What is racial reconciliation? It depends on who you ask and how one interprets the Bible.
After the Ferguson incident, the killing of a black man by a white police officer, there have been numerous attempts, many by white leaders and pastors, to embrace the concept of racial reconciliation.
From a secular perspective, this sounds great. It even sounds positive from a Christian perspective. What's wrong with a little reconciliation? After all, didn’t Christ reconcile us to God through his Son, Jesus?
It’s a concept that is difficult to define from a Biblical perspective though. Why? Because racial reconciliation is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. While the idea of helping others is mentioned and even commanded, it’s referenced in regard to people in general, neighbors, foreigners, the alien.
The Bible says there is a need for all of us to be reconciled to Christ by his blood, by his payment for sin. It also says there is also that idea that we should be accountable to the poor and needy. But nowhere is there the idea one reconciling of one race to another outside of Christ. Paul often refers to the Christians as a people called apart, marked by him, separate from the world - a holy people. Jesus even calls us to be like him. But being like him never means trying to make society equal by making the races of people equal in opportunity or wealth, etc.
Though this is a flawed concept from this perspective, there seems to be no loss of pastors, leaders who attempt to justify this concept from a Biblical perspective. They are sincere in their attempt to explain and even teach racial reconciliation, no matter how misguided they may be. But there is nothing in the Bible that speaks of a racial reconciliation in the way that leaders are suggesting it be used in the U.S., in regard to perceived or real injustices, whether financial or judicial.
This essay is an attempt to explain this reasoning and the flaws therein. One is from a pastor at The Village Church, Dr. Eric Mason:
“Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace, where there had previously been hostility and alienation. Ordinarily, it also includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony.”
Verses he uses for this are:
Romans 5:10: 10: For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
1 Cor. 5:19: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
and Eph. 2:16 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Here is how he attempts to make the connection:
“One of the great challenges of the aforementioned subject is faults are not dealt with. On the one hand, African-Americans can deal with the issue of bitterness, and whites can deal with not fully confronting the sins of commission that happened in the past overtly and those that are done today covertly. In addition, there can be a response on both sides to walk in a sin of omission, failing to do something good when you know you should do it.”
Here is a summary of his thinking:
Can or should people of a certain race apologize for actions, laws or a societal structure in the past? Certainly, from a Biblical perspective, they should. But needing one race of people to constantly apologize for perceived or real slights help no one and does not help anyone move forward to live a life of “liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as Thomas Jefferson described it, or from a Biblical perspective. It does not help us move past personal injuries or injustices to be at peace with people, as much as it depends on us. It does not help any one of any race to be fruitful in any way either - in prosperity, wisdom, etc.
In other words, a race of people or race of people are not responsible for how someone was treated by a one or a number of police officers over a period of time, nor should it be used from a Biblical sense to talk about how people of different races need to be reconciled. Each person, no matter what race they are, are responsible for their own sin.
Overall, the problem with using the scriptures listed to explain racial reconciliation is that they do not describe reconciling one race of people to another race in any way. They describe how God, through Jesus, reconciled us to the Father, to God, by the death of his Son.
To reconcile is also to even accounts, to make good, to adjust something so that it is even - to pay someone’s debt. It’s an accounting term that is used to describe how an account is paid for. As Jesus life ended on a cross, the payment he made for our sin was finished, or paid in full. But there is nothing we can do that is close to that on earth. We can forgive each other. But more important than forgiving each other is to point each other - people of all races - to Christ.
Furthermore, there seems to be a theme of discounting sin and crime that disproportionately affects white people committed by African-Americans living in inner cities. Unfortunately, this is done by politicians, leaders, and well-meaning pastors. In doing so, pastors (and other leaders) discount crime, sin, and other offenses. In doing so, they diminish the humanity of people - exactly the people they are wanting to help. It’s the your sin, my salvation theme: white sin, black salvation. White people are responsible for black sin; white people are responsible for black crime.
Again, this contradicts the Bible. One race of people is never responsible for the sin, suffering, exploitation of another race. No one race of people can pay for the sin or errors, etc., of others. Can a nation or tribe or group of people commit a crime against others based on their heritage, color of skin, race. Absolutely. But people are responsible for their own sin. This is a distinction of Christianity. While people in leadership should be responsible for their own actions, people who are the same race as that person are not. This would be like saying the judge in the 19th century, or the court who decided that a black person was less than human should be punished for that decision. But not just him, his descendants as well - his grandchildren. It would be a ridiculous suggestion. As a matter of example, that's where we are today. That's how irrational and unreasonable thinking about this subject has become.
