The Mod | “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” by Jemar Tisby

Monday, 17 Jun 2019

As the Apostle teaches in Ephesians, the unity of the body of Christ is objective, grounded in God’s gracious election and redemption in Christ.  The thickest barrier, dividing Jews and Gentiles, has been broken down as “one new person”—Christ as head with his body—has appeared on the stage of history.  We are now called to work at maintaining visibly the unity that we already have in Christ, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:2-6).  Though simultaneously justified and sinful, like each of us, the church cannot throw up its hands in the face of the racial division that threatens its call to visible unity in faith and love.

Study after study confirms that more African-Americans claim to be Protestant Christians than any other group, affirm core Christian and evangelical doctrines; are more likely to attend church regularly and engage in daily Bible reading and prayer.  So why is Sunday still the most segregated day of the week?  What divides us?  A lot of things, Jemar Tisby argues in The Color of Compromise.

Whose History?

Growing up in white evangelicalism, I was inculcated in the belief that America was a “shining city on a hill” founded by and for Christians who were increasingly threatened by a hostile culture.  “Communism” was the usual name for this, but it was an umbrella for a lot of things, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.  The “good old days” for which our elders pined—the era of Eisenhower—was not so good for everyone.  In fact, in my youthful mind, the history of Christian America was white.  Slavery, emancipation, sharecropping, Jim Crow, lynchings, MLK and the civil rights movement: this was someone else’s history, not mine—or rather, “ours,” which meant the history.

I heard little about Native American atrocities, except from my Oklahoma grandparents, and next to nothing about the history of slavery and Jim Crow until public high school.  My parents, working in the business office and grounds of Los Angeles Baptist College, moved increasingly away from fundamentalism toward a more grace-oriented perspective.  Dolphus Weary, mentioned by Tisby as a black student at Los Angeles Baptist College when he heard fellow students laughing at the death of Dr. King, was my brother’s best friend and became close to our family.  My dad recalled that when he first came to LA from Oklahoma in 1931, he knocked a black man off his stool in a coffee shop because he should have been eating in back.  But in his golden years he and my mom traveled to Mississippi to help Dolphus and John Perkins build houses for disadvantaged people.  When they arrived, at church, Dolphus awkwardly fended off their embrace, saying, “This isn’t the right place to do that right now.”  That was the 1980s.

I have seen for myself the racism that friends have endured growing up in LA.  (In fact, White Horse Inn co-host Ken Jones was stopped several times for no legal reason when he came to Orange County.)  And, most disconcerting, I have seen the subtle racism of my own heart when I default to “it’s not my problem.”

In a brief but illuminating sketch, Jemar Tisby explains the history that has not only hurt our brothers and sisters, but has impoverished the churches of Christ in the United States.  There is “no reconciliation without repentance,” says Tisby, and “no repentance without confession” and “no confession without truth” (15).  In the words of Dr. King, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love” (19).  “The goal of this book is not guilt” (22), but is written out of the passion of a Reformed Christian committed to the gospel, including the picture in Revelation 5:9 (and 7:9) of a church gathered from every nation, people and tongue around the Lamb.

The Color of Compromise

Supported by solid research, Tisby begins with the construction of “race” (and thus racism) in the colonial era.  Within a concise narrative he shows how, from the beginning, Christian enslavers could separate their faith as Christians from their political, economic and social outlook and behavior.  This is “the color of compromise” that Tisby traces all the way to our own day.  From the beginning, indentured servitude was never inevitable, as it evolved ultimately into slavery but was furthered, supported and practiced by Christians.  (34). “By the mid-seventeenth century, colonies began developing ‘slave codes’ to police African bondage” that included “slavery for life with no hope of emancipation,” forbidding of marriage, and the definition of a slave as property on the same level as livestock (35).

