By Dr. Rhansyl Harris
When I was a little boy my mother taught my brothers and me the Clare Herbert Woolston song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The words that have always burned in my soul to this day are, “red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight.” Though we are all precious in God’s sight, the church of today does not always reflect this reality.
We live in a society where race plays a major part in our American culture. Many people say that they don’t see color. However, if we don’t see color, it is a strong possibility that we may need to see an optometrist. Race plays a major part in the lives of persons all over the United States. Sadly race effects where, how, and with whom we worship. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that Sundays at eleven o’clock is the most segregated hour of the day. The reality is that many churches of today have become homogeneous in ethnicity, thus becoming “members only” clubs where there is no intentional inclusion of people who differ in the color of their skin.
Division in God’s Church
There are many reasons why this is so. One reason is that some people are just comfortable being around those who are of the same color or nationality. For others, it’s a matter of not showing forgiveness toward other groups for the injustices done to their deceased ancestors. Another reason why churches have become clubs is because generations have been taught hate and the misuse of the Word of God.
Dr. Gardner Calvin Taylor, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated preachers, said in his forward in the book A Mighty Long Journey: Reflections on Racial Reconciliation, “One cannot be ‘in with Christ’ and ‘out’ with Christ’s brothers and sisters.”
Let’s just call out the elephant in the room: it’s sin. The root of division in the church of Jesus Christ is sin. Call it comfort, call it not forgiving, or even call it a misinterpretation of the Bible—the reality is that it does not look like the body of Christ.
If the church is going to be an effective light in the world, there must be restoration. People cannot restore their walks with God unless there is a true acknowledgement of their own sinfulness. Rodney Woo, in his book The Color of Church said, “In the history of evangelical churches in the United States, there was a painful period of racial schism that needs to be addressed and confessed.” This confession has to take place in the church.
Throughout history God has used prophets, priests, judges, and kings to serve as mouthpieces to restore his people back to him. They spoke truth to power, causing rage or what the apostle Paul called a sorrow that led to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9). I believe if we had more people preaching against the sin of racism, the people of God would become aware of their sin, repent, and desire the unification of the church.
A great example of this sorrow that leads to repentance is apparent in the life of King David. Known as one of the greatest kings to ever live, one after God’s heart, David was a public success and yet a private mess. Born the youngest of eight brothers, David was groomed to be a shepherd and then the king of Israel. Loved by so many today and in antiquity, David had sin issues. He had the proclivity to make bad decisions and brought shame to the kingdom of God. In one particular incident, David had done a heinous crime. After sending Uriah off to battle, David had an affair with Uriah’s wife, impregnated her, tried to cover it up, and ended up having Uriah murdered.
Despite David’s disregard for humanity and holiness, he still saw himself as pleasing God and doing the right thing. To the contrary, God was not pleased with David.
God sent the prophet Nathan to awaken David to repentance and restoration. In his skill of painting a fictitious scenario to the king, Nathan spoke of a rich man who, in spite of having everything, looked upon his poor neighbor as if he had no value. As a result, the rich man stole his neighbor’s female lamb to provide a feast for his dinner party. Not knowing that his parable was about him, David became enraged by this injustice done to the poor man. He flexed his muscles as king and pronounced his own judgment by saying, “As the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing, and had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5, 6).
David was, indeed, sorrowful but not unto repentance. The problem was that he did not see his own sinfulness and needed someone who sought after God’s face to restore him.
Nathan then moved from storytelling to reality. After David pronounced judgment on the fictitious character, Nathan said to David, “You are the man” (v. 7). If this were played out on a television show, could you imagine hearing the audience groan in fear that Nathan had just won the award for the dumbest preacher? Didn’t he understand that by saying those words to the king, he could receive immediate prosecution? But because of the boldness of Nathan, David was moved to repentance (v. 13; Psalm 51). “Godly sorrow will ultimately lead to salvation away from oneself and into the rescuing hands of God,” said Woo.
One in Christ
Could that be the case of the church today? Whether it’s Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, African, Japanese, Church of Christ, or Baptist, have we become a church that is so wrapped up in ourselves that we can’t see God anymore? I believe that God is not impressed with our large churches, our loyalty to our denominations, or our positions; but he is concerned with our spiritual well-being. Therefore God uses fearless preachers to call us to repentance and restoration.
Restoration involves preaching the Word of God without compromise, even if there are risks involved. If a church is to be successful, there must be a Nathan on the premises. There must be one who has the priestly touch to love and share the awesomeness of God, while at the same time prophetically teaching the congregation what sin looks like. Nathans tear down the Berlin walls of classism, legalism, sexism, ageism, and racism. Nathans understand their assignment to preach the Word and to be ready in season and out of season to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction (2 Timothy 4:2). Nathans not only tell the ugliness of sin but share the awesomeness of God’s grace, the unmerited favor of God.
“Racism is antithetical to grace. By racism I mean speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on the person’s color, class, or culture,” said David A. Anderson, author of Gracism: The Art of Inclusion. Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians, encouraged them to “do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
As a minister of a small Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, I find that it is imperative that churches are intentional in equipping the body of Christ to be more inclusive of other ethnicities and to shun the ugliness of racism. We need Nathans, people willing to snatch souls out of the hands of the enemy.
Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22). Jesus was wounded for our oneness, bruised for our oneness, spit on for our oneness, nailed in his hands for our oneness, nailed in his feet for our oneness, put to death for our oneness, and raised on the third day for our oneness. His Spirit lives in us, and now it’s our turn—calling all Nathans to preach the gospel without compromise while being constant, consistent, and committed to unifying the body of Christ.
Dr. Rhansyl Harris is the Director of Adult Learning and Leadership at Cincinnati Christian University.
SIDEBAR: READING ABOUT RACE
Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church
by Soong-Chan Rah
(Moody Publishers, 2010)
Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White: Who’s More Precious in God’s Sight?
by Leroy Barber with Velma Maia Thomas
The Color of Christ
by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey
(The University of North Carolina Press, 2014)