Ethnic Reconciliation and Justice

Alec Hill
May 29, 2003


We pursue ethnic reconciliation by practicing mutual empowerement, grace and truth and by promoting personal and systemic justice.

This is the tenth in a series of articles about InterVarsity’s twelve Core Commitments. 

We Pursue Ethnic Reconciliation

One of my favorite InterVarsity stories involves a Trustee, who in 1945 volunteered to host a Bible study in her home. Unexpectedly, a staff member invited several Black students. When the Trustee objected and threatened to report the staff member to the entire Board, the latter responded – a la Dirty Harry — “please do.”

As a result of this incident, the Board passed a resolution forbidding racial segregation at InterVarsity events and calling for unity in the body of Christ. This was a gutsy decision, a clarion call for biblical justice in an era when Jim Crow was alive and well. I ponder whatever happened to the objecting Trustee. My guess is that she found new volunteer opportunities elsewhere.

Our vision of reconciliation comes from what we understand of unity in God’s family, as emphasized in such passages as Ephesians 2: “[H]e has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”; and Revelation 7: “[T]here . . . was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language. . . .”


We Practice Mutual Empowerment

Reconciliation, however, is easier said than done. As Billy Graham recently observed: “Racial and ethnic hostility is the foremost social problem facing our world today.”

Unfortunately, the Christian community has not always been a good example of ethnic reconciliation. For example, Paul rebuked Peter for refusing to dine publicly with Gentiles when Jewish leaders were present (Gal. 3). Paul himself may have lapsed into stereotyping when he concurred with a popular saying that the citizens of Crete “are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1).

Positively, the early church resolved a nasty ethnic conflict by making systemic changes and empowering minority leaders (Acts 6) and by modeling how a reconciled community should operate (Acts 13). Within InterVarsity we recognize that such empowerment requires intentionality. Left to our own devices, we naturally drift towards people who look, act and think like us. With gentle firmness, we must hold each other accountable.


Promote Personal and Systemic Justice

In Divided by Faith, authors Michael Emerson and Christian Smith discuss what they term the “miracle motif.” This concept, held by many evangelicals, posits that when nonbelievers find faith, all problems—including racial tensions— are automatically solved. As we all know, this is simply untrue.

Ethnic reconciliation requires both repentance and justice. As World Vision’s Don Posterski observes: “Real reconciliation results only when justice and forgiveness are at peace with each other. Unfortunately, heeding the biblical directive to forgive merely by uttering a wellintentioned prayer does not often resolve what lies deep in the human soul.”

 Within InterVarsity, our challenge is to build systems that foster personal and systemic justice. Recent steps include appointing Jeanette Yep as Director of Multiethnic Ministries, launching the Pilgrimage for Reconciliation, investing more in a national commitment to Native American ministries, planning our first national La Fe student conference, inaugurating the Daniel Project to develop Asian American leaders and including several strategies within our new National Initiatives.

By God’s grace, we have grown in this area. There is much to be thankful for. Yet, my human heart reminds me that each of us must demonstrate intentionality, risk-taking, repentance, forgiveness and grace. For this commitment to flourish, all of these ingredients must be present.