Racial Reconciliation and the Hope of the Gospel

The recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have led to an outcry of deep lament in the Black community, one that White people everywhere are beginning to wake up to—Black Americans are hurting, and they’ve also always been hurting. The deep divide between Black and White is full of heartbreak, with the Black community shouldering the weight of that pain, the heavy burden of victimization in American history, and, of course, forgiveness. With grandmas and granddads still alive that remember the hose and the dogs and the protests of the civil rights movement, there is small hope for healing and an end to enmity apart from the gospel.

But in all my time spent online this last month, listening to the voices of Black people, reading white responses, trying to be a part of the conversation with my own brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to understand the Black experience and lovingly support them, I saw very little of the gospel being preached as a prerequisite, even from Christians.

The gospel can be summarized in Titus 3:4-7,

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Instead, the majority (but not all) of what I encountered was the social gospel, applying ethics and worldly moralism apart from faith in Jesus. And it will never work. If the true gospel is not central to our efforts towards racial reconciliation, there is no power to transform the heart. There is no true change, only hypocrisy and judgement and fear.

The gospel must be preached. People everywhere must repent, no matter the color of their skin, and turn to Jesus Christ, the only name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12).  We will all be cast into hell apart from the saving grace of Christ Jesus, who suffered and died in order that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

A deep wound is being exposed right now, and it’s an opportunity for the church to lead in repentance, to become the Good Samaritan that Jesus so powerfully portrays in Luke 10:25-37. Isn’t that how God has treated us? It is not only an illustration of how to love others generally, it is also an accurate portrayal of God’s redeeming love for us, that while we were his enemies, separated from a holy God because of our sin and without hope, he sent his son to be the rescue that we needed. We don’t know how to love until we have experienced the love of Christ, so unlike fickle worldly love. This is why the command to love God comes first—only then can we turn and fulfill the second, and love our neighbor without insincerity, or eye-service, or because society demands it. We love because we’ve been loved and redeemed by our savior. May we never stop proclaiming it! It is the only end to the violence and hatred we are seeing on our news feed.

And because of the gospel, there is great hope. It is not so with the world’s philosophy, always changing and never fixing. Practically speaking, we must still advocate for policy change, listen to the needs of the Black community, educate ourselves on their experience, call out racism when we see it, and seek to be an ally for change, but we keep the gospel central, knowing that racial reconciliation is a result of sinners being saved. If we lose that, then we lose our hope, and drown in the ever shifting current of opinions, trading eternal truth for a bandaid, some quick fix.

Jesus Christ is the answer to racial division, to strife, and to every form of hatred towards our fellow man. The gospel in Titus 3:4-7 is preceded by this (v. 3), “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” This is what the gospel of Christ frees us from, and it is only then that we can truly live for others. To work our way backwards in these verses even more is how we’re called to respond within a society, Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (v. 1-2).

This is what the gospel empowers us to do. Jesus is the only one who can bridge the gap between black and white, and he did it by dying on a cross for our sin, reconciling people from every nation, color, and background to himself, uniting all people groups for all time in his body, the church. It is our hope today and always.

Lauren Heller is a wife and mother, raising a blended family in the heart of southern Illinois. She is a happy member of Vine Church in Carbondale, and is passionate about God’s word and seeing it embraced in the lives of women, especially in the local church. She enjoys making things with her hands and keeping home and mothering and writing during nap time. You can follow her journey on Instagram @elle_heller.