Presented to the Evangelical Missiological Society, 3/12/2021 (Rocky Mountain Region)
Racial unity and missiological purpose are intimately linked as both are rooted in the same Biblical premises of (1) the sanctity of human life through the imago dei, (2) the all-families stipulation of the Abrahamic Covenant, and (3) the all-nations, tribes, and tongues fulfillment language of the apocalypse. Because of this linkage in the metaphysical foundations of the Biblical worldview, there are natural intersections and implications in the categories of ethics and socio-political thought.
As individuals become more aware of the deep societal divides on supposedly racial lines, they can be likewise more aware of Biblical models for resolution. These racial-unity models intersect with missiological underpinnings, which means that the missions-minded focus will have embedded in it the racial unity concept. In short, those focused on missions from a Biblical perspective will also possess the cure for racial tensions. This paper explores the Biblical grounding and intersection of the two concepts and the practical implications and advantage in messaging racial unity within missiological efforts.
THE CORRELATIVE PROBLEM OF RACIAL DISUNITY AND MISSIOLOGICAL PURPOSE
The horrific “modern day lynching” of Ahmaud Arbery, and the shooting death of Breonna Taylor became centerpieces of reignited racial tensions in early 2020. The death of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 was rightfully scrutinized as not only a tragic loss of life, but also as 8 minutes and 46 seconds that brought racial tensions in the United States from a simmer to a boil. The near-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020 only increased tensions and evidenced that the boiling race issue would not cool anytime soon.
Increasing exposure of racial inequities is heightening awareness that racial inequalities some thought to be simply relics of an unjust past remain painfully intact for many people today. One statistical summary notes that black women die in childbirth three times as often as their white counterparts, that black Americans are dying from Covid-19 at a disproportionately high rate, that black men and women live shorter lives than their white counterparts, that black and Hispanic unemployment is much higher than in the white community, that black household median income is below that of other ethnicities in the U.S., that black home ownership is lower than any other ethnicity, that the black poverty rate is more than double the white poverty rate, that black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men, and that black incarcerations rates are still staggeringly higher than among other ethnicities.
These types of continuing inequities have added fuel to the racial disunity fire, yet only 38% of white Christians recognize a current race problem in the United States, while 79% of black Christians acknowledge a race problem. This inequity of perception highlights the present reality of racial disunity in America and the disconnect among ethnicities regarding whether or not there even is a problem. Despite this growing tempest, there has been an 11% increase in “Christians who are uninspired to address racial injustice.”That apathy among some Christians is reflecting in attitudes toward missions.
Barna reports that “young black Americans…express a deeper ambivalence” toward missions, as 62% of black young adults say they value missionaries’ work, while 73% of white young adults find value in the work of missionaries. While it is beyond the scope of this current project to demonstrate a direct statistical correlation between perceptions of racial injustice and perceptions of missiological value, there seems an increasing recognition of race/ethnicity-related problems in missions. As high as 42% of Christian young adults acknowledge that “the Christian mission has been tainted by its association with colonialism” while only 29% of older adult Christians agree with that sentiment. Barbara Jones expresses the problem as follows:
In many of our American mission sending agency contexts, some level of assimilation or tokenism has been required of people of color. That is, in order to participate in the mission, we had to speak like, dress like, sing songs like and express theology like majority culture. Over time, that assimilation has created missed opportunities for white majority culture to know us as complete and whole image-bearers of God who have beautifully diverse ways of living out, experiencing and expressing the gospel.
Jones’s observation underscores the implication that missions efforts have been too greatly impacted by exporting culture – which will typically have racial undertones, at least. Ethnic and cultural diversity has not historically been celebrated in some missions contexts (and in particular, those to which Jones refers), but has been (at least) in practicality an obstacle to be overcome.
As the evangelizer and the evangelized acknowledge that cultural export as at least a perceived integral aspect of missions efforts, the racial connection becomes especially problematic when the exporting culture reflects racial inequity and ambivalence about that inequity. When the problems inherent in a given culture are (intentionally or unintentionally) exported through evangelistic and missiological vehicles, then there can be at least an indirect correlation between racial-cultural need and missiological purpose. If that is the case – and if culture is exported along with the gospel message – then that culture itself needs examination. With scrutiny, perhaps aspects of culture can be extracted from missions efforts so that what is exported is more purely and directly the Biblical worldview rather than an American worldview or a sender-centric worldview. Perhaps a purer missiological purpose can help us navigate racial or ethnicity-based inequities as well.