In other religions, people are responsible for others, and their sin and shame. In India, historically, the Indian wife was responsible to her husband for his death. It was her responsibility to die when her husband died. Her life no longer had value when he died. The result is that she threw herself on a funeral pyre and burned to death.
When the British saw this practice, they were horrified. Eventually, it was outlawed. But what is happening in the U.S., with the racial codependence, is actually similar to what happened in India. Many pastors or community leaders, activists, preach a racial codependence, so one race is dependent on the other race. One race is essentially paralyzed by the other race similar to what was practiced in Indian culture, between a husband and a wife. This is practiced in Islam as well, where one person's shame, usually a girl or women, shames the entire family, group or community. It has to be paid for. But instead of allowing Jesus to take the familial shame - giving it to him - they make the this person pay for it. This idea of sharing sin, or one person paying for a family's sin is not part of Christianity. If so, there was no reason for Jesus to die on a cross.
Again, the idea that one race for any reason, could someone be reconciled to another by any other means, financially, socially, is really not Biblical. The closest thing we have in the New Testament is for us to treat each other as the Samaritan treated the wounded man on the road. But this is treating our neighbor as our self , or how Christ would treat them.
Jesus did not say “See those Samaritans. They are disadvantaged. You Jews have more privilege than they do. Make sure they have as much privilege that you do. Make sure society is equalized, so everybody has the same advantage.”
He could have said that. But he didn't. When the tax collector came to Jesus, he did not tell him to make sure that other people groups have the same advantages that he has. Why didn’t he say that? Because it’s no one person’s responsibility to make sure that happens. It’s also no one race of people’s responsibility to do that either.
In Acts (Acts 6:1) some of the people were grumbling because they were being treated differently than other people; the Greek speaking people were not being treated the same as the Hebrew - speaking people.
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic (Greek) Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”
What this does not describe is forcing a a taxation on people to equalize income, or a Communist system of destroying the structure of buying and selling goods and services so that everyone can be as rich (or poor) as everyone else. It also does not hold up any example of privilege for Christians to feel guilty about. Holding up a standard like that to use to berate Christians is compromising the gospel. This would mean instituting an end justifies the means ethic:
“See these people. They are poor. You are rich. That’s not right. Also, they don’t feel good because people have been investing the the community, and they can’t afford the housing that is being developed.”
Does that mean that Christians should not start ministries to help people who are disadvantaged? No. There are numerous groups that were started to do just that: Salvation Army, Red Cross, Prison Fellowship, Habitat for Humanity all were started by Christians to help people. What they do not do is attempt to equalize or compare people to other people who have more wealth than they do.
Dr Mason lives in a neighborhood that is gentrified, a poor area that has been redeveloped. He walks the neighborhood and discovers that they feel slighted. Where is the connection between this and Nehemiah? It's completely understandable that some people might feel slighted. The problem is when we, Christians start telling people that they are sinning or should feel guilty by moving to a neighborhood. What if Christians live in a high rise? What if they live in an area that has no blacks? Are they supposed to move there? This is really just replacing the Bible with human effort.
Dr. Mason wrote this in 2012. There are lots of gentrified areas in cities in the U.S. In areas of San Francisco and other cities the problem of gentrification is particularly bad. Poor areas are redeveloped and the people living there can no longer afford to live there. The issue is whether the people who move into the area have any financial responsibility to people who live there. Should people who move into high rise lofts in the city be required to meet with people who live there and pay them money? It would not be a good idea for a number of reasons. Should Christians there make an effort to help people living near them? Yes. But should they be made to feel guilty simply because someone of another race is not as wealthy as they are, or says they don't trust them? No.
If gentrification were the worse sin that is being perpetrated on people living in areas of inner cities, it would be great. Sadly, blacks living in inner cities have to contend with crime against them by people who look just like them, people who are also poor, and their neighbors. It's important not to add guilt or condemnation to the problem by placing additional burdens on people simply because of where they live, how wealthy they are and their race. We must confront the problem of crime and suffering in the world. But it’s just as important for pastors to accurately interpret the Bible and what it says about injustice, reconciliation and society.
© 2018 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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