The Heresy of an Unreconciled Church

Hi bloggers,

Several people responded to my most recent blog by contrasting what I wrote with the “hostility” and “venom” they were reading on some white conservative Christian blogs the day following the election. While most other Americans — even most opponents of Obama’s politics — were celebrating what Obama’s election means for race relations in this country, these white Christians, I was told, were enraged.

While I think this is tragically sad, I’m actually not surprised.

I attended a great conference on racial reconciliation for churches in the Twin Cities several weeks ago. One of the seminars was conducted by Michael Emerson, a professor of sociology and author of Divided by Faith. Among the issues he explored was the issue of why the evangelical church on the whole has made no progress bridging the racial divide in our churches.

He started by referencing a wealth of research that shows that religion in general tends to intensify the “us-versus-them” mindset that characterizes (or better, “afflicts”) all social groups. As a result, religion tends to intensify stereotypes of “outsiders” and make the “insiders” wary of them. Emerson then referenced studies that reveal that evangelical churches tend to be the most segregated segment of American society. (I don’t recall the specifics, but the stats were very depressing!)

One of the sad but unavoidable conclusions Emerson drew from this combination of studies was that participating in a homogenous church — as the vast majority of white evangelicals do — actually makes people more prone toward racism. Folks who are strongly bound to homogenous religous groups tend to embrace racial stereotypes and be more wary of people whose ethnicity and culture is different from their own than those who don’t. As a result, participating in homogenous religious groups tends to make people less interested in, and less adept at, making progress at bridging the racial divide.

In this light, it’s not surprising that some white evangelicals were enraged over Obama’s victory while so much of the rest of the country was celebrating it. Arguably, no group in America is at one and the same time more invested in political opinions that oppose Obama and less able to appreciate the significance of his racial achievement than this group.

This would amount to nothing more than a curious sociological observation except for one thing: white evangelicals are among those who are supposed to be demonstrating to the world the beauty of racial reconciliation! One of the reasons Jesus gave his life was to form “one new humanity” in which all racial, cultural and class walls have been torn down (Eph. 2:14-15; Gal. 3:26-29). Racial reconciliation isn’t some sort of “politically correct” addendum to the Gospel: it’s part of its very essence! If Jesus died to create “one new humanity,” then manifesting a community in which people of different ethnicities are learning to love, understand and do life with one another is as mandatory for the church as is preaching the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus also died for.

So too, if refusing to preach the forgiveness of sins is heresy, then so is the refusal to passionately engage in racial reconciliation.

And in this light, we have to confess that the evangelical church in America is, to a large extent, guilty of heresy…as perhaps are some of those who were spewing venom after Obama’s election.

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