Breaking Down the Walls Between Blacks and Whites


Few issues trouble our world so persistently as the conflict between different races and backgrounds. Evangelist Billy Graham, appearing on “PrimeTime Live” not long ago, was asked by Diane Sawyer, “If you could wave your hand and make one problem in this world go away, what would that be?”

Without pausing for breath, Dr. Graham quickly replied, “Racial division and strife.”

The remedy for racial reconciliation comes from the timeless book of irrefutable truth-the Bible. Neither Congress nor the President has a cure. The remedy is distinctly Christian, calling upon those of faith in Christ to be “salt and light” and to break down the walls of hostility.

While recognizing that racism is rampant among all races here in the U.S. and in Canada, I want to zero in on racial reconciliation between whites and blacks. As co-founder (with Raleigh Washington) of a multiracial church in Chicago called Rock of Our Salvation, I want to direct this advice to the white Christians reading this article:

1. Do not deny the reality of racism. The first step is to acknowledge that racism is real. For many, the civil rights movement-and television programs such as “Roots”-have brought home the truth that the racism and segregation of the past were evil and wrong. Still, our guilt about the past makes us easily defensive. We may feel, That doesn’t have anything to do with us now. Today, there are equal opportunities for everyone.

Confronted with staggering statistics of gangs, drugs, poverty and babies being born out of wedlock in the black community, we have become very good at analyzing the problem but denying any responsibility. I want to challenge white Christians to be honest about the reality of today’s racism and its ongoing effects on our black brothers and sisters.

To discover the truth, we must leave our comfort zones and become intentional about pursuing the reality that blacks live with every day. We cannot depend on what we’ve heard and “know” from our own social circles and family backgrounds, because they are probably too limited. We must encounter and talk with blacks.

White Christians have a unique responsibility to address this tremendous pain, because racism, at its core, is sin. Satan has used
racism as a primary tool to divide not only our nation, but the church as well. Even on Sunday mornings, black and white Christians demonstrate this alienation.

2. Don’t look for simple to complex problems. When whites do become concerned about racism, a common question is “What should we do?”

Because other racial groups rarely enter our daily experience, most of us don’t understand just how alienated and separated our society is. A few Christians have spoken up for the poor and against injustice, but most Christians and it leaders have labeled these concerns as a “liberal agenda” and have remained silent. The black community sees that silence as agreement with the status quo. Our complicity, in what is seen by blacks as an unjust system, has created a tremendous sense of alienation and distrust.

There are no simple answers, but there is a simple word: time. To build a bridge over a gulf created by hundreds of years of pain and injustice, we must recognize that dues must be paid. When so much damage exists, we need to realize that we can only build trust with time and commitment.

3. Become a learner by first admitting you don’t know very much about black people. African-Americans usually live in a world controlled by white society. Whites have not had to learn about black culture, so when we come into the black community to serve or get involved, we must understand that we have a lot to learn.

This issue of superiority and inferiority is often unexpressed and lying beneath the surface, but it is devastating to relationships. The solution is to be a learner, asking black people for advice and respecting their opinions.

4. Get beyond guilt to action. Guilt plays an appropriate role in helping whites to recognize and repent of sin. If we don’t understand the guilt of our sin, we will never ask for forgiveness in a way that allows us to get beyond it. And if we recognize our sin but deny our responsibility, saying, “Someone else caused this,” we ignore our own complicity.

You may recognize your guilt and yet feel paralyzed by it. False guilt says, What whites have done to black people in America is terrible … but I’m only one person; there’s not much I can do. So you don’t act at all. That’s false guilt, because it doesn’t lead anywhere or have any productive purpose.

For instance, too many white Christians give little thought to their neighborhoods not welcoming anybody of color. A Christian response would be: (1) Not to move there in the first place; or (2) bring a Christian perspective to the area, challenging others on their attitudes while developing relationships that would help break down those barriers (for instance, inviting black friends and co-workers home for dinner). By crossing those barriers, we move beyond guilt to action.

5. How much you accomplish depends on how much you invest. Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will
be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Realizing we have been given so much should prompt Christians to significant action. Unfortunately, we typically don’t want to change our lifestyle too much.

The principle of commitment implies you will need to invest time. Cross-cultural ministry will cost more than two hours on a Saturday afternoon helping with a food drive or a church cleanup in the inner city. As in business, the return on your investment relates directly to the time you invest. To have a major impact on racial reconciliation, you (and your church) must invest time with people.

6. White churches must become part of the solution. A few years ago, Bill Moyers did a television special called “Crisis in America:
The Vanishing Black Family.” After laying out the tremendous problems of the black underclass, Moyers assembled a panel of experts to suggest “solutions.” Incredibly, no one represented the church because it was perceived as a non-player in the arena of race relations.

Racial alienation is a cancer eating away at the core of our society. When the disease eventually appears in a community like Los Angeles, it is easy to focus on the manifestations of anger-the rioting and looting. While condemning the obvious corporate sin of the rebellious mobs, we easily miss the other side of the coin: How deep must feelings of alienation be to destroy stores even in one’s own community?

We must do something – anything – to demonstrate that we are reconcilers. Can you imagine what would happen in our society if
racial reconciliation became an evangelical agenda as important as abortion? Where government mandates have failed, Christian choices can succeed. Such is the power of love.

In conclusion, some TV viewers may have been surprised when Billy Graham told ABC newswoman Diane Sawyer that “racial division and strife” represent a major evil in the world.

But Graham did not hesitate in his reply, and neither should we. Racial reconciliation in our nation should become a major priority in our lives. When it does, Christians will demonstrate to an unbelieving world that Christ does, indeed, break down walls to bring people together-black, yellow, brown and white.