When Jesus first told perhaps his most famous parable—the Good Samaritan—a hush would have fallen over the crowd. Sure, in part because the actions of the Samaritan man were honorable and above-and-beyond what most would have expected from a passerby. But the hush would have primarily been not due to the protagonists' actions, but due to his race. After all, he was a Samaritan. And like every Jewish person knew, Samaritans were inferior. You didn't emulate Samaritans; you avoided them. And yet, Jesus makes it a point to take an ethnicity that repeatedly found itself among the marginalized and attributes it to his most famous character.
When the Apostle Paul was first beginning writing his letters to the churches, he began with a letter to Galatia. One of his primary concerns was the fact that a group of zealous Jewish people had begun ostracizing the Gentile believers and diminishing the Gospel by requiring racial and ethnic assimilation. In fact, he went so far as to openly, unequivocally oppose Peter himself to his face for buying into the lie that one's race has anything to do with one's standing before God.
In Revelation, John gives an account of his view of Heaven, which includes, in his words, "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne" (Revelation 7:9). Every nation. Every language. Every race—gathered together, worshiping God for eternity.
What these examples and many others point to is that there is no way to reconcile an honest reading of the New Testament and the racism we've witnessed on display in Charlottesville this past weekend. In fact, what they show is that the images we've seen, the rhetoric that's been spewed, and the narrative being purported from the demonstrations and rallies in Charlottesville are all in direct opposition to the heart of God and his will for this world. In other words, it is evil.
And for the church, this is far more than a matter of social relevancy. It's a matter of theology. Because what racism ultimately threatens is not our popularity but our view of God and his mission in this world.
The moment we begin to believe the lie that one's race has anything to do with his or her value and worth is the moment we diminish our view of God's grandeur and glory. When God created mankind, the Bible tells us that he did so "in his image." This means that God saw fit to anoint one member of his creation—mankind—with a unique responsibility to reflect his own nature and character into the world as stewards of the rest of his creation. And in that grating of the Image of God—"the Imago Dei"—to mankind, we were given the privilege of displaying the heart of God to the world and ruling over this magnificent creation. And God makes it clear from the beginning that this plan to restore us to the role of complete and perfect Image-bearers includes people from every tribe and tongue—from all nations (Genesis 18:18).
God is not a God whose image can be contained within one racial identity. He's not a God that can be reflected via a single culture. The diversity that our world displays is a testament to God's magnificent complexity and transcendence. And so to limit God's favor to any one race is to inherently (and rather heretically) limit God himself.
On top of limiting our view and experience of God himself, racism limits our view of and effectiveness in God's mission. Moments before Jesus' Ascension, he left his followers with a command, recounted in Matthew's Gospel as this:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
When we read "all nations" we instinctively think of nations as defined by political borders. But the Greek word used here is actually "ethnos," from which our word "ethnicity" comes. What Jesus is saying in this commandment, then, has less to do with crossing national boundaries (though it certainly includes that) and more to do with crossing ethnic ones. In other words, what Jesus has in view when he gives this command is a family of disciples, and that family includes people from every race across the globe. So, again, to allow an ounce of racial superiority into the church is to directly oppose the very mission of God in this world.
God is up to something big in this world, and it includes those from every tribe and tongue. It always has, and it always will. And so if any group of people ought to embody diversity, it's the church. The events in Charlottesville only highlight a problem that is as old as the church itself—a problem which led Paul to remind the church: "Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14). When we understand that our justification, our righteousness, and even our inherent value are not contingent upon our race, our nationality, or our cultural background but on the finished work of Christ, we can be free to live as a beautifully diverse and unified family of God.
So, as those committed to God's nature, his character, and his mission, we open our hearts, our homes, and our churches to all. And, in so doing, we'll catch a glimpse of the glorious eternity that awaits us, when we all feast together at the table of the marriage supper of the Lamb.