not exactly the same, our ultimate allegiance, profound love, and steadfast determination comes from our brotherhood in Christ. In our bilingual Bible college, half of the current student body is from Latin America. Our bilingual chapel services are visible proof that unity is possible.”
Will you share the scriptural and practical examples of reconciliation for your church to see?
Unfortunately, many church fellowships are inconsistent when it comes to demonstrating racial unity.For the history of our country, African Americans have overtly and covertly been excluded from the umbrella of equality, unity, and brotherly love. From slavery, to Jim Crow, and the lynching fields of Mississippi, to modern-day police brutality, the American dream for people of color has been a continuous nightmare.
“The murder of George Floyd and the countless others that have died unjustly at the hands of police galvanizes the reality that all African Americans have known since the birth of this nation: black lives don’t matter,” said Dr. LaTanya Tyson, president of Carolina Christian College. “What further saddens the situation is that even in the church, African Americans are many times overlooked, stereotyped, or simply ignored.”
In the same way, many Hispanic brothers and sisters come from countries where they have faced poverty, oppression, and corruption their entire lives. They come to the United States seeking peace and prosperity for their families. Nevertheless, their experience is not always what they dreamed of. The church of Jesus Christ is still woefully flawed and inconsistent in its demonstration of unity.
Brothers and sisters in Christ who argue over our differences can’t unite against injustice to reach our world with the love of Christ. As the body of Christ, we lament this situation, repent of our sin, and ask forgiveness of our Lord and of our oppressed brothers and sisters.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated . . . in Christian America.” In spite of this fact, the church is the best place for change and true brotherly love to begin. Paul wrote, “God has put the body together . . . that the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26, Christian Standard Bible).
Many of our brothers and sisters are suffering from the effects of racism and injustice.
Will you acknowledge that we are all suffering because of racism?
UNITING AGAINST RACISM
Every local church can do more to promote unity and reconciliation in their community.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). How does this happen? Several things must take place. As with all Christians who have been wronged, people of color must be willing to forgive according to Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” At the same time, White America must take ownership, accountability, and responsibility for its continued history of racism, social deprivation, economic bias, and unjust violence perpetrated upon people of color.
The mission of the church includes a willingness to accept the best of each other and the worst of each other. However, this is only the first step. Sincere dialogue with empathy about the plight of each side is needed as well. We believe this is possible and we pray that the deaths and violence that have occurred will be a catalyst for lasting change. If the church can walk in the spirit of Psalm 133, then a new reality can be realized: In the church, “black lives matter” is not primarily a current political movement, it’s an essential part of an eternal spiritual truth.
In this dialogue, the church must be careful to listen before speaking.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
After listening, we need to speak up.
“Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9, CSB).
The church must listen, but at the same time, it cannot be silent. We must strive to live as a unified family made up of diverse ethnicities. Students at our Christian colleges, from various races and nations, come together to worship, pray, study, and enjoy life together. We want them to see that racial unity is possible. With God’s help, the next generation of kingdom workers will be more successful in advocating for justice for all.
Every church leader needs to model sensitivity and action in the face of racial suffering. Today’s Christian college students will learn how to make a difference from the employees who invest in them during their education. Sadly, those students have also witnessed insensitivity and inaction by some church leaders and citizens of their own communities.
“I have heard too many stories of minority graduates and employees who experienced racial profiling by police and undeserved suspicion and criticism by others in multiple states where they have lived, including mid-Missouri while studying for the ministry,” said Dr. David Fincher, president at Central Christian College of the Bible.
Current and future leaders are watching what we will do about this in the coming days.
Will you help our graduates become successful leaders by making productive changes for them to build upon?
Every Christian can connect within the body of Christ and into the world to show empathy and support. Our country is a nation that claims to make one people out of many. The church is, in fact, one family out of many peoples. To find brothers and sisters from other nations, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences, look at your local Christian college campus. Our students love and serve the same God despite their differences and because of their differences. Kingdom workers like them are learning to share God’s good news. You can learn from them and work alongside of them. They can speak at your church, answer your questions, and help reach your community’s diverse cultures.
If your church is 100 percent white, will you let us introduce you to our ethnically diverse students and alumni?
IT BEGINS WITH THE CHURCH
Above all, reconciliation begins in the church.
Paul wrote, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself . . . and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, CSB).
Reconciliation does not have to exist anywhere else, but it must exist in the church. We need to confess the times we have not demonstrated his reconciliation in our colleges, our churches, and our homes.
When we demonstrate reconciliation within the church, Christian college students and graduates can work with you to take that message of reconciliation to a world that otherwise may never see it.