Courtlandt Perkins explains what is at stake when believers don't address ethnic tensions.

Race: A gospel issue

by Courtlandt Perkins, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


Thursday, August 16, 2018

The book of Ephesians has a lot to offer the church in the present day and age. Chapters 1-3 explain what Christians should believe, followed by chapters 4-6 which detail how to rightly apply the gospel to the Christian life. Ephesians 2:11-16 carries specific importance regarding one issue that majorly confronts the church today — race.

The word that Paul uses here for “peace” implies that the church should be “joined together.” He is speaking of something far more profound than just a sense of “kumbaya” or calmness, but rather he is teaching that those previously divided (Jew and Gentile) have been joined together through Christ’s blood.

Gentiles were once separated from God and far off from His chosen people in Israel, but they are now brought near through Christ. This makes all who believe in Jesus God’s chosen people regardless of ethnic background. Therefore, while this verse is not directly referring to racial tensions we’ve experienced in more recent history, it is saying that the gospel declares that all division due to ethnic differences opposes the foundational message and mission of God.

Is racism a gospel issue? The above scriptural interpretation should be enough to support a hearty, “Yes!” However, we must ask ourselves if the church has faithfully and fully lived out the Bible’s answer to this question and in many cases, the answer is still a bitter “No!”

The doubt and frustration surrounding current conversations about race and ethnicity provoke questions like, “Why do we keep bringing racism up?” “Isn’t race just a social construct?” and “There is just one race — the human race — right?” As a Christian and an African-American, I sympathize with these concerns.

Minorities have experienced dehumanization, marginalization, and physical harm throughout American history for no other reason than ethnic background. As a Christian, I don’t just wish we didn’t have to bring this up, I wish it never happened. 

Minorities have been organized into dilapidated neighborhoods, experienced injustices in the legal system and barred from membership in churches throughout American history for no other reason than their ethnic background. As a Christian, I not only wish we didn’t use race to define people, I wish we never had.

But we did.

Our country and our churches developed within a racialized society, and after 240-plus years of being “United States”, sadly, race and racism still operate as a divider of our people. However, Christians have a gospel to tell that gives us the tools to bring divided people together and not passively ignore the division.

According to Paul, both the right explanation of the gospel and its application confronts ethnic tensions. The gospel confronts sin in all its varied forms and leaves no sin issue untouched. Racism is prevalent in individuals and the societal systems they create, and this sin distorts the beauty of ethnicity and the gospel.

The gospel repairs the fractures that our original sin has caused, and it has the power to restore the divisions that sin continues to cause within creation and between all of humankind. The gospel recreates a redeemed multiethnic people in the only God-man, Jesus Christ.

This gospel we believe for salvation empowers God’s people to join Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, which confronts sins of racism, ethnocentrism and any other sin that distorts His message.

Race is a gospel issue.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Courtlandt Perkins serves as the content strategist for Kingdom Diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.