In 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped forward to say that the Church of England is deeply institutionally racist and set up an Anti-Racism Taskforce. While this announcement was met with mixed reactions, it was great to see pro-activity when it comes to tackling racism. But we must balance the role of the denominational church with the role of the local church. Both are critical.
In 2020, racial justice was pulled into focus. The Black Lives Matter protests raised a call to re-evaluate the treatment of Black people across the globe that could not be ignored. But the media moves on quickly and since then the discussion has fallen off the news agenda.
However, as a pastor, I think it is important to remind the church, the leaders and the congregation, that we shouldn't determine our engagement with social issues based on trending issues. In order to build a healthy church, we must continually approach and improve our responses to matters such as these and defend them where we can – even if they are not in the headlines.
The vision of heaven in Revelation 7:9, give us a clear outline of the importance of multi-ethnic churches and racial justice.
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."
That's every nation, every tribe, every people, and every language – every single one. When we gain a greater understanding of God's love and His plans for us, we can then understand the importance of racial equality – it's part of The Great Commission that Jesus gave to us.
The Church is called to be a place where people of all cultures, languages, skin tones and histories can participate, grow, and serve together. Ask yourself, how is my church, in the area that we find ourselves and with the people God has given us, moving towards this vision? Do we take active steps to ensure we are living it or aiming for it every day?
God's vision for racial unity and justice should inspire the Church to intentionally cultivate a multi-cultural community – by inviting and welcoming everyone, of every creed. There is a biblical importance to reaching out to everyone, from every background. We're called to show heaven on earth so what if our congregations don't follow this design?
My wife and I have had the privilege of planting an intentionally multi-ethnic church on an urban housing estate. Over the last decade we have learnt so much about ministering in a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multigenerational environment – often from our mistakes. Despite those mistakes, we've sought to learn from them, to learn from our community and continue on, with the aim of seeing the church become a community of welcome and justice, a place of healing and wholeness that points to the reconciling power of Jesus.
I've spoken of 'the Church' so far but the truth is, the opportunity to reach out to every tribe is with every Christian. We can all advance God's vision, and not just within the four walls of a church building, but also in our wider communities. This might mean considering our responsibility when we see a racist interaction so that when confronted by racism, we can have a heart's intention to take wise action and not just keep our heads down.
We can't wait for "the Church" to solve the issue of racism. We are the Church, each of us, and it's every Christian's mandate to build out God's picture of the Church.
We can realise God's vision of racial equality by reaching out to people non discriminatorily. By getting to know our neighbours and helping those in need, even without inviting them to church, we introduce them to Christ. Simply start where you are, with people you may not have much in common with. This might mean instigating and developing a friendship with someone who is different from you and trusting that it could have an impact for others in the church life too.
The pursuit of tackling racism can sometimes end up dividing us, despite having the same end goal, because we have different ways of combating it. But every Christian can agree that racism is a sin. We just need to be aware of our own biases and approach every situation with humility and an intent to help the marginalised. One concrete step towards having the right mindset is simply to throw the net wider in terms of who we invite into our lives and communities.
Certainly, we all have much more to learn, but I also know that I am not alone as I long for the Church to reflect God's heart for unity and diversity.
Read more about a biblical perspective on race and how Christians and churches can advance God's vision for racial unity and justice in my book Healing the Divide, available here: thegoodbook.co.uk/healing-the-divides
The Rev Dr Jason Roach is a medical doctor by background, has served as a special advisor to the Bishop of London and is a well-known evangelical author and speaker on a range of topics. He joined the LCM team in 2021 as Director of Ministries after being one of the founders and currently an elder of The Bridge Church in Battersea London.
London City Mission wants to make Jesus known to communities in London who are unlikely to hear the gospel. They partner with churches who share a vision to see everyone in London personally invited to follow Jesus Christ. LCM equips local churches to step out in faith, build connections with the communities around them and lovingly share the amazing news of the grace found in Jesus Christ. For more information about London City Mission please visit: