A group of animals gathers at a water hole: A lion drinks next to a zebra. An ostrich runs alongside a lioness. A meerkat dives from a giraffe’s head into the water, then climbs onto a crocodile’s back—predators and prey at play.
No, this is not the scene of the peaceable kingdom Isaiah describes (11:6-9). It’s a television commercial for Travelers Insurance.
The world embraces diversity and equality, especially to promote and sell products. Biblically, the church has an even greater motive to pursue these values.
In the peaceable kingdom, we see diverse relationships based on submission to the will of God. We see unity. The predator and prey lie down together. We see peace. A child will lead the calf, the lion, and the yearling together. We see equality. The lion will eat straw like the ox. We see a lack of fear. The infant plays near the cobra’s hole. We see a sense of completeness. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
Now, more than ever, the church needs to reflect these qualities of God’s kingdom so the world can glimpse life as God intends it to be.
Let’s look at our present reality within the Christian Reformed Church.
We’ve progressed on some fronts: a growing number of Christian Reformed churches are requesting assistance in becoming culturally aware and intelligent. They want to connect more effectively with people of color in order to fully reflect the diversity of their communities. (I would suggest that’s part of becoming healthy congregations, a CRC emphasis.) Some of our agencies are creating successful cross-cultural, collaborative ministries.
Yet we still struggle with attitudes, policies, and structures that continue to be barriers for people of color. For example, 40 years ago, 11 a.m. on Sunday morning was considered the most segregated hour of the week. More often than not, that’s still true today.
Yes, many white church members today want to worship and fellowship with their black, First Nations, and Hispanic neighbors. Our desire for multicultural worship is good. But it’s one thing to worship and fellowship with people of color and quite another to desire them as leaders and pastors.
You’re probably aware that there are many Christian Reformed churches without pastors. What you may not realize is that it’s not for a lack of people of color available for a call.
Outside of the local congregation, we still fail to fill senior leadership positions in denominational structures with people of color. I say this not to make white people feel guilty; I say it so that we will all take responsibility for not including people of color, and I say it so that we will all work toward changing attitudes, structures, and policies that still negatively impact our brothers and sisters.
We cannot ignore the dramatic cultural diversity rapidly defining 21st-century North America. Challenges of racial/ethnic diversity will not go away but instead become more and more urgent. Some suggest that we should “just preach the gospel” or that we should “just be missional.” But our gospel witness is much more complex than that.
Diversity plays a vital role in building God’s kingdom. The sin of racism that divides us persists not only in society but also in the church. It is so all-encompassing that we call it “the corporate sin of racism,” and it has left its spiritual mark on us.
It’s no secret that the North American economy was built on free land stolen from First Nations’ people and free labor kidnapped from Africa. Yet we remain perplexed as to how to address the injustices that our brothers and sisters continue to experience.
Because the church in North America has had a long history of complicity in the sin of racism, it’s urgent that we address justice, reconciliation, and unity. The present time is more than an opportunity to engage God’s call for reform and reconciliation—it is our destiny (see Rev. 5 and 7).
We cannot base diversity primarily on tolerance. We must base it on the unity that our triune God values, loves, and demands of us. The integrity of our witness as part of the universal church of Jesus Christ is at stake.
The CRC has publically proclaimed that “the uniting of all things in Jesus Christ is at the heart of God’s eternal plan for the ages” (principle 5, God’s Diverse and Unified Family). That’s the vision Isaiah is getting at: “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).
While God’s value and love for diversity drive us, God’s Spirit and power inspire us. We serve a God who reveals his work through events that overthrow human expectations.
Where we see situations as hopeless, God disrupts our thinking. He surprises us. Consider, for example, the stories of Peter, Philip, and Paul in the book of Acts. God used them as instruments to turn their world upside-down for racial inclusion. Indeed, God can use us too.
God calls us not only to proclaim our identity in Christ, but also to teach and model our identity in Christ. He calls us to create and maintain a posture of inclusion and integration—to pursue equitable practices at all levels of his church.
The God we serve clearly shows us his ideal for the church. Our attention to racial diversity is not simply a matter of inviting participation; it is a lens into our essential tasks of missions, ministry, discipleship, and transformation.
Our God is an awesome God!
A Place to Start
The following resources can help us go deeper in understanding the effects of racism:
- Inheriting the Trade (Beacon Press) and Traces of the Trade (PBS) by Thomas Norman DeWolf
- RACE—The Power of an Illusion (PBS)
- Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide by Barbara Trepagnier (Paradigm Publishers)
- Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations by Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas (Between the Lines)
- The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah (IVP Books).
Actions to consider:
- Notice what ethnic groups are missing from your workplace, neighborhood, church, and social groups.
- Speak up when you hear someone make a racist remark.
- Get to know coworkers or neighbors from different ethnic groups.
- Think about why people find it so difficult to talk about racism in an ethnically mixed group.
- Develop effective listening and cross-cultural communication skills.
- Form a group to talk about racism, or join with others who are taking active steps to overcome it.
12 Biblical Principles . . .
In 1992, at the request of participants in the CRC’s Multiethnic Conference, synod (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church) appointed a committee to help the church “articulate biblical and theological principles for the development of a racially and ethnically diverse family of God.” In 1996 the CRC adopted that committee’s report, God’s Diverse and Unified Family, and committed to “reflect[ing] more fully the racial and ethnic diversity of Canada and the United States.”
The report outlines 12 biblical principles, including the following:
- The world as God created it is rich and God-glorifying in its diversity.
- The unity and diversity of the human race and of created reality reflect the unity and diversity of the triune God (namely, his oneness and threeness).
- A fundamental effect of sin is the breakdown of community.
- Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another are inseparable in God’s saving work.
- The church is God’s strategic vehicle for embodying, proclaiming, and promoting the unity and diversity of the new creation.