by J. D. Greer, Pastor of The Summit Church, author, and theologian
Our goal is not just the elimination of racism; it is the achievement of diversification
Whenever the topic of diversity comes up, a lot of people silently think, “Well, I’m not a racist. So, I’m good on this!” But the point is not simply that you not be a racist (hooray for you). The point is to have integrated your life with others who are not like you as a demonstration of the beauty of the gospel.
When God wanted to overcome Peter’s racism, he didn’t just tell him to quit being racist. He told him to embrace Cornelius, to go in and eat with him, to worship with him.
If your metric for success here is really, “Avoid being a racist,” you need to ask whether the full measure of the gospel is manifest in your life.
Each us of us must elevate his or her ‘third race’ .
The “first race” is whatever race you happen to be. “Second race” is the reference point for those unlike you. For the early church, the two races that entered the discussion were predominantly Jew and Gentile. Here in the U.S., there are dozens of “first” and “second” races. What God does in his church is not to abolish either race, but to initiate a third race, an identity that becomes weightier than any other racial identification.
God is not colorblind, nor should we be. I will always be a white Christian. It makes sense that I fit most naturally within my culture. But in Christ, our third race makes the first two races pale in significance. It makes unity possible because it is a unity that goes deeper than cultural styles and preferences.
The Apostle Paul is an interesting example of this. He said that to the Jews he “became a Jew.” But how? He was born Jewish, so he wouldn’t have to “become” anything to them. Here’s the key: Paul saw his Jewish identity as so “light” that he could take it on and off like a garment. His third race—in Christ—was weightier to him than his ethnicity.
Realize that it is not just about the music.
It is surprising how popular the myth is that music drives diversity. One author calls this myth the “musical buffet theory.” Do you want black people in your church? Play gospel music. Want Latinos?” Play salsa music. Not only does this sort of mentality reinforce the differences between us—many of them based on unfair stereotypes—it also nearly never works. Music matters, but many other things matter much more.
Realize that it is about the music.
This seems to be the biggest sticking point! On one side, there are those who feel that people who are not expressive in worship are not connecting their posture to their hearts and not giving God what he is due. They point out that we scream our heads off at football games, but won’t do the same for the God of the universe. And to that concern I say, “Valid.”
On the other side, there are those who feel like aggressively “charismatic” worship leaders play on emotion, building crowd dynamics, and then unjustifiably label that “the Spirit.” And to that I say, “Valid.” Loud music, shouting, and a charismatic leader can get a crowd worked up regardless of the subject matter. And unbelievers here in RDU are very skeptical of emotional moments they perceive as contrived—especially when you label that “God.”
So which one is right? Amen. What is wrong is for either side to declare the other’s concerns invalid. What we have to do is study our Bibles, and be open to seeing the diversification of our church in experiencing and sitting next to people who worship in different ways than we do. How do you know you’re part of a multicultural church? At some point you feel uncomfortable!
In general, we need to grow…in our expressiveness in worship, especially if we are going to reach people from other cultures. But we also need to be aware that outsiders are very sensitive to what we call “Spirit moments” that are little more than group hysteria.
We must prioritize diverse leadership.
Just like in Acts 13, racially diverse congregations always have racially diverse leadership. We want those on our stage and in positions of leadership to send a welcome signal to people of all races.
Now, whenever you do this, some people object, “Isn’t that just tokenism?” But tokenism, as I see it, is when you either (1) put an unqualified person in a position of leadership simply because of their skin color, or (2) when you have no intention of actually giving away authority and just want a face up front to make it look like your leadership is diverse—when in fact it is not and you have no intention of it being.
Pre-Revelation 5, racial diversification has its limits.
The final vision of humanity (in Revelation 5) has all cultures, tribes, tongues, and nations worshipping around one throne. But we need to keep in mind that our attempts to mirror that final reality are always going to be partial. If for no other reason, language puts barriers between us.
Certain outreaches are best done on homogenous grounds—athletes reaching athletes, professors reaching professors, and yes, one ethnic group reaching those of their own group. That’s not wrong. Christians should always desire and strive for multiculturalism, but we can’t expect the people we’re reaching to be mature in Christ before we reach them—and embracing other cultures is one sign of maturity.
The church gives a sign of Revelation 5; it is not the fulfillment of Revelation 5. In this age, so long as language still separates us, we will never really approximate Revelation 5. The most multi-cultural church in America still holds its services in English, which means that we have homogenized the most defining element of any culture–language. For us to act as if we are somehow achieving Revelation 5 in our churches, or set that as our goal, is a faulty hope.
