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Charlottesville: How Should the Church Respond?

by Dr. Ken Davis

In light of the recent public turmoil in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, Bible-believing Baptists should be reflecting on how we can be responding from a Biblical worldview perspective. As a longtime (over four decades) observer/researcher of America’s increasingly diverse demographics and a church planting participant in urban multiethnic ministry, I am deeply concerned that we independent (unaffiliated) fundamental Baptists be among the leaders in modeling how Christians can make a difference to bring about racial reconciliation in our divided nation and communities.

Too often, our history as churches and as a movement has not been exemplary. Fearing an embrace of the liberal social gospel, we avoided any involvement in community race relations. Sometimes we sadly demonstrated open or latent racist attitudes and behaviors—or were complicit by our silence. Some schools have in the past excluded blacks because of an unbiblical view of “interracial marriage.” Churches have not always enthusiastically welcomed and embraced ethnic minorities.

In recent times, many of our local churches have struggled with how to reach racially and economically changing neighborhoods in order to transition their ministries to become more multicultural. Too often, the growing ethnic and racial diversity of our communities is not reflected in our churches.

So in these times of racial and political discord and division, how should the church respond? In particular, what can pastors do to lead their people with Biblical conviction to be on mission with Jesus and make a difference? How can we be instruments to see racial reconciliation realized in our communities and churches?

In light of the above realities, I’d like to suggest six foundational observations to lay the groundwork for seven practical recommendations.

Six Foundational Observations

First, racial reconciliation is needed because racism is alive and well. Racism, both individual and institutional, still exists in America and has not gone away with time. Knowing the Biblical doctrine of the depravity of man, we should not be surprised by the public display of white supremacy and neo-Nazi hatred.[1] The events in Virginia, and the violent backlash from left-wing groups, remind us that it has been hard to shed the stain of racialized sin in our nation.

Our churches are not immune either. I don’t know of any churches in our circles that would openly endorse the recent events of Charlottesville, but I suspect that we may have church members who are secretly supportive of white supremacist and KKK ideals. Sadly, I personally know of pastors who have been fired because they encouraged ethnic diversity in their churches. Other forms of racism are more subtle, but no less toxic and repugnant before a holy God.[2]

Second, racial reconciliation is not a social issue but a gospel issue. Not everyone in our circles may agree with that. I agree, we must be very careful what we label a “gospel issue,” but as D. A. Carson has observed,

Certainly the majority of Christians in America today would happily aver that good race relations are a gospel issue. They might point out that God’s saving purpose is to draw to himself, through the cross, men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation; that the church is one new humanity, made up of Jew and Gentile; that Paul tells Philemon to treat his slave Onesimus as his brother, as the apostle himself; that this trajectory starts at creation, with all men and women being made in the image of God, and finds its anticipation in the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Moreover, the salvation secured by Christ in the gospel is more comprehensive than justification alone: it brings repentance, wholeness, love for brothers and sisters in the Christian community. But the sad fact remains that not all Christians have always viewed race relations within the church as a gospel issue.[3]

Today more Christians are willing to see racial reconciliation as a genuine gospel issue, but sadly we still disagree on how urgent the issue is and how to confront it. As Carson goes on to say, “Black Christians are far more likely to see that this is a crucial gospel issue, an issue of huge importance, one that is often ignored, while white Christians are more likely to imagine that racial issues have so largely been resolved that it is a distraction to keep bringing them up.”

Third, true racial reconciliation must be “gospel grounded.” I do not have the time to prove that exegetically. Let me encourage you to do a careful study of (and preach!) Ephesians 2 and 3 to be convinced that the gospel includes the reality that Jews and Gentiles are now brought together by the cross of Christ into a new humanity. We now have a new identity in Christ. This ethnic unity in Christ is a reality already accomplished in the finished work of Christ. As Jarvis Williams, New Testament professor at Southern Seminary, acknowledges,

It would not be exegetically accurate to say that [Ephesians 2 and 3] are “about racial reconciliation,” at least in the way we think of those terms today. The ancient division between Jew and Gentile was not the same as the divisions we know exist between Black and White or Serbian and Croatian or Hutu and Tutsi or Japanese and Chinese. The division between Jew and Gentile was God’s own doing according to his covenantal plan, and Ephesians 2 and 3 dwell on the fulfillment of that covenantal plan. But certainly we must say that a lesson or an implication of Ephesians 2:11—3:8 is that Christ united Christians of every ethnicity together [emphasis added]. He removed ethnicity as a barrier. The good news of the gospel, in that sense, includes racial reconciliation. Christ did it! He reconciled us both to the Father and to one another![4]

This unity and new identity in Christ demands and deserves a visible demonstration in our churches and personal relationships. The watching world needs to see the supernatural power of the gospel to break down the walls of hostility.