THE CORRELATIVE SOLUTION IN RACIAL OUTCOMES AND MISSIOLOGICAL PURPOSE
Sanctity of Life Through the Imago Dei
The value of human life is first expressed in Genesis 1:26-28, as God expressed that He would make humanity in His own image and likeness, to rule over other living things, and He made humanity male and female. The human creation capped off His creative work, which He determined to be very good. He valued humanity enough to fellowship uniquely with the man and woman, talking and walking with them. Should there be any perception that the woman might be inferior to the man, the first expression of negative value was regarding the absence of the woman – that it was not good that Adam be alone. Man and woman – made in the image of God – had value as the apex of His creation and uniquely bore His image. The imago dei was specified as the specific basis of humanity’s unique value in the initial post-flood interaction between God and Noah. “Whoever sheds man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”
While the sanctity of individual human life is rooted in the image of God and is explicitly stated, families and nations are characterized as made up of “each one” – individuals, and thus implicitly families and nations are partakers of the sanctity of human life, and not only particular families and nations, but all families and nations because families and nations are made up of individuals. While God does work uniquely at times with certain families and nations, their actual value in His sight is clearly established through His image in each individual. Even the first table of nations is shown to originate from Noah, the one to whom God gave the explanation of human sanctity.
From these early sanctity of life narratives it is also evident that there is actually only one race, and that all of humanity comes from Adam and then from Noah. There are certainly many derivative ethnicities and many cultures, but all can be traced back to the progenitors recorded in Genesis. This cosmology and history is in stark contrast to contemporary ideas of race that are seen as “cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations” by European conquests and colonialism. In these interpretations of history the concept of race itself is rooted in division and oppression. With that foundation there is no unity and no inherent cure for inequity. Instead, inequity must be managed by governmental systems (like as in Plato’s republic) or economic systems (like as in Marx’s and Engels’s communist ideal). If the Biblical model is to be trusted, then the solution isn’t found in governmental or economic controls, but rather in recognizing the common origin of all humanity – not only in Adam and Noah, but ultimately as created by God in His own image and for His glory. Our commonly shared heritage provides an alternative to intersectionality as an analytical framework. Rather focusing on cultural differences as the roots of inequity and oppression, we find the problems are much more basic and rooted in the human problems of sin and death. But our common ancestry points us ultimately to the Source of our redemption and the cure for inequity and oppression once the human problems of sin and death are finally eradicated.
The truth of humanity’s origin and the Source of humanity’s new birth are the basis of maintaining ethnic diversity while providing ontological and lasting unity. In the Biblical model, the premise of unity isn’t built on the necessity of eradicating diversity (which is expressed in racism and ultimately genocide), rather the Biblical provision for unity is rooted in our commonly shared heritage as created in the image of God and His plan for resolving the problems which are the ultimate causation of our separateness: sin and death. The solution then for inequities that are perceived to be related to race, and for the greater issue of separateness from God are one and the same. Racial inequity and missiological purpose point us in the same direction.
The All-Families Stipulation of the Abrahamic Covenant
In a context we often refer to as the Abrahamic Covenant, God makes seven commitments to Abram: (1), I will make you a great nation, (2) I will bless you, (3) and make your name great, (4) you shall be a blessing, (5) I will bless those who curse you, (6) the one who curses you I will curse, and (7) in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. The first six of these commitments pertain directly to Abraham and his descendants. They would be a blessed and mighty nation.
These six commitments are outlined in more detail in later covenants that God made with Abraham (land aspects in Genesis 15), with David (kingdom aspects in 2 Samuel 7), and with Israel (salvation aspects in Jeremiah 31). In order to illustrate the need especially for salvation, God made a conditional covenant through Moses with Israel to show the people’s holiness and sin deficiencies (in Exodus 19ff). The Biblical covenants following God’s initial commitments to Abraham all pertain to aspects of what would become the nation of Israel and her future in God’s plan.