Soon there emerged a doctrine hitherto unknown: “hereditary heathenism.”  Although Christianity was introduced to Africans from Egyptians and Ethiopians in the third and fourth centuries, by the dawn of the eighteenth century “European meant ‘Christian’ and Native American or African meant ‘heathen’” (36-37). John Locke helped provide the theorization for the terms by which the people of a commonwealth could rebel against tyranny (41).  Every person is “endowed” not by a king or parliament but “by his Creator with inalienable rights”—except Native Americans and Africans.  Not being persons in the fullest sense, they of course had no right to rebel against injustice.  Much is made of the impact of the Great Awakening on uniting the colonies prior to the War of Independence.  Yet evangelist George Whitefield, at first unsure whether Christians can buy slaves, purchased several of his own and even petitioned the Georgia legislature to accept the institution.  Purchasing a 640-acre plantation to support his orphanage, he said that without slavery, “Georgia can never be a flourishing province” (42-48).  Jonathan Edwards bought his slave, Venus, at an auction in Rhode Island in 1731.  Meanwhile, the Baptist General Committee of Virginia at first opposed slavery but finally decided it was a purely civil matter (51-52).

“The divide between white and black Christians in America was not generally one of doctrine,” Tisby observes (52).  Richard Allen and others founded in 1816 the first black denomination in 1792, the AME Church (53-54).  The divisions that followed among Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians were over slavery.  At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, it was decided that slaves escaping to any other state must be returned to their owner (Art. IV, Sec. 2) and that slaves were to be taxed “three fifths of all other persons” (Art. 1, Sec. 2). “Northern states did not want slaves to be counted, because that would give the South a numerical advantage over northern states.  To avoid an impasse, the delegates compromised.  Instead of acknowledging the full humanity and citizenship of black slaves, political leaders determined that each slave would count as three-fifths of a white citizen” (58-59).  “In 1808,” the first time slavery was allowed to be debated in the body, “Congress decided to cease the Atlantic slave trade, but the institution of slavery remained” (59).  “[Charles] Finney was an outspoken abolitionist, but he was not a proponent of black equality.  He advocated for emancipation, but he did not see the value of ‘social’ integration of the races.  Though he excluded white slaveowners from membership in his congregation, he also relegated black worshipers to particular sections of the sanctuary.  Black people could become members in his churches, but they could not vote or hold office” (68).

In the run-up to the Civil War, Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians split (76-80).  The Presbyterian Church was an especially interesting case.  The 1861 “Gardiner Spring Resolutions” proposed, “‘It is the duty of the minister and churches under its care to do all in their power to promote and perpetuate the integrity of these United States, and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage the Federal Government.’”  A debate ensued between Christ and Caesar: Can allegiance to any nation be required for communion? (79).  Defending the negative answer to that question, Robert L. Dabney, a champion of the “spirituality of the church,” was nevertheless chaplain of Confederacy and “chief of staff” for General Stonewall Jackson.  His blatantly racist work, A Defense of Virginia in 1867, not only defended slavery (and this, even after the civil war!) but argued that it was good for the African.

Tisby then tells the story of white supremacy during the Jim Crow era, with white supremacists romanticizing “the antebellum South as an age of earnest religion, honorable gentlemen, delicate southern belles, and happy blacks content in their bondage.”  “They also constructed a new social order, what we refer to as Jim Crow—a system of formal laws and informal customs designed to reinforce the inferiority of black people in America” (89).  “On January 16, 1865, General William T. Sherman handed down Special Field Order No. 15, which reserved a track of land for black families 30 miles wide and 245 miles long along the east coast extending from Charleston, South Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida.  He promised each family a mule to help them work the land—40 acres and a mule.”  “Yet the dream was short-lived.  The blatantly racist Andrew Jackson, who ascended to the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination, ordered that the redistributed lands be returned to former enslavers, and many freed people went back to working the land under the sharecropping system” (91).  This episode is crucial, I think, in understanding why some African-American seek reparations (which I discuss below).

Space precludes me from summarizing all of the history that Tisby relates in between Jim Crow and the modernist-fundamentalist controversy.  Suffice it to say that there was an opportunity for something else, a third option, but it was never seriously pursued (115-16).  “Some major cities saw their black population more than double between 1920 and 1930” (119), but Tisby explains in one of the most insightful sections that despite their important role in defending the country [during the first World War], African-American defenders of the nation returned to second-status citizenship (123-129).

During the civil rights movement itself (chapter 8), conservative Protestants continued to compromise with racism.  G. T. Gillespie and Carey L. Daniel each wrote pamphlets: “A Christian View of Segregation,” and “God the Original Segregationist,” respectively (134).