Those of us who are convinced that racial reconciliation must be firmly rooted in the gospel—that it is in fact a clear gospel issue—would also point to passages like Romans 1:16–17 and Galatians 2:11–14 and 3:26–29. We would point out that Jesus Himself preached this gospel of peace (=reconciliation) to Jews near the promises and to Gentiles far away from those promises (Matt. 15:21–28; John 4; et al.). Passages like these demonstrate that the Bible’s categories of identity and racial reconciliation intersect with a proper understanding of salvation and Christ’s gospel.[5]

Fourth, racial reconciliation is not to be confused with ethnic diversity. The place to begin our conversation for change is not by pushing hard for multiethnic churches. It is quite possible to have successfully transitioned into a multicultural congregation, and yet not see genuine gospel-centered racial reconciliation. I personally desire to see more intentionally multiethnic churches in our nation—and have been a passion advocate for several decades. I’ve planted several diverse congregations, but I recognize that the first and most urgent need in our communities is for gospel-grounded ethnic reconciliation. This kind of reconciliation can be achieved only through the supernatural cross work of Christ to change hearts. Only the gospel can unite former enemies, reconciling us to God and then to one another. Only the Good News message of Jesus can empower us to truly and deeply love one another. Moving toward multiethnic churches then becomes a beautiful reality and result of fully embracing/applying this radical gospel message that Christ is the great barrier breaker.

Fifth, racial reconciliation demands a clearer understanding of “race.” I’m not convinced that the modern concept of race is even Biblical and really helps us relate to each other. Many have pointed out that it is, in fact, a social construct. In the modern world, it is the product of 18th and 19th century racist theories in Europe and based on a pseudoscience of “whiteness” and non-whiteness.[6] It was utilized by Darwin in his wrong-headed proposals for the “survival of the fittest” (superior races) and then taken up by the Nazis to justify the extermination of millions of Jews.[7]  Many of us are persuaded that the very construct of race, as we know it, is just one more manifestation of the evil of racism. In other words, racism has created the very concept of race.

Though the category of race is not found in the Bible, we do find clear evidence for the concept of ethnicity, an idea that is much larger than race. In his writings, John Piper does a great job of demonstrating that the concept of ethnicity is common in both testaments and more useful in cultivating human relationships.[8] He argues that it is better than race in marking human identity and cultural differences. “Race” is an imprecise term with no clear boundary lines—and certainly none based on Biblical distinctions. Biblically, all humans are related to one another and have descended from one common ancestor: Adam. Acts 17:26 clearly teaches, “[God] made from one man every nation [ethnos = people] of mankind to live on the face of the earth” (ESV). Thus, there is only one “race”—the human race, composed of thousands of ethnic people groups. This is the primary reason we can boldly teach our people that any idea of racial  supremacy (whether black or white) is totally contrary to God’s design.

Finally, racial reconciliation will require constant intentionality. Ethnic unity will not happen in our churches automatically because people naturally desire to be with their own people group where they are most comfortable. Leaders will need to cast a Biblical vision (cf. Rev. 7:9) and exhort their congregations to leave their comfort zones to cultivate relationships with those of other ethnicities. Churches in diverse communities will need to be intentional about proclaiming the gospel to all community groups, living out the gospel in front of those communities. This may mean having people in their homes who don’t look like them, sound like them, or act like them. In my view, this is not some superficial “let’s just get together once in a while” thing; this is a sincere desire to love and serve each other in the Spirit and by the power of Jesus Christ. “By this all people will know that [we] are [Christ’s] disciples” (John 13:35, ESV).