However, God’s promises to Abraham were not limited to blessing only the physical descendants of Abraham. The seventh commitment God made stipulated that all the families of the earth would be blessed in or through Abraham. It is evident that God doesn’t intend to cancel the cultures of these various families or ethnicities, but rather He intends to allow them to be blessed even while retaining their diversity or distinct identity as separate families or ethnicities. Paul later explains that there are three types of descendants of Abraham. Those who are descended only according to the flesh or physically, those who are not physically descended from Abraham but have his faith, and those who both are descended physically from Abraham and have his faith. As we examine Biblical predictive prophecy, including Romans 9-11, we discover that the covenants are fulfilled in the third group and not the first group. There is no covenant made with the second group, however God promised to bless that group – made up of all the families of the earth – through Abraham and in fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham. So while it is evident that God has a restorative plan for the nation of Israel, He also has a redemptive plan for peoples of every ethnicity.
God’s promise to Abraham (Abram at the time) provides the framework for the entire Biblical narrative, and in that promise we discover another reason to value human life and human diversity: God commits to blessing people from every ethnicity, with those ethnicities fully intact. There is no hint of “super race” thinking in the Biblical model. On the contrary, we discover that God’s grace is poured out on all peoples. In this narrative alone the Biblical model is shown to counter any racist ideals and implicitly illustrate that there ought to be no integral racial inequity. All the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham.
This statement in Genesis 12:3b provides the second major evidence for human equality and value. Paul later describes this statement as importantly connected missiological purpose: “the Holy Spirit foreseeing that God would justify the peoples (ethnicities) by faith, proclaimed the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘all the ethnicities will be blessed in you.’” According to Paul, the seventh of God’s commitments to Abraham was the gospel proclaimed very early on, that God would provide salvation to the peoples or ethnicities. Ultimately the seed of Abraham who would provide that blessing would be the Messiah, the Christ. Not only does this statement evidence human equality and value, but it provides the basis for missions activity. If God’s gospel is for all peoples, and it is ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, then it is incumbent upon His people to proclaim the good news of Jesus the Christ to all peoples. Once again, the solution to inequities credited to racial disunity and diversity and the missiological purpose are one and the same.
The All Nations, Tribes, and Tongues Fulfillment
In the fulfillment narratives of Revelation we discover a third evidence for the equality and value of human life, and another correlation between racial resolution and missiological purpose. Just as humanity was created in the image of God and continues to bear that image, even though tarnished by sin, and just as God committed to Abraham that all the ethnicities would be blessed through Abraham, we see that God fulfills His promises literally, and that indeed all the families of the earth are blessed through Abraham and through his Seed (Christ).
The Messiah’s kingdom would be an eternal reign over all the peoples or ethnicities. The distinctiveness of these peoples would not be abolished. Rather they would remain as distinct, and even with those distinctions would be under one Ruler. The inherent design for humanity is both diversity and unity, though neither will be fulfilled except under Christ.
That same Messiah would purchase with His blood people from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation (ethnos).” This is a remarkable statement of human valuation. God valued (loved) humanity so much that with the Christ’s own blood He would purchase people from every ethnicity. If God valued humanity at that level, then there can be no justification for inequity in the treatment of others. God valued all with the highest possible valuation – that of His own blood. Racism, then, is one of the most egregious expressions of human arrogance – to value one’s own identity and heritage over and against someone else’s even when God provided an equal valuation of all humanity.
Even before the completion of the culminating events in Revelation there was already a multitude of people in heaven who were “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” It is notable that at each step of fulfillment we see straightforward literal rather than allegorical fulfillments. God had promised that all the families (or ethnicities) of the earth would be blessed through Abraham (and ultimately through his Seed, the Messiah), and we see those ethnicities even further identified repeatedly as from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.
Nearing the culmination of the apocalyptic events, John records an angel proclaiming an eternal gospel to “those who live on earth and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” In this continuation of gospel ministry the audience is – as it has always been – all peoples. We recognize in this a continuity of missiological purpose, to proclaim His unchanging good news to all peoples around the world. Not only does God value all peoples enough to pay for their forgiveness and righteousness, but He has commissioned in each administration those who would proclaim that provision of grace. In this we see intertwined ethnic equity and designed focus for missions efforts.
Again as we consider the events of Revelation, we encounter those who would die believing in Christ during that time (of tribulation). They will be found in heaven lauding their Messiah as the “King of the ethnicities (or nations).” While the Messiah’s kingdom would be centered in Jerusalem and Israel, it would be a global rule that would bless and provide for all peoples. Not only would the nations be ruled by the Messiah King, but the martyrs in heaven also tell us that all the ethnicities would worship Him. He is worthy not only as the King, but as God to be worshipped. This quality of the Messiah underscores the height of valuation of human life in God’s sight. As the ultimate valuer, He has placed a superlatively high value on human life and equality. The greater we see Him to be, the more reliable we see His valuations, and the more absurd racial or ethnic inequities and injustices are seen to be.
