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ABSTRACT: One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, eight in ten American churches consist of predominantly one ethnic group. In the pursuit of greater ethnic harmony, white Christians can benefit from learning about and learning from the black church, including its history in America. That history reveals the limits of racial-diversity initiatives, the need for sympathetic listening, and the interdependence of white and black Christians. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We are bound in a single garment of destiny,” and we will not grow up into the fullness of Christ without each other.
For our ongoing series of feature articles by scholars for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Johnathon Bowers, assistant professor of philosophy and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary, to share lessons white Christians like himself can learn from the history of the black church.
Worship - People - Comfort - Step - Savior
Racially divided worship may feel comfortable to most people, but this comfort is out of step with our Savior’s heart, who died to tear down such divisions. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14, Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile.2 He did this so that “he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). Christ’s peacemaking mission fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham centuries before to bless all the nations in Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 22:18). We catch a vision of this blessed community in Revelation 7:9, where John describes “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” worshiping God together.
In this article, I want to focus specifically on the black-white divide in the church, and I want to explore how white Christians, in particular, can help bridge this divide.5 Out of the...
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