Billy Graham’s role is more complicated. “At a crusade in California in 1953, Graham personally took down ropes segregating black and white seating in the audience.  ‘Either these ropes stay down, or you can go on and have the revival without me,’ he said.  Yet Graham, like many white evangelicals, held back from actively pushing for black civil rights” (134).  He thought it would go away “one conversion and one friendship at a time.”  Yet he was “quite vocal in his denunciations of communism, something many conservatives also associated with the civil rights movement” (134-35).  Under Graham’s leadership, Christianity Today, “refused to endorse the [Civil Rights] act, largely because it was not in keeping with the magazine’s evangelical belief that social change came best through personal conversion” (140).  “Martin Luther King, Jr once said, ‘I think we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.’ By contrast, in a sermon entitled ‘Rioting or Righteousness,’ Billy Graham stated, ‘There is no doubt that the rioting, looting, and crime in America have reached a point of anarchy’” (141).  Graham and King met and at first it seemed that something might come of the relationship, but Graham cautioned King about stirring dissent through his marches.  W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas (which held Graham’s membership) said that “desegregation is ‘a denial of all that we believe in.’  He went on to say that Brown v Board was ‘foolishness’ and an ‘idiocy,’ and he called anyone who advocated for racial integration ‘a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up’” (149-50).  Tisby tells the appalling story related by Dolphus Weary when, as a student at Los Angeles Baptist College, he heard his friends laughing when the news announced the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968. “Weary said, ‘Laughing at Dr. King’s death was just like laughing at me—or at the millions of other blacks for whom King labored’” (150).

With the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s, a new era of compromise emerged. There is too much important ground here to cover in a review, but the quotations from Lee Atwater and other Republic strategists must be read on a full stomach (152-60).  Suddenly, white people (including Christians) were “color-blind,” which meant that we could ignore the plight of our neighbors.  Tisby is hardly the first to uncover the fact that the Religious Right emerged not over abortion (on which most, including Southern Baptists, were ambivalent), but over segregation, particularly the right of schools to discriminate based on race.  It was this issue that turned evangelicals against the otherwise “born-again” Jimmy Carter (161-65). “By 1976, [Jerry] Falwell completely flipped his position and his stance against mixing religion and politics and embarked on an ‘I Love America’ rally tour…’, saying that “This idea of ‘religion and politics don’t mix’ was invented by the devil to keep Christians from running their own country’” (166).  Weyrich gave him the name “Moral Majority” and Ronald Reagan, “a divorced Hollywood actor-turned politician, who supported a liberal pro-abortion law while governor of California,” became the movement’s new hope.

Shifting to the present day, Tisby touches on the reconsideration of racial reconciliation in the age of #BlackLivesMatter in chapter 10.  Drawing men from various backgrounds, the Promise Keepers movement made racial reconciliation one of its goals in 1990.  And yet, the makeup of churches remained the same. “A 2010 survey found that about 12.5 percent of churches could be considered multiethnic—meaning no single ethnic group comprises more than 80 percent of the congregation” (173-74).  “A 2014 study by Lifeway Research indicated that 85 percent of senior pastors in the Protestant churches surveyed said, ‘Every church should strive for racial diversity’” (174).

Cultural Tool Kits

Yet beneath the apparent progress lurks remaining problems.  If the history is important, so is the realization that all of us—black, white, Hispanic, Asian—operate from a “cultural tool kit,” a concept on which Tisby draws from Divided by Faith by Emerson and Smith (175).   This “cultural tool kit” includes two key doctrines: “‘Accountable individualism means that ‘individuals exist independent of structures and institutions, have free will, and are individually accountable for their own actions’” (175).  “Another belief in the cultural toolkit is relationalism, ‘a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships’” (175-76).  “Sixty-two percent of white evangelicals attribute poverty among black people to a lack of motivation, while 31 percent of black Christians said the same. And just 27 percent of white evangelicals attribute the wealth gap to racial discrimination, while 72 percent of blacks cite discrimination as a major cause of the discrepancy” (176).  This underscores the point that even though most white evangelical pastors would like to see their church more ethnically diverse, the wide discrepancy between the communities socially and politically is a major obstacle.  It’s not that white evangelicals are less “political.”

