All Together Now: A Theology and Strategy for Race Relations
Racism is a dirty word. Billy Graham referred to it as a “deadly poison” , Jefferson Edwards, Jr. a “cancer” . Despite a difficult history, efforts have been made in recent decades to correct yesterday’s wrongs. Some of these have been cultural, others political, and still others social. These notwithstanding, Christians should know what the Scriptures state about race relations. Though the whole testimony of Scripture speaks to the issue, this essay will explore in particular Paul’s theology of race relations as demonstrated in Ephesians.
Reconciliation: Vertical & Horizontal
Paul constructs a two-pronged argument for his theology of race relations:
(1) Christ accomplished reconciliation between a holy God and sinful man by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
(2) Therefore, by following Christ’s example, Christians too should seek reconciliation among other members of the human race, irrespective of culture, ethnicity, gender, or any other classification.
First, Christ has reconciled God and man in His redemption. “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:7), writes Paul. Second, the purpose for this reconciliation is to “reconcile us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (2:16). Although the “us” refers particularly to Jew and Gentiles in this passage, it refers more broadly to all races and dividing characteristics in Pauline theology (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11) . Jarvis Williams puts it this way: “All races…need to be reconciled first to God and second to one another” (cf. Jn. 17:22; Col. 1:15; 3:9-11) .
In other words, unity within the body of Christ is of the utmost importance. Christ prayed for it (Jn. 17:11; cf. Jn. 17:20-21), and Paul wrote about it (Eph. 2:14). No longer are believers “strangers and aliens” to one another, but “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19). All believers, of all nationalities and races, “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:22) with “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (2:20).
As persons who have been reconciled to God, believers have a duty to seek reconciliation with others. This is part of what it means to be “holy and blameless” (1:4). It is why Paul describes believers as “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…that we should walk in them” (2:10). Reconciliation is the work for which God has prepared His children.
Two Foundations: Soteriological & Eschatological
Before exploring further the purpose and the implications of Paul’s argument, consider first two foundations upon which Paul bases it. First, Paul constructs his theology of race relations on a soteriological foundation. In other words, a proper theology of race relations is tied to the believer’s salvation . Paul begins Ephesians 2 by contrasting the believer’s pre-conversion life with his post-conversion life. In the former, we were “sons of disobedience” and “by nature children of wrath” (2:1-3); in the latter, God “made us alive together with Christ” (2:5). The reason that salvation is even possible is because Christ first accomplished reconciliation on the cross. Reconciliation therefore is built into the very fabric of the believer’s post-conversion existence.
Second, Paul constructs his theology of race relations on an eschatological foundation. This is tied to the believer’s present and future hope in Christ. Paul writes, “But God…raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:4, 6-7). Christ accomplished reconciliation between God and man on the cross, thereby making sure “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (1:14). Therefore, reconciliation is also tied to the “hope to which he has called [believers]” (1:18).
The Telos of Racial Reconciliation: Creation Theology & End Times
As seen, a proper theology of race relations rests upon the believer’s salvation and hope in Christ. Yet the question remains as to its purpose. The purpose of racial reconciliation is tied to God’s broader mission to restore all of creation. Paul states emphatically that the purpose of this reconciliation is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). This is how the world existed pre-fall, and it is how it will exist in the age to come. The whole testimony of Scripture affirms this basic point.
In the beginning, God created “man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27)—what Mitchell refers to as the “imprint of God” and the “stamp of the divine” . The imago Dei principle establishes the basic dignity and equality of all humankind, and “connects us theologically to each and every person” . J. Daniel Hays comments:
[T]he creation of humans in the image of God has far-reaching implications for how we view each other and how we treat each other…[It is] the basic foundational premise for a theology of race: all people are created in the image of God. This gives every individual of every race in the world a remarkable status before God. It demolishes every theory of racial superiority or racial inferiority .
In the end, “the nations” will walk by the New Jerusalem’s light (Rev. 21:24; cf. 21:9-27), and will be healed by the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2; cf. 22:1-5). Hays describes the scene: “The picture of God’s people at the climax of history portrays a multi-ethnic congregation from every tribe, language, people, and nation, all gathered together in worship around God’s throne” .