Finally, as the events of the Apocalypse come to their conclusion, John tells us that the ethnicities would walk by the light of the glory of God and the Lamb, and that God would provide for the healing of the ethnicities. The end of the story has God Almighty nurturing and caring for all ethnicities – still maintaining their distinctness, but all fellowshipping together in unity as designed by their Creator. At that point the race problem has been resolved fully, and not by abolishing ethnic distinctions, but by providing for and accomplishing ontological and practical unity. Remarkably, we don’t have to wait for those fulfillments to enjoy at least aspects of that unity. We discover that even in this age all those in Christ have ontological or positional unity and are exhorted to walk in the practice of that unity. Just as in ages past and in ages future there is no room for racism or injustice. These are completely incompatible with His design for His creation – and especially for His new creations, those who are in Christ. Consequently, believers have the recipe for racial healing and that recipe coincides with God’s missiological purpose. His gospel will be proclaimed throughout all the world. That gospel is His ability or power to save, and it is an evidence of just how much He values all human life. If we are effective in fulfilling the one responsibility (missiological purpose) than we will also be effective in countering injustice, oppression, and inequity – but it is clear that we cannot do the latter without doing the former.
The Biblical basis for unity is unmistakable. We are all created in the image of God and have immeasurable value in His sight – even in our fallen state. The covenantal framework revealed to Abraham provides a path for all the families of the earth to receive the blessings God provides through Christ. The “all nations, tribes, and tongues” fulfillment we anticipate in the certain future makes inescapably clear that diversity of ethnicity is not an obstacle to be overcome nor a curse in need of redemption, but rather an eternal by-product of His redemptive work.
In this present age there is no room for racial disunity or apathy toward injustices among believers, as there is no ethnic inequality in the body of Christ. Rather all are one in the body of Christ, and consequently all should be diligent to preserve the unity that God has already provided for believers. This oneness is to be expressed in that all are to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. The other ought to be considered as worthy of more honor than oneself. Pauline literature consistently shows that the unity and equality of people is an important thing to God and that it should be important to us as well. In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, for example, the first prescription he presents to his readers is that they “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” with which they had been called. They were to do this with “humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, and being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Applying these principles to the problems of race and disunity, we are reminded that the basis for ontological unity is our identity in Christ. Thus, if Jesus Christ is the focal point of our discussions and social engagement, we are working from a platform that is our foundation and basis for oneness and practical unity. Walking in a manner worthy of our calling demands that we are walking in unity because we all (in Christ) share that same calling. Walking with humility and gentleness requires that we elevate the other rather than elevating ourselves. Walking in patience means we can’t allow amoral cultural differences to dissuade us from love for reach other. Showing tolerance is only realistic when we understand that the other is us – that we are actually members of one body. Our unity is positional, rooted in the Spirit of God, and trumps cultural distinctives or differences. But even understanding all of these principles is not enough. Putting these things into practice is somewhat counterintuitive. The application of diligence is necessary to maintain or preserve the unity that we have. It takes effort and it takes work. It seems that a key practical implication of loving one another is to be willing to work hard at walking together.
In Christ the ontological problem has been resolved. Through His sacrificial death on our behalf, He has provided us life even while we were dead. By belief in Him we are brought into one body, and we are given new life in which we can walk together. It is our responsibility to express His positional truths in doing good to each other and to all.
Applying these same principles to missiological contexts, we recognize that the good news of Christ provides the solution to the human problems of sin and death. In the new birth, all men (humanity) are created equal – as many members of one body. Thus, the need is for believers to be always ready to make a defense to anyone who asks us to explain the hope that is within us. If we are disciples of Christ, we recognize the applicability of disciples making disciples, and how discipleship and replication begin with the hearing of the word of God and thus the proclaiming of the word of God. If part of walking in a manner worthy of our calling means to speak the truth in love, there is no more truthful or more loving message than the good news of Jesus the Christ. If we are walking in humility and gentleness then we must properly value the other and pursue his and her wellbeing. Patience demands that our efforts be not easily dissuaded. Showing tolerance for one another in love requires, for example, that evangelistic and missions efforts be not dismissive of the other nor engage in efforts to cancel or even augment culture. Instead, we must be prepared to encounter the difficulties that the presence of other people can sometimes bring. Rather than exporting culture to minimize potential differences, our focus must be on the calling He has provided and its implications for the building up of the body of Christ.