Studies have also shown that white evangelicals still find little agreement with their African-American brothers and sisters when it comes to issues like police brutality (178). Again, the statistics tell the tale.  According to the Barna Research Group, “just 13 percent of evangelicals said they supported the ‘message’” conveyed in the phrase black lives matter, “compared to 27 percent of adults overall and 45 percent of millennials.”  And yet, 94% evangelicals said that “the Christian church ‘plays an important role in racial reconciliation’ as compared to 73 percent of all adults.”  “In a summary of the survey’s findings, researchers concluded, ‘If you’re a white evangelical Republican, you are less likely to think race is a problem, but more likely to think you are a victim of reverse racism…[and] less convinced that people of color are socially disadvantaged’” (183-84).  “‘This dilemma demonstrates that those supposedly most equipped for reconciliation do not see the need for it’” (184).

It is one thing to identify the problem, and the legacy of Christian compromise, but another to propose solutions. Tisby takes up this gauntlet in the remainder of the book. “To be clear,” he says, “friendships and conversations are necessary, but they are not sufficient to change the racial status quo.  Christians must also alter how impersonal systems operate so that they might create and extend racial equality” (193).  But even if friendships were enough, one study shows that out of a hundred friends, black people had eight white friends while whites had an average of one (195).

Reparations

We have all heard about calls for “reparations.”  It may sound ridiculous.  Fine.  We messed up—or at least our abstract ancestors did.  But why should we be faced day in and day-out with things we didn’t even have a hand in?  If you take Tisby’s history seriously, this cannot be a legitimate response.  Reparations were in fact ordered under Lincoln, before he was assassinated, and they never took effect.  Instead, former slave-holders just took over that allotted territory and “allowed” legally emancipated slaves to continue as economic ones.

“Reparations.”  Before rolling my blue eyes, I had to remind myself that on the heels of victory in a war that we entered only reluctantly, the US nevertheless spent billions to rebuild Western Europe and Japan. We have spent about $6-7 trillion on wars and rebuilding in the Middle East since 2001.  And, as Tisby notes, Germany paid $50 billion to Holocaust survivors ($20,000 per victim).  “Reparation is not a matter of vengeance or charity; it’s a matter of justice,” he contends.  According to the Old Testament law, “the wrongdoer ‘must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged’ (Num. 5:7).  In the New Testament, when the Jewish tax collector Zacchaeus accepted Jesus as Lord, he gave away half his possessions and repaid those he had cheated ‘four times the amount’ (Luke 19:8)” (198).

We are not living in the theocracy and Zacchaeus freely gave without compulsion from either the church or the state.  Nevertheless, Tisby’s comparison is apt: If we were living in Israel during the theocracy, reparations for widespread injustice toward a tribe of Israel would have been seen as righteous, and Zacchaeus believed that repentance involved restitution.  The problem, as Tisby points out, is that we have come to believe that faith, repentance and restitution are all individual matters.  Sin and injustice are always only interpersonal affairs without bleeding into social, economic and political realms.

Tisby’s suggestions are bold and perhaps idealistic, but some of them are entirely realizable.  There were many places where I thought, “Hey, we could do this.”  But who are “we”?  This is something that I found ambiguous in the last part of Tisby’s book. We are citizens and we are Christians.  Earlier Tisby took aim at the “spirituality of the church” doctrine.  Yet in this chapter, drawing on fellow PCA pastor Duke Kwon’s distinction between civic and ecclesiastical reparations, he lays out suggestions for what he thinks can be done on both fronts (199-211).  As citizens, we should listen to Tisby’s suggestions for social remedies.  As Christians, we have also to consider how the church as church alone can respond in practical ways within the limits of her calling and authority.  The church binds the conscience of her members to the Word of God alone.  This frees us to pursue diverse policies in the common-grace arena, negotiating with the political powers.  On the one hand, separating our faith from our treatment of non-white brothers and sisters must come to an end.  On the other hand, our African-American brothers and sisters need relief from the state that the church cannot give.  God has given freedom to Christians to discern which policies actually further this.  But in the church there is much left to be done.  Confusing political and ecclesiastical policies is precisely how we continue the divide and refuse to face the fact that many of our churches are inhospitable to non-whites.

The Color of Compromise concludes with a call to be “strong and courageous.” “When it comes to racism, the American church does not have a ‘how to’ problem but a ‘want to’ problem” (213).  Ouch.

