Race and the gospel

Racism continues to be a focus in local and global conversation, often highly charged and politicised. Many Christians fear that becoming involved risks being distracted from our ‘real focus’ of preaching the gospel. However, if we believe the good news of Jesus is relevant to all parts of the real world, this isn’t an option. Our ‘good news’ will be seen as irrelevant, and people will look elsewhere for answers.

Last year OMF (UK)’s leadership invited me, as a person of colour, to share some reflections on this sensitive topic in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. This led me on a personal journey reflecting on my own experiences, and how as a disciple of Jesus I feel we should engage with issues around race and racism.

My father is a white American, my mother’s mother was white English and her father black Jamaican. My parents have lived and worked in Bangladesh for over 40 years and I was born and grew up there, moving to northern England when I was 12. At secondary school in Manchester, I was one of four non-white pupils out of 1200, and racist abuse was an almost daily experience. To this day, I am regularly stopped by UK authorities – police in my home city of Belfast, or immigration officials when returning from Bangladesh – and asked to explain where I am from, and why I am wherever I am. These repeated experiences build a subconscious sense that, though a UK citizen, somehow, I don’t fully belong here.

Many in the UK are experiencing this and far worse. Home Office statistics report that hate crimes rose to over 100,000 incidents last year.[1] During the pandemic, British Chinese have been facing increasing levels of abuse, with 50 per cent reporting that they regularly received racial slurs.[2] How can we claim to want to see East Asians blessed, without showing concern for those being abused in our own towns and cities?

This is core to our own involvement in God’s task of sharing the good news of Jesus, and seeing his kingdom come. Jesus told his disciples to petition the Father with these words ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). In Revelation 7.9 we see what this kingdom will look like when it comes in all its fullness: all colours, cultures and ethnicities worshiping Jesus. Beautifully diverse but united in him. When we understand that this is the ultimate will of God, surely, we are to seek it here and now.

In striving for this in our own lives and churches we need to go beyond just welcoming people from different backgrounds. We must see them as a gift to us, genuinely valued and offering knowledge, ideas and talents that can enrich us. This will move us from being simply ‘multicultural’ to being ‘intercultural’, where all feel that they belong equally and are learning from and enriching each other.

What does this look like?

  1. Moving from just sending to also receiving
    In our church services, can we hear the powerful stories of Asian and African Christian brothers and sisters who are being used by God? Do we dare ask our brothers and sisters from the majority world what God might want to teach us through them?
  2. The costly way of Jesus
    This requires a willingness to truly listen and learn from others. To be willing to repent, and willing to forgive, where mistakes have been and continue to be made. This is the way of Jesus; living and dying to self for others so that they would experience shalom and salvation.
  3. Matters for OMF
    As OMF serves in the UK and Ireland today, a quarter of the evangelical church consists of people from ethnic minorities. In East Asia we serve in contexts with serious ethnic strife, and are called to be peacemakers. At the heart of our efforts to share the good news of Jesus in all its fullness must be modelling and calling people into a diverse Church, unified in Jesus.
  4. Matters to God
    Diverse communities are critical to God’s mission. They make our message of redemption and reconciliation credible. In an increasingly tribalistic world they show a better way of being. But someone has to make the first move.

Could you take the first step?
Instead of waiting for ‘them’ to come into ‘our’ churches we can reach out to those living in our communities from different backgrounds. Risk knocking on a door with a gift or some baking. Invite a colleague or neighbour over for tea or to join you on a walk. Start by simply asking them about their own background and experiences. It may initially seem costly and disruptive but share your life, and you will be enriched by new friends and family from around the world.

Nathaniel Jennings
OMF Ireland Area Representative

Further resources
We each need to keep learning and being formed by God in this area. There are many good biblically-rooted resources that can help us here. My recommendations can be found here.

References
1. Home Office Hate Crime Statistics 2019/20, go.omf.org/crimestats (accessed 28/05/21).

2. YouGov Survey June 2020, go.omf.org/yougov (accessed 28/05/21).

Written by Nathaniel Jennings

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