We pursue ethnic reconciliation. I understand from firsthand experience that ethnic reconciliation is a difficult journey, yet I am deeply disappointed that so many believers don’t see it as being fundamental to the gospel. Haven’t they read about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4)? Haven’t they grasped Paul’s clarion call to break down the walls of ethnic partition (Ephesians 2)? Haven’t they been excited by John’s vision of every ethnic group standing together before the Lamb (Revelation 7)?
Within InterVarsity, we realize that ethnic reconciliation remains neither popular nor easy. But we are deeply committed to this journey. And since this truth cuts against the grain of so much of American history and current culture, it requires great intentionality. In other words, unless we pursue it aggressively, cultural gravity will pull us backwards.
We practice mutual empowerment, grace and truth. A great price—the crucifixion—has been paid to bring reconciliation not only vertically between God and us, but also horizontally between us so that a new humanity might be created. As Paul notes: “He (Jesus) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us . . . that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14–16).
Following Jesus’ example, each of us pays a price as we pursue ethnic reconciliation. Those of us in the majority culture must consciously decide to walk into areas of great pain, to lay aside our prerogatives and to actively empower ethnic minority brothers and sisters. For ethnic minorities, the price is both to speak the truth—and risk being misunderstood by members of the majority culture, and to extend grace—and risk being labeled accommodationists within their own communities.
The key, of course, is to build a community of trust. The leadership team at the church of Antioch included three Jews, an African and a Roman (Acts 13:1–3). No doubt, trust came slowly and at some cost. But, as we see in the remainder of the book of Acts, this church literally changed the world. There is great power in practicing mutual empowerment, grace and truth.
We promote personal and systemic justice. Missionary E. Stanley Jones once observed: “An individual gospel without a social gospel is a soul without a body, and a social gospel without an individual gospel is a body without a soul. One is a ghost and the other is a corpse.” Using Jones’s image, many of us run the serious risk of becoming ghosts—having souls without bodies. Our focus is so often placed upon pietistic practices such as the study of scripture and prayer that we fail to incarnate our faith into actions. This is particularly true in the realm of ethnic reconciliation and justice.
When we see people who are poor and oppressed, do we ask the question “why”? When see racism raise its ugly head, do we simply shrug our shoulders and say “well that’s human nature?” Do we understand that justice is not simply helping individuals, but looking at systems as well?
These are haunting questions. As student leaders, I pray that you will probe global political, economic and cultural systems. I also pray that you will take Jesus’ call to serve others at both the personal and societal levels: “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19).
Let me conclude with a hopeful thought. There is another, more positive, side to our heritage. Christians were at the forefront of the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. Around the world, believers continue to be proactive in seeking justice for the oppressed. In InterVarsity, we are encouraged both by these examples and by the words of Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
—Alec D. Hill
Connect with InterVarsity’s Multiethnic Ministries, serving students and faculty of every ethnicity and culture with passion and effectiveness.
(from Student Leadership Journal, vol. 18:1)