Implications: A “New Man” and a “New Cultural Politic”
After presenting his argument, establishing a foundation, and alluding to the ultimate goal, Paul explains what this means for believers. What is it that this reconciliation accomplishes? Reconciliation of the vertical kind will necessarily create that of the horizontal kind, resulting in a “new man” and a “new cultural politic” .
Paul states, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us one…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two” (2:14, 15). The word “that” indicates purpose. Christ accomplished reconciliation between God and man that He might establish it between man and man. Garnett Reid asks readers to not “miss the emphasis here on ‘one’ (w. 14, 15, 16, 18)” . The “new man” concept is central to Paul’s theology of race relations; Hays even describes it as the “centrepiece of Paul’s argument concerning unity” .
As a result, believers “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:22). T. B. Maston remarks, “If God is no respecter of persons, if he shows no partiality, our ultimate goal should be the elimination of all partiality, prejudice, and discrimination from our lives” . The new man created in Christ gives no consideration to differences of skin color, socio-economic status, or gender; but by engendering the new cultural politic, the new man gives consideration only to Christ. As Paul puts it, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11) .
Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?
Such a rich theology should produce right practice. Because Christ has accomplished reconciliation, His followers should also seek reconciliation. Theology notwithstanding, modern Christians often make one of two responses. First, some are altogether ashamed of their past: “How could the same persons who proclaimed Christ’s salvation also support chattel slavery?” these will ask. A second group takes the opposite extreme, suggesting that they take none of the blame: “I wasn’t there; I didn’t do it” .
Irrespective of our guilt-feelings or physical absence from these events, the fact remains that past sins still result in present hurts that are real and that need healing. Foremost our duty as Christians is to Christ’s Gospel, and henceforth reconciliation. The Gospel of Christ does not teach one of blameworthiness or excuses, but love. Christ did not commit any of the sins for which He died; yet He identified with our sins and thus established reconciliation between God and man.
The practical application of this theology can be difficult, particularly in light of the broken and tattered history of race discrimination in America. Although segregation does not plague our land as it once did, it still has a foothold in society and in the church . The truth is that biblical reconciliation cannot be achieved by human effort alone. Rather, Christians may place their confidence in Christ. Paul did! He explains that it is by “the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power toward us who believe” and “the working of his great might” (Eph. 1:19). It is significant that this is the same power and might with which God “worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (1:20). Richard Land comments: “In Christ Jesus we can be made new. In Christ we can be healed and liberated from our past” .
Thus, Christians should embody Paul’s theology of race relations. How can we do this? First, we discuss, teach, and preach a biblical theology of race relations. As Paul makes clear, a proper theology of race relations is tied intricately to our very salvation and hope in Christ. “We do fool ourselves, however, if we believe that in only addressing the hurts that come from racism we will help eliminate it” . So second, we live it. This will take on many manifestations. Maybe it means starting a conversation or friendship with someone of a different race; maybe it means not making racist jokes, or even laughing at them . Whatever the case, we must start somewhere. As Hays puts it, “[T]he issue is not just thinking racial equality, but doing racial equality” (emphasis his) .
Indeed, theology is a faithful guide to life. It provides the Christian a basis to stand above his sinful past, including his cultural prejudices. Paul presents a clear theology of race relations in his epistle to the Ephesians. Because Christ has effected reconciliation between God and man, believers should seek reconciliation amongst other members of the human race. May such a rich orthodoxy have an impact on our orthopraxy.
 Billy Graham, “Statement Against Racism,” Baptists Against Racism: Addresses and Papers Delivered at the International Summit of Baptists Against Racism and Ethnic Conflict, Denton Lotz (ed.) (McLean, Virginia: The Baptist World Alliance, 1999), 181. This conference took place January 8-11, 1999 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
 Jefferson D. Edwards Jr., Purging Racism from Christianity: Freedom & Purpose Through Identity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 117.
 Further, believers of different races are co-heirs to salvation (1:5; cf. Mk. 3:35; Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 3:26); thus it follows that there should be no hostility between the races. “[T]he individuals from all tribes, languages, peoples, and nations who believe are all justified in the same manner and are thus equal co-heirs of the kingdom of equal members of the body of Christ” [J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 199].