Ironies

As I read Tisby’s book, a number of ironies I’ve been struggling with were reinforced. The first is the hypocrisy of those who use the phrase “Social Justice Warrior” (invented by Fox News) as a slur against fellow Christians while seemingly just as preoccupied with the same issues yet on the other side of the political aisle.  Against a well-respected, theologically orthodox African-American minister, one evangelical brother wrote, “Before he became an agitator for the radical left wing #BlackLivesMatter movement, Thabiti Anyabwile was arguing for a more biblical, gospel-centered approach” (182).

Where are the conservative white evangelical leaders who publicly denounce racism, the taking of God’s name in vain by right-wing political leaders and stand with black brothers and sisters when Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine people (including the pastor) at a Bible study in a church basement?  Tisby wonders why white Christians can’t help to encourage the dismantling of Confederate monuments that fan racial tensions and glorify a legacy that is more worthy of repentance.

From the Right as much as on the Left, I hear a confusion of the “two kingdoms.” Heirs of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions have always resisted both “Christendom” and Anabaptist versions of the argument that there is only one legitimate kingdom. Yet even in circles that affirm this crucial distinction between Christ’s two ways of ruling (viz., common grace and saving grace), passages that whites have always quoted to blacks about obeying rulers and suffering persecution are invoked once again as if they pertained to the secular order.  Every Fourth of July, many Christians celebrate a rebellion against the tyrannical authority of King George.  (In fact, many churches bring this secular celebration into the divine service.)  Yet when The Gospel Coalition honored Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the anti-Social-Justice-Warrior bloggers went to work.  And even when our brothers and sisters of color seek greater justice in the secular kingdom, where public policy is properly negotiated, we hear charges of “abandoning the gospel” for social causes.

The type of message we are getting from some of the most prominent evangelical conservatives is as much a false gospel of what Francis Schaeffer called “the culture of personal peace and affluence” as is the social gospel.  The one confuses the gospel with the worship of the individual; the latter with the worship of the state.  I confess that my default setting is the first type, which is probably why I care more about law and order than “justice for all.”  That is my personal responsibility—a sin I must confess (not only “what I have done, but what I have left undone”), but it is also a sinful systemic condition that I share with many of my fellow believers.

Even talk of repentance and reconciliation in the church between offended parties strikes some as the incursion of mission creep.  White Christians like myself are often not even aware of the cultural and political prejudices that are heard by brothers and sisters of color as saying, “You’re welcome to join us—as long as you don’t expect the ‘us’ we’re talking about to change because you’re here.”  If we address specific offenses of even a properly ecclesiastical nature, we are accused of shifting the focus from the gospel that alone can bring conversion and therefore restore individual relationships.  In short, whenever the issue of racial reconciliation in the church is raised, we say, “That’s a political issue.”  And when our brothers and sisters seek political remedies, we say, “It’s a spiritual issue.”

Spirituality of the Church

The instinctive answer is to turn the church into a social-reform society, which many churches on the left and the right have in fact become.  Tisby judges, “The doctrine of the spirituality of the church has continued to influence the church in America, even to the present.”

Its adherents are diverse and often selective in how they apply the doctrine.  The injunction against church involvement in policy issues was not upheld for the temperance movement, debates on evolution, attempts to keep prayer in schools, or discussions on how to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Historically, the doctrine of the spirituality of the church tends to be most strenuously invoked when Christians speak out against white supremacy and racism.  Whenever issues like slavery and, later, segregation rose to the fore, the spirituality of the church doctrine conveniently reappeared (86). Yes, that is how the history went.  It did not have to, I would argue—and this is partly where I think Tisby fails to imagine other ways the doctrine could have been not only held, but effectively wielded to challenge compromises.

Like the doctrine of “two kingdoms” advocated by Luther and Calvin, the spirituality of the church is affirmed in the Westminster confession.  First, Chapter 31.V states,

Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle in civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

This is a biblical and salutary doctrine, in my view.  The church is not a wing of a political party seeking secular power to legislate and enforce its teachings or visions of social and moral reform, yet the Confession allows for the church’s “petition in cases extraordinary”.  Conservative Presbyterian churches have in fact invoked this doctrine for abortion and used (perhaps even abused) this codicil countless times to oppose such decisions as women in combat.

