“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). This is wisdom that rings true for much of life. But when it comes to race relations, particularly in my United States of America, I pray (and know confidently from Scripture) that one day those words will no longer describe the racial climate I find myself immersed in. For me to feel the intensity of it all is really something. I’m a white male, and I have the privilege of being able to put thinking about my skin color to bed most days, while those of another ethnicity are kept awake at night. I am never subjected to criticism, slander, threats, or violence on the basis of my whiteness. I don’t fear for my life when pulled over. There are no pictures of my ancestors being treated inhumanely.
RECONCILIATION: ESCHATALOGICAL IDEAL OR PRESENT DAY REALITY?
“Racial reconciliation” has for a long time seemed a nice thought that makes sense on paper. I read it implicitly in Scripture and wholeheartedly agree:
- David writes about the pleasantness of Christian unity (Ps. 133:1).
- Paul tells of Christ’s breaking down the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14), and
- John foretells the forthcoming multitude of nations and tribes and peoples and languages, present before the Lamb of God himself (Rev. 7:9).
These are common Scriptural principles, but they’ve always seemed like an ideal. Racial reconciliation has always been something I’ve had more of an eschatological hope for, an eager anticipation to see take place one thankfully glorious, but sorrowfully distant day.
Martin Luther King Jr., the prophetic leader of the Civil Rights Movement, did not see racial reconciliation in the same light. Of course, he looked forward to the day when the sins of racism, prejudice, and ethnocentrism would pass away forever, but Dr. King never viewed racial reconciliation as limited to the future—he saw it as a mission for the present day. Dr. King’s words, penned in the famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, highlight King’s focus on the need for current reform:
“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues with which the Gospel has no real concern.’ . . . The judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
I am horrified to ponder what Dr. King would say of our churches today.