 Jarvis J. Williams, One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2010), 3.
Glenn Carson provocatively makes a similar point when he writes, “Division among Christians is a sickening evil, filled with many evils. It is anti-Christian…anti-scriptural…[and] anti-natural…It is as if Christ were cutting off parts of himself and throwing them away from the rest of his body!…[T]he fractured nature of the body is a scandal [Glenn Thomas Carson, Douglas A. Foster, et al (ed.), One Church: A Bicentennial Celebration of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration & Address (Abilene, Texas: Leafwood Publishers, 2008), 43, 45].
 It should be noted that salvation is by faith alone, and not the result of works (Eph. 2:9-11). This notwithstanding, faith without works is dead, as James puts it (Jas. 2:14-26), and as Paul illustrates it (Eph. 2:1-22).
 Beverly Eileen Mitchell, Plantations and Death Camps: Religion, Ideology, and Human Dignity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 42, 43.
 Mitchell, 49.
 Hays, 51, 62-63. Beverly Mitchell simply writes that this principle implies “that each person be treated with respect and honor” [Mitchell, 43].
 Ibid., 205 (cf. 200).
 Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 271.
 Garnett Reid, “One New Man: Ephesians 2:11-22 (Green Tree Bible Study),” Contact (May 2003), 26. See also Robert E. Picirilli, “The Reconciling Work of Christ (Green Tree Bible Study),“ Contact (December 1984), 15.
 Hays, 190.
 T. B. Maston, The Bible And Race (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1959), 48.
 DeYong Notes “Paul did not promote a theology of oneness that encouraged the loss of one’s own culture of origin, or the assimilation into another group’s culture” [Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, et al, United by Faith: The Multicultural Congregation As An Answer to the Problem of Race (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 155].
 Yet this is the very thing we must not say. It is not the precedent of Scripture. In some way, believers identify with the sins of their forbearers and their people. Moses spoke to the Israelites just before they entered Canaan, “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God” (Deut. 1:26), despite the fact that it was their fathers who committed this sin. Nehemiah prayed to God, “I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you” (Neh. 1:6), despite the fact that he was in Susa when the Jews who committed these sins were in Jerusalem (cf. Neh. 1:1-3). Daniel made a similar prayer, “[W]e have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (Dan. 9:5).
 Historically, Free Will Baptists were on the frontlines in fighting racism and in establishing biblical race relations. David Crowe writes, “They voted in 1835, ‘Slavery is an unjust infringement of the dearest rights of the slave, a potent enemy of the happiness and morals of the slaveholding class, and tending toward the ultimate ruin of the country’” [David Crowe, "What Free Will Baptists Have Done and Could Do About the Cross-cultural Reality," Contact (November 2000), 6].
In 1854, they wrote, “Black, red, brown, or white—African, Indian, Asiatic, or Caucasian—it is all the same, provided the given conditions exist, of comparative intellectual strength on the one hand and of a similar weakness on the other hand” [“The Freewill Baptist Quarterly: Truth and Progress (Vol. II) (London: Williams, Day & Co.: 1854), 36].
Further, “[t]hey promoted the abolition of slavery in their weekly newspaper, The Morning Star, and voted in 1862 to commend Congress and President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. After the Civil War they ministered to the freedmen in the south providing them the opportunity for an education at Storer College at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia” (Crowe, 6).
Despite this proud history, Kerry Gandy is “saddened that so many in our society and even within the ranks of Free Will Baptists are not only prejudiced but somewhat proud of it” [Kerry Gandy, "Racial Preference," Contact (March 1999), 16].
 Richard Land, “Moving Toward The Kingdom Of Racial Reconciliation,” Baptists Against Racism, 45.
 William Chris Hobgood, Born Apart, Becoming One: Disciples Defeating Racism (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalic Press, 2009), 111.
 Racist jokes have no place in the believer’s vocabulary. God has prepared no room for such comments in His Kingdom, even in the name of a joke. After commenting on Paul’s theology of race relations, Williams states emphatically, “Christians should never under any circumstance participate in any form of racist speech, which includes racial slurs and ethnic jokes” (Williams, 141). May we identify with Isaiah, who confessed, “Woe is me, for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5).
 Hays, 179.