Churches seeking to be Great Commission focused and obedient must have leaders and members who are intentional about sharing the gospel, making disciples “of all nations [ethne],” i.e., among every ethnolinguistic people group in their communities (Matt. 28:18, ESV). They will not neglect reaching out to their “Samaria” (Acts 1:8; cf. Jesus in John 4)—those whom I define as geographically close but culturally distant. Churches that desire to better reflect the ethnic diversity of their communities will need to be passionate about reaching people who may not look like them. Only then will they be change agents, modeling what can be to their divided communities.

Seven Practical Recommendations

With this foundation in place, to move us from mere rhetoric to Bible-based action, let me close with some practical steps that all Christians and church leaders can prayerfully implement.

First, Christians and Biblical congregations must boldly proclaim the gospel as the ultimate solution to the divisions and discord in our nation. We must show and share with those far from God what the gospel says about racial and ethnic reconciliation. We must be willing to press courageously the claims of Christ and His gospel into the hopelessness of our racist culture.

Second, we must be willing to publicly and privately call all forms of racism and racial supremacy a repugnant evil in the eyes of the Creator, Who made all people in His image. We must help believers in our churches develop a Christocentric commitment that views all ethnocentric concepts as rivals to the sole supremacy of Christ and thus contrary to Scripture. We should at times use legal and peaceful means at our disposal when we see overt racism and injustice raise its ugly head in our communities. We may need to practice loving church discipline for unrepentant racists in our midst.

Third, we must be willing to repent humbly of our racist past as a nation and sometimes as churches. Where our individual and corporate attitudes, actions, and policies have been more like our culture than Christ our Redeemer and Reconciler, we must honestly acknowledge our failure and seek to be reconciled with minorities we have perhaps excluded, offended, or ignored. Only as we address our often racist history will we have credibility and be able to answer the complicated questions in our racist present. Progress will be difficult if we deny racism still exists.

Fourth, we must hold our leaders accountable, both national and local, in our communities and our congregations, when necessary. As U.S. citizens and as Christians, we are obligated to seek justice for all.[9] The Old Testament prophet tells us that the Lord requires “good” of his people and then goes on to describe that as doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Significantly, godliness and pursuing justice are linked. If leaders commit injustice rather than uphold it, we should take up a prophetic role to condemn this.[10] At times, we may need to take legal steps to ensure that justice under the law will be upheld for all our citizens.

Fifth, Christian leaders must learn to listen carefully to ethnic minority voices within our church circles. Sitting down and engaging Christians of color in meaningful conversation to hear their perspectives on local and national social justice issues might be a helpful start. Hear their recommendations on how to make your church more welcoming to minorities. White Christians must be willing to share their privilege and power with other Bible-based Christian leaders and must be willing to invest in emerging minority leaders and to hear their concerns. All of us, whatever our color or culture, must be willing to sacrifice our preferences and comfort zones to build and model genuine multiethnic community for our divided neighbors to see.

Sixth, we must be diligent to cultivate and maintain close relationships and friendships with unsaved ethnic leaders and members of our own communities. Work diligently in your own church and ministry to challenge, inform, and train your people, particularly those in the majority community, to be sensitive to the pain, hurts, and needs among minority people living around you. Then move beyond building empathy to actually equipping your people to build bridges with nearby people of color. Use John 4 and other related passages to teach your people to follow the example of Christ in reaching out to your local “Samaria.” Regardless of our color or culture, we must all work hard to develop cultural sensitivities and competencies to ensure harmonious interpersonal relationships in our ministries and civic affairs.

Last, we must welcome and embrace difference, not ignore or deny it. Mere condemnation of the evil of racism is insufficient. Whites must move past a superficial “color blind” approach, recognizing and even celebrating God-designed differences. Seasoned missiologist Bob Hoskins has properly observed:

