How Do We Pursue Racial Integration? A Theological Proposal

This is the last of a multi-part series on racial integration in the church. For the previous post, click here.

I have sometimes heard the concept of a “third race” as a theological solution to the problem of racial integration within Christian churches. Essentially, this view seeks to define a Christian not as black or white (or Asian or Arab), but as a third race—Christian. The distinctions that the world would use to classify us into two different races are dwarfed by the fact that in Christ, there is no “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal 3:28).

Paul even said that to the Jew he “became a Jew” (1 Cor 9:20). How could that be? After all, Paul was a Jew. But his ethnic identity was not his primary identity anymore: it was something he felt he could take on and off, like a garment. His “third race” (being in Christ) was more permanent and more central to his identity.

Paul says elsewhere that those of us who are in Christ are bound together into one body, making us “one new man” (Eph 2:11–22). Paul never ceased to identify with his Jewish and Roman background, using either when it served the purpose of the gospel (cf. Acts 21:39; 22:25, 1 Cor 9:20). But his Christian identity was weightier to him than his race.

As I have often said at our church, the problem is not always that our desires are wrong, but that they are too weighty for us. The Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod, which literally means “weight.” When we give glory to something, we are assigning weight to that thing. So we might believe all the right doctrines about Jesus, but in our daily lives, we are tempted to make Jesus “light” and other things “heavy.” That is the root of all idolatry.

Whites can never cease to be white, nor blacks black. But our identity in Christ should be weightier to us than our ethnic identity. That means that our purpose with integration is not to create one culture-less race. We should retain and celebrate our “1st race,” but recognize that our 3rd race outweighs it (as I illustrated in this post). This makes unity in the church possible. It is not that our ethnicities are unimportant to us, but that they are not as weighty as our “in Christness.” There is nothing sinful about our race, our ethnicity, or our culture; we simply possess a unity that goes much deeper than these things.

For too many of us, our race can become an idol. It takes on too much weight and makes Jesus look lightweight. The answer is not to make our racial identity lighter in our eyes, but to consider Jesus as even more weighty. Racial bigotry is uprooted like every other type of idolatry, by fixating on the grace of Christ and allowing his love to transform every aspect of our identity from the inside out. This alone makes unity in the church possible, since it is a unity that goes deeper than cultural styles and preferences. When our identity in Christ outweighs our racial identity, then we begin to display the “manifest wisdom of God” that we call the gospel (Eph 3:10).

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