This is the second of a multi-part series on racial integration in the church. For the first post, click here.
In our day, racial unity speaks in a way that few other things can. Gathering large, like-minded audiences around engaging speakers and great music is not a manifestation of God’s wisdom–political conventions and sports events do that all the time. But when you have a group of people who have little in common other than a love for Jesus and an experience of grace—that speaks to the world. That sort of supra-cultural unity “manifests” God’s wisdom and power to the world.
The opposite is true here as well. A group of similar individuals gathering together at best raises no eyebrows, and at worst reinforces the perception that Christians are divisive, elitist, or xenophobic. Our country as a whole has made some great strides toward racial integration, and pockets of our society now recognize how important this sort of reconciliation is. It would be an indictment against Christianity if we were to find ourselves less integrated than our surrounding culture.
Bill Hybels once told me that if he had to do everything over again, he would make racial integration a Willow Creek value from the very beginning. I asked him if he would do it, knowing that he would never be able to grow Willow as large as he had. Without blinking, he said, “Absolutely.” I pressed him: “You would be willing to reach less people just so your church could be a picture of diversity?” Hybels replied, “The corporate witness of racially diverse churches in America would be more powerful than a number surge in any one congregation.”
Racial integration gives us a foretaste of heaven, a “sign” of the coming Kingdom. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, lists racial integration as one of the things that made the early church distinct from other religious groups and led to its rapid growth. Local churches were the one place in the Roman Empire where differing races actually got along. Their racial harmony gave them a chance to explain that Jesus was not only a Jew, but the Lord of all humanity, the Savior of all races. If we downplay the issue of race today, we are actually denying this key theological truth.
Humanity has a common problem, sin, and a common Savior, Jesus. Racial integration in a church, where our common humanity and common salvation are put on display, glorifies the firstborn of all creation. And no matter how impressive our evangelistic appeals may be otherwise, if we fail to cross ethnic, cultural, and racial lines, then we lose the power of this message.