When tragedies [like Charlottesville] happen and the topics of race and equality come up, people tend to say things like, “I don’t see differences. I see everyone as equal,” or, “I am color blind. The color of a person’s skin doesn’t matter to me.” While I understand the sentiment behind such statements – you don’t judge people based on their skin color – I feel this kind of thinking is causing more harm than good. Yes, everyone is equal in worth regardless of who they are and where they come from – we are all created equally valuable and worthy of the love and life of God. However, there are many beautiful differences we need to be willing to acknowledge, see, and appreciate if we are going to be able to genuinely move towards others who are different from us. When we say we see everyone the same regardless of skin color or cultural differences, we are discounting the awesome ways God created us as unique persons and people groups with our own specific purposes, gifts, and ideas. Desiring to see everyone the same ultimately implies more value is placed on agreement and sameness than on differences or diverse ideas and thoughts. If we desire to grow in our understanding of others and of God, we need to be willing to move toward differing ideas, cultures, and perspectives – and allow them to change us in healthy, God-ordained ways, without fear.[11]

One of the most significant ways a church can serve its city is by modeling the racial reconciliation that society is desperately looking for within its four walls. Multiethnic churches that bring people together around the gospel and demonstrate loving unity in diversity have a voice and an influence that can radically impact our communities, cities, and nation.

In closing, discussing race, cultural diversity, and justice issues can be quite challenging because of all the differing perspectives and opinions on these topics. Yet these are necessary conversations to have if are to move beyond rhetoric to results, see wrongs righted, hurts healed, and a church that demographically reflects its community and shares the heart of God for all people.

I am convinced that Christ and the Biblical gospel are sufficient to resolve the pressing issues of our day. A truly Christ-exalting, gospel-centered approach to ethnic relations will stress God’s grace more than man’s proposed remedies, pointing people to the cross. I firmly believe it is critical that the church pursue grace relations rather than “race” relations.[12]

Dr. Ken Davis is director of church planting at Baptist Bible Seminary.

[1] Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, shows why white supremacist ideas are a heresy contrary to Scripture: “A claim of white superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity—every single human being—in his own image. It is a rejection of God’s glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God’s judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities. Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ—the great good news of God’s saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God’s purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ. You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible.” Read more here:

[2] Contact me to request a copy of a message I recently preached in chapel at Clarks Summit University titled, “Why Racism Is Sin”—a topic I never heard addressed as I grew up in fundamentalist circles.



[5] For help in exegeting and applying these and other key New Testament passages, I recommend One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology by Jarvis Williams (B&H Publishing Group, 2010); God’s New Humanity: A Biblical Theology of Multiethnicity for the Church by David E. Stevens (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012); and Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian by John Piper (Crossway, 2011).

[6] Historically, the emergence of the anthropology of races in the modern world went hand in hand with early assumptions of racial inferiority and superiority. From the beginning, science was bent on serving “the superior.” See Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race Scripture and the Protestant Atlantic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 3–9; and Jenell Williams Paris, “Race: Critical Thinking and Transformative Possibilities,” in This Side of Heaven, ed. Robert J. Priest and Alvaro L. Nieves (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 22. Some researchers believe race as a social construct actually arose much earlier, in the 16th and 17th centuries, to justify the enslaving of whole people groups; see Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, vol. 1, Racial Oppression and Social Control, ed. Nicholas Canny (London, England: Verso, 1994); and Robert E. Berkhofer, The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (New York: Vintage, 1978).

[7] For the connection of the race concept to Darwinian evolution, see Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware, One Race, One Blood (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2010) and Carl Wieland, One Human Family: The Bible, Science, Race & Culture (Atlanta: Creation Book Publishers, 2011).

[8] See, for example, chapter 5 in Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Baker, 2010) and Bloodlines (Crossway, 2011).

[9] Social justice is not just the most recent ministry buzzword. More than 80 Biblical texts underscore divine concern for justice to the disadvantaged. In the Old Testament, God often warned His people that judgment would come if they refused to show justice to the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless. These passages speak not just of individual sins but of systemic, institutional evils. God calls for His people to uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute, to rescue the poor and helpless, and to deliver them from the grasp of evil people (Ps. 82:2–4). For more on this, see Timothy Keller’s Generous Justice: How Grace Makes Us Just (Penguin Books, 2012).

[10] We do this for other clear-cut moral issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia, so why are we hesitant to publicly address racial and economic injustice?


[12] For more on this subject, see the journal article that the author cowrote with Dr. Charles Ware, president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis, proposing 15 proactive steps the church and its leaders can take in response to racial discord and disunity in our communities (this was written after the Ferguson, Missouri, tragedy but still has relevance):