Succeeding Together Across Racial Lines

God does His best work in the midst of unity. In fact, so essential is the issue of oneness in the church that we are told to be on guard against those who try to destroy it. [1] God has intentionally reconciled racially divided groups into one new man, [2] uniting them into a new body, [3] in order that the church can function as one. [4] When the church functions as one, we boldly brag on God to a world in desperate need of experiencing Him.

But how do we as a church function as one? We don’t. He does – both in us and through us.
When we got saved, we were baptized into the body of Christ. No matter what our race, gender, or class is, when each of us came to faith in Jesus, we entered into a new family. We didn’t create God’s family. We became a part of it.

That is so important to realize because far too often we are trying to force unity when authentic unity cannot be mandated or manufactured. Instead, God says we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit.”[5] The Holy Spirit has created our unity. It is our job to preserve it.

The reason why we haven’t solved the racial divide in America after hundreds of years is because people apart from God are trying to invent unity, while people who belong to God are not living out the unity that we already possess. The result of both of these situations has been, and will continue to be, disastrous for our nation. Let alone disastrous for the witness of Christ to our nation.

To be fair, we have come light years away from slavery, Jim Crow laws, and other overt displays of racial hatred. But tolerance is still a far cry from reconciliation. The mere fact that we remain relationally separated most of the time, only coming together for an event or cross-cultural seminar shows how far we need to go. The proof of this is that we are not having a collective restoring effect in our society. We have limited the degree to which God’s presence will flow in us and through us because if what we call unity is not transforming individuals, churches and communities, then it is simply sociology with a little Jesus sprinkled on top.

Unity can be defined in its most basic of terms as oneness of purpose. It means working together toward a common goal. Unity is not achieved through seminars, but rather through service – together. Unity is not uniformity either. Just like God is made up of three distinct Persons – each unique and diverse – unity does not negate individuality. Unity embraces diversity to create a stronger whole.

My son Jonathan played as a fullback in college and for a few years in the NFL. But if Jonathan were to have shown up at practice and started playing like the quarterback, or the center, or even the wide receiver, he would have been kicked off the team before practice was even over. Jonathan was a fullback, and if he didn’t play like a fullback then the team would have been worse off because of it.

A football team is eleven unique players working together to reach the same goal. The body of Christ is no different. We are each gifted with certain strengths and skills, but unless we intentionally (and with race in America, we must be intentional) bring these together under the over-arching purpose of God, we will continue to run in circles on the field and never cross the goal line together. We’ll have programs, without power.

Sticking with football – my favorite sport – a problem would also have happened if Jonathan didn’t know what the quarterback did, or could do. Or if the wide receiver didn’t know who the quarterback was, or what he was supposed to do. A successful football team is made up of players who not only know who they are, but who also know who everyone else is.

Without an authentic self-awareness, African-Americans often struggle as we seek to play on the same team toward the same goal in the body of Christ. But just as relevant is the need for awareness among my white brothers and sisters concerning who we are, and who God has created and positioned us to be at this critical time in our world.

When we intentionally familiarize ourselves with each other in such a way that enables us to embrace our diversity to its fullest, we put unity to use for good. As we do that – as we knowledgeably serve side by side – there will be no stopping what we can do together in the name of Jesus Christ.

[1] Romans 16:17
[2] Ephesians 2:14-15
[3] Ephesians 2:16
[4] Ephesians 2:13
[5] Ephesians 4:3