More locally, churches have a responsibility to preach “the whole counsel of God,” including God’s moral will that binds all people, not just Christians.  When the sixth commandment is before us, we have a solid basis for preaching publicly—not only to the faithful but to Caesar—that God hates murder and that Christ is the King of kings and Judge of judges.  And churches as churches are called to stand with other churches, black or white, when evil tragedies befall them because of hatred.  The proclamation of God’s Word—the Law and the Gospel—is “above all pow’rs,” as Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” affirms.

The biblical doctrine of creation subverts the culture of death and injustice.  The biblical doctrine of the fall explains why, before sin is an individual act, it is a condition that dominates the whole person and not just individuals but societies and systems, making us all simultaneously victims and perpetrators.  The will is bound, so any notion of a political ethics based on the “free will” of the individual is contrary to biblical teaching.  The biblical doctrine of redemption announces a divine rescue operation from the Father, in the Son, applied by the Holy Spirit, reconciling sinners to God and to each other in a strange communion of saints.  The Bible’s teaching on the means of grace gives us confidence that the gospel is real, tangible and visible and its doctrine of the church announces a kingdom that Christ is building by making people from every race, language and nation a “kingdom of priests” (Rev 5:9).  The biblical eschatology promises not the “late, great planet earth,” but the renewal of the whole creation that groans with us for this liberation (Rom 8:18-30).

Second, the church is given the keys of the kingdom not only to open the door through the gospel and sacraments, but to shut it through discipline.  Following Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, Chapter 30.IV of the same Confession states:

For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church, according to the nature of the crime.

Imagine the effect on the church and consequently on society if the church had merely done what it alone is given authority by Christ to do with respect to discipline: namely, to admonish and temporarily bar, and if this was without effect, to excommunicate any member (much less officer) who held slaves?  If the churches had done only what they are commissioned to do, it is possible to conceive that there might not have been a civil war that exactly mirrored the divisions in the churches.  I humbly suggest that there is very little that one can take seriously from Dabney and Thornwell concerning the spirituality of the church (much less other doctrines) when they were so obviously obsessed with creating a “Christian Society” of white supremacy and grievously twisted scriptural teaching on so many points.  Given the legacy of the “spirituality of the church,” I would respectfully encourage advocates of the doctrine of “two kingdoms” to abandon the phrase.

Third, we must recognize a distinction between the church as divine institution with its own distinct commission and limited authority and the church as members scattered as salt and light in their callings.  In this latter capacity, believers’ consciences are free to pursue common-grace solutions alongside their unbelieving neighbors even if they differ from the conclusions that other Christians draw from the same basic biblical principles.  We have the freedom to differ with Tisby’s suggestions about reparations, but we do not have the freedom to disagree with him about the sinfulness of complicity with racism, for there our consciences are bound by the Word of God.  The Great Commission is not the Great Commandment, but the one doesn’t cancel the other either.

When the Council of Jerusalem met (Acts 15), the revolutionary impact was not felt on the Roman Empire at all and yet, exercising the authority given to such assemblies by Christ, was felt by the whole world as the most intractable wall—between Jew and Gentile—was torn down.  If this wall was demolished, no worldly division can be allowed to subvert the “one new person”—the redeeming Head from his multiracial body: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Eph 2:14-15).  May our churches increasingly reflect the unity of Christ’s body now that will be unveiled at Christ’s return.  As believers and citizens in our daily callings, we have the responsibility to pursue social justice (i.e., neighbor-love), though we may disagree on how to do this best.

I have “talked” too much in this review.  We of the formerly dominant culture have done most of the talking, in fact.  It is time to listen to our black brothers and sisters with whom we join in worship around the throne of the Lamb.  We don’t have to agree with everything, but if we want to listen, Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise is a good place to start:

Jesus crossed every barrier between people, including the greatest barrier of all—the division between God and humankind.  He is our peace, and because of his life, death, resurrection, and coming return, those who believe in Jesus not only have God’s presence with us but in us through the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we have the power, through God, to lave behind the compromised Christianity that makes its peace with racism and to live out Christ’s call to a courageous faith (215).

 

 

Michael Horton is the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine, co-host of the Core Christianity radio show, and the author of several books, including Justification, Volume 1 and Volume 2, and Core Christianity: Finding Yourself In God’s Story.  

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