Candidly, this is where I think a lot of well-intentioned multicultural efforts go wrong. They take what should be a sign and make it the focus, the criteria by which all churches should be judged. If you pastor in a Mid-Western town in which there are literally no non-white people, and you have an all-white congregation, is your church less of a church than a multi-cultural church in Brooklyn? No. It is appropriate for the Brooklyn church to give multi-cultural unity as a sign of the gospel. But multi-cultural is not a defining element of the church in this age. It is a defining element of the universal church in heaven, and where we can give a sign of that on earth, we should.
Multiculturalism is not our primary goal; gospel proclamation is.
Multiculturalism simply isn’t a grand enough vision to sustain a church. The Great Commission is about making disciples, so we balance our efforts at diversification with reaching the majority community around us. If diversification becomes the one factor that determines whether you think a church is legitimate or not, then diversity has taken on too much weight and has become an idol, displacing God. Multiculturalism is the fruit of the gospel, not the gospel itself.
We must devote ourselves to humility and patience.
Humility means we must be quick to hear and slow to speak. I hear some white people talk about the racial situation in our country as if minorities should just “get over it.” But that lacks humility. I’ve had to learn from my non-white friends what it means to be a part of the majority race. For instance, I have a young son, but I’ll never have to sit him down and tell him how to overcome the stereotypes people will have about him when he walks in a room, simply because of his race. I’ll never have to coach him in overcoming racism the way my African American friends and fathers have to. “White privilege” is a reality, and that requires humility.
On the other side, we will also need a lot of patience. I’m still working through these issues, and I know a lot of very well meaning people (myself included) who have said some really dumb things. We’ll continue to say them, too. But as a body of Christ, we’re one family, and we need to be patient with our family members as we are learning together.
Give the “benefit of the doubt” whenever you can.
This is a good rule of thumb in general, but is especially relevant in racial discussions: Assume the best about others’ intentions until they prove they have bad ones.
If you assume everyone in the church is racist, you’ll find evidence of it everywhere. As our Pastor of Counseling says, “If you’re scared of snakes, every stick in the woods looks like a snake.” But assuming racist motives doesn’t help us grow together as one body, and it certainly won’t change racist attitudes that do exist.
What if you give people the benefit of the doubt, and it turns out they have bad motives? As Paul reminds us, love covers a multitude of sins. Carrying yourself with grace will do more to change our society than crying foul at every possible point.
Is there racism in our society? Yes. Is it in our church? Yes. It is wicked, it is sinful, and we need to repent of it. But the way forward in Christ is found through grace, not condemnation. As one pastor recently reminded us, if we are secure in our identity in Christ, it won’t offend us as much when others think less of us.
Acknowledge that your sinful flesh is racist.
Racism isn’t a white thing, or a black thing, or a Latino thing, or an Asian thing. It’s a sinful, depraved, human heart thing, and we all have that in common. As [Puritan theologian] John Owen said, “The seed of every sin is in every human heart.” The less we admit this to ourselves, the greater our blindness. We each need to acknowledge the racism in our hearts, and repeatedly posture ourselves in repentance.
Martin Luther said that all of a Christian’s life is one of repentance. If you have not repented of your racist pride, it’s not because you are free from this sin; it’s because you’re blind to it.
Some of us should consider multicultural engagement a “calling.”
A “calling” to multicultural engagement, like a calling to missions, is something that all believers are expected to participate in, but that certain believers will pursue with spirited intentionality. Some of us need to hear the voice of the Spirit and make this our cause. As [one pastor] said recently, it makes no sense to go 10,000 miles across the globe to reach people of other cultures, but not 10 miles across our own city.
This may be a special calling for some, but we all need to take steps to make this a reality in our lives. We must intentionally form relationships with people outside of our comfort zones, or it simply won’t happen…”Don’t go to multi-cultural events; live a multi-cultural life.”
We are in a kairos moment regarding race.
I do believe this is a “kairos” moment for [the Church]. The racial harmonization that we see sentimentally portrayed in films and on television is simply not accurate. We aren’t going to unite by repeating key phrases like “diversity” and “equality.” Something greater has to unite us, and as Christians, we have a chance to demonstrate what real, amazing, gospel-centered unity looks like.
There is one race, the human race; one problem, sin; one savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; and one hope, the resurrection. Church, let’s not stand in God’s way as he draws the cultures of the world together in one diverse body.
 I am indebted to many sources for the insights here, but most significantly, I acknowledge Gerardo Marti (http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/gerardo-marti-on-successful-multicultural-churches/), Norman Peart (Separate No More), Curtiss DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim (United by Faith, and One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches).
 I first heard this from D.A. Carson at The Gospel Coalition.