Racial Reconciliation Series: Beyond Colorblind
As part of the release of fall 2017 edition of Contact Magazine, the Office Hours Faculty Blog is proud to present a 6-week series on racial reconciliation featuring articles written by experts, scholars and ministry leaders from Gordon-Conwell. The weekly release each Friday and will include articles A Conversation with Dr. Emmett G. Price III, Beyond Colorblind, Ministering to Families in the Urban Context, How Do We Learn to Love Our Neighbor, Racial Reconciliation: My Personal Experience and Can We All Get Along.
Sarah Shin (MAT ’17)
An adapted exerpt from the book Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey (IV Press, October 2017).
Our churches often avoid the topic of ethnicity and race because we don’t think it’s relevant to our faith, or we’re afraid of offending people and trying to avoid being “political.” More often than not, we don’t know how to talk about it and withdraw from conversations about race or ethnicity. We lack the skills, language and understanding to be able to share the gospel in our diverse and divided contexts.
Perhaps the reason Christians have little to say is that, for a time, we bought into the secular world’s gospel of colorblind diversity as the answer to our problems of ethnic division. Colorblindness often meant polite avoidance or silence, inside and outside the Church.
In buying into colorblindness, we lost our prophetic voice. We did not examine the Scripture’s rich depth of insight into God’s creation and intent for ethnicity, and we lacked biblical literacy on the issue, leading to lack of theological reflection, formation and repentance. Scripture formed no foundation for ourselves as ethnic beings. We either denied ethnicity as valuable or bought into the secular world’s understanding of ethnicity. This robbed us of the opportunity to hear the stories of people who are ethnically different than us.
We are shocked and unsure of how to engage when we hear of things such as a race-related incident or hate crime. Our lack of ethnic identity understanding for ourselves and those around us led to a proclamation of a gospel that is irrelevant or powerless in addressing real aches, pains and questions. Racially and culturally unaware witness and involvement in our communities caused distrust; we sometimes did more harm than good and pushed people away from us—away from opportunities to hear the gospel, and away from trusting Jesus. What resulted was and is a distant and often irrelevant, unaffected Church.
The Christian story is one that acknowledges that we are fundamentally broken. Why would the realm of ethnicity and race be exempt from the influence of sin? Colorblindness mutes Christian voice and thought from speaking into ethnic brokenness. In holding onto colorblindness as the solution, we as Christians are trying to doggy-paddle when we actually need to learn how to swim. We might sink in our attempts to stay afloat or cause others to drown as we thrash about in our good intentions.
Our world is in need of the gospel, a good news that goes beyond colorblindness, that is not afraid of addressing ethnic difference. When it comes to ethnicity, our world needs Christian voices to call for change and reform with Jesus as the transforming center of it all. How can we relevantly live out the gospel in such a hotbed of emotions, scars, division and chaos? If we avoid this topic now, we withdraw into ineffectual witness in word and deed. And we leave a broken and hurting world, friends and strangers, in chaos.
We need to recognize what we are meant to be in our ethnic stories and identities so that we can ask Jesus to restore us. It’s not just about being racially aware and sensitive so that you can be a cross-culturally savvy navigator of a multiethnic group. It’s also about Jesus redeeming and restoring our ethnic identities, which makes for a compelling narrative that causes non-Christians to ask us about our faith as they wonder, how could that kind of hope and healing be available to me?
When Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she responds with astonished cynicism: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9).
Jesus’ attempts at conversation are parried by the woman’s multiple pointed questions about their people’s historic ethnic tensions. But by choosing to speak with her, Jesus the Messiah is embodying what Israel was meant to be: the priesthood nation and light to the Gentiles. He is redeeming what it means to be an Israelite Jew. And as the Samaritan woman experiences Jesus redeeming his people’s ethnicity, she starts to desire such living water. Jesus is transforming the disciples’ understanding of what it meant to be Jewish and the Samaritan woman’s understanding of what it meant to be Samaritan. Ethnicity no longer serves as the confines of mission. It becomes the vehicle, the sacred vessel in which God’s story comes to light.
Our ethnic stories rarely form in isolation; they often involve encounters and altercations with those around us. It’s knowing our ethnic stories and the ethnic identity narratives of those around us that help us realize the complexity of values, scars, trigger points and words to avoid. It helps us know more how to sensitively share the gospel, and boldly invite even those that were considered ethnic enemies or strangers to become believers.
Knowing and owning our ethnic narratives helps us understand the real issues of injustice, racial tension and disunity that exist in the world. Ethnicity awareness helps us ask the question of how to prophetically engage in pursuing justice, racial reconciliation and caring for the poor while we give the reason for our hope: Jesus, the great reconciler of a multiethnic people.
Sarah Shin is a resource specialist in the evangelism department of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). She is a speaker and trainer in ethnicity, evangelism and the arts, and she previously served IVCF as an area director in Boston and as a regional coordinator of multiethnicity. A fine artist and painter, Sarah has an M.A. in Theology degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Master’s in City Planning and Development from MIT. She and her husband live in Cambridge, MA
- Read the full Fall 2017 edition of Contact Magazine.
- Find more information on Gordon-Conwell’s new Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience.
- Watch Sarah Shin share her testimonty at InterVarsity’s Multiethnic Staff Conference.
- Purchase Sarah Shin’s book, Beyond Colorblind.
- Read our interview with Dr. Emmett G. Price III on racism and the church.