“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3.28From David King
The Black Lives Matter protests have rightly dominated our news over the past weeks. It brings to light the awful injustice of racism. As I’ve been thinking about it, one of the mixture of emotions I have felt has been a delight in the gospel. That’s because the gospel undermines all racial barriers and prejudice.
This stretches back into the Old Testament with the ground breaking statement that all humans are made in the image of God. It was this text which inspired those dogged campaigners against slavery of the 18th and 19th century. As we read on in the Old Testament, we then read of the strong command to care for the foreigner who lived amongst God’s people. Even the choice of Israel as God’s people was not so that they would feel superior, but so that through them all peoples might be blessed.
It continues in the New Testament. Time and again Jesus overturned racial barriers. For example when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan and healed the Gentile Centurion’s servant. In fact, the people of his hometown tried to kill him because he showed them how the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be accepted by the Gentiles.
This theme carries on in the New Testament. Paul in the verse above sets out the radical impact of the good news of Jesus on traditional dividing lines in society. His point is that, when we become bound to Christ, the bonds between us overwhelm all previous ties and divides. Whatever the chequered history of the institution of the church, the reality of the church Jesus is building is one in which racial divides are not possible.
The power of the gospel to break barriers down was brought home to me very personally when I spent 6 months in South Africa in 1992. South Africa was at a key point in its history – deciding whether to abandon Apartheid. Racism though was still strong – overt or subconscious. I interned for an organisation called African Enterprise. Their mission was evangelism and reconciliation. I discovered that this was no artificial bringing together of two unrelated goals. Instead the reconciliation flowed out of the evangelism.
Two things stand out for me. The first was to do with one of my tasks as an intern which was to be the driver for our evangelists when they went to speak at workplaces. The sight of a black evangelist being chauffeured (badly) by a white man, was a significant witness to the power of the gospel.
The second was the Bridge Building Encounter Camps. These were camps open to young people of all racial backgrounds (a radical thing in its own right). At the camp, the young people were told about the lifechanging good news of Jesus. Many gave their lives to him. What stood out for me though was the evening near the end. It wasn’t engineered this way, but suddenly some of the black young people stood up and started shouting at the white young people about all of the pain and hurt they had inflicted on them. The white young people were in tears. At that meeting there was such a powerful reconciliation brought about by the good news of Jesus, that the next day the whole group of us went into Pietermaritzburg holding hands and hanging out together. When people stared at us that day, they were seeing the impact of the gospel.
It reminds me of a great saying: The answer to every human problem is the gospel.