It may seem simple to say that the solution to the problems of racial or ethnic inequities, oppression, and injustice and the fulfillment of missiological purpose are one and the same – and indeed, perhaps that truth is somewhat elementary and obvious. However, the implications of this simple truth are profound. Perhaps an evaluation of how poorly we have handled racial issues will help us realize our deficiencies in fulfilling our missiological purpose. Acknowledging need for improvement need not be disheartening, as such admissions provide us opportunities to recalibrate and more closely align our efforts with the design and prescriptions of our Lord so that we can yet be faithful in the stewardships He has allowed us. Perhaps we may call to memory that those stewardships include doing good to all, honoring all, and loving all.
 Genesis 9:5-6.
 Genesis 12:3b.
 Revelation 7:9, 13:7, 14:6.
 Elliot C. McGlaughlin, “Ahmaud Arbery was hit with a truck before he died, and his killer allegedly used a racial slur, investigator testified” at CNN.com, June 4, 2020, viewed at https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/04/us/mcmichaels-hearing-ahmaud-arbery/index.html.
 Evan Hill, Ainara Tiefenthäler, Christiaan Triebert, Drew Jordan, Haley Willis, and Robin Stein, “How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody” in The New York Times, May 31, 2020, viewed at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html.
 Phil Helsel and Tim Fitzsimons, “Jacob Blake describes the struggle with police that left him partially paralyzed” NBCNews.com, January 13, 2021, viewed at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jacob-blake-thought-he-had-told-his-children-he-loved-n1254217.
 Mabinty Quarshie, N’dea Yancey-Bragg, Anne Godlasky, Jim Sargent, and Veronica Bravo, “12 charts show how racial disparities persist across wealth, health, education and beyond” in USA Today, June 18, 2020. Viewed at https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2020/06/18/12-charts-racial-disparities-persist-across-wealth-health-and-beyond/3201129001/.
 The Barna Group, “Black Practicing Christians are Twice as Likely as Their White Peers to See a Race Problem” at Barna.com, June 17, 2020, viewed at https://www.barna.com/research/problems-solutions-racism/.
 Barna, “Black Practicing Christians…”
 The Barna Group, “Young Christians Value Missions but Question Its Ethics” July 16, 2020 at Barna.com, viewed at https://www.barna.com/research/young-christians-value-missions/.
 Barna, “Young Christians Value Missions…”
 The Barna Group, “Barbara Jones on Sending Missionaries of Every Color to Every Tribe & Nation” at Barna.com, July 16,2020, viewed at https://www.barna.com/barbara-jones-on-sending-missionaries/.
 Or more properly defined.
 Genesis 1:31.
 Genesis 3:8-9.
 Genesis 2:18.
 Genesis 9:6.
 Genesis 10:5.
 These human problems (sin and death) have been conquered by Christ (Romans 6:23, 8:2), but He does not eradicate them until the revealed future is fulfilled (e.g., Revelation 20:14, 21:4, 21:8).
 While not called a covenant in Genesis 12, this set of promises is ratified in Genesis 15 when God actually cuts the covenant and it is referred to as such (15:18).
 Genesis 12:2-3.
 Genesis 12:3b.
 Romans 4:1.
 Romans 4:11.
 Romans 4:12.
 Galatians 3:8.
 Galatians 3:16.
 Revelation 2:26.
 Revelation 5:9.
 Revelation 7:9.
 Revelation 14:6.
 Revelation 15:3.
 Revelation 15:4.
 Revelation 21:23-24.
 Revelation 22:2.
 Ephesians 3:28.
 Ephesians 4:4.
 Ephesians 4:3.
 Ephesians 5:21.
 Philippians 2:3.
 Ephesians 4:1.
 Ephesians 4:2.
 Ephesians 4:3.
 Ephesians 4:4.
 1 Corinthians 12:13.
 Galatians 6:9-10.
 Romans 1:16-17.
 1 Peter 3:15.
 Romans 10:14.
 Ephesians 4:15.
 Ephesians 4:12-13.
 Galatians 6:9-10.
 1 Peter 2:17.
 Matthew 22:39.