by Dr. Nathaniel Perez
In the world of social media there are people who post comments and criticisms that do nothing more than agitate and incite controversy. In social media circles they are often referred to as trolls.
I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to respond to those who criticize Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary for taking a stand against racism and racial injustice. I’m amazed that in this day and age that loving your neighbor as you love yourself, caring for the poor, fighting for the oppressed or seeking to set the captives free is seen as some sort of liberal political movement. I’ve often wondered if these same people would have criticized Jesus for declaring the words of Isaiah in the temple as we see in Luke 4. Sometimes it deeply disturbs me and I ask the question “If not us, then who?” Who is supposed to represent Jesus? There seems to be this continuing push to separate the Gospel from social justice. But if we pause and think about it, when Jesus died on the cross for us, it was the greatest demonstration of social justice ever displayed in the history of the world. Jesus saw a world of oppressed people and came to our rescue. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.”
The problem with American Christianity is that the scriptures have always been viewed as a buffet. We take what we like and put it on our plates and we ignore what is not palatable and leave it for someone else. God invites us to take a wholistic approach to the Gospel. We get a glimpse of this in 2 Timothy 3:16 which states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
As Jemar Tisby, the author of The Color of Compromise, recalls, “There was a missionary named Francis Le Jau (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) and he was placed in S.C. He was having a difficult time evangelizing to Native American and African slaves. When a slave would respond to his call for salvation, he would say this: ‘You declare in the presence of God and before this congregation that you do not ask for holy baptism out of any desire to free yourself from the duty and obedience you owe to your (earthly) master while you live.’”
Tisby states, “You have this bifurcation of spiritual salvation on the one hand that is totally separated from the physical and material liberation on the other hand. To update this for you, you’ve got to separate the Gospel and social justice. You can’t talk about the Gospel and then bring in the fact that people were literally in chains. Jesus can have your soul, but we got your body. People made deliberate choices to create a hierarchy based on race.”
In his newest book, Spiritual Authority: Partnering With God to Release the Kingdom, Alliance Theological Seminary professor Dr. Rob Reimer’s poses the question “What will it take to turn the church around and reach this generation?” He responds, “I think the answer is complex and varied. But it starts with life change. We need followers of Jesus who look like Jesus, act like Jesus, serve like Jesus, love like Jesus, and minister like Jesus. They will make Jesus attractive to this generation. We are His body, His hands, and His feet. This generation will not come to faith unless we represent Jesus well. We need to represent His heart for the hurting, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, and the disenfranchised. We need to move in the power of God to set captives free and bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurting, peace to the anxious, and love to those who have felt unlovable. This kind of lived-out faith will attract people who are not open to a church that was more known for truth than love, more known for precepts than power. When we carry the presence of Jesus to those around us, they will be drawn by His love and power.”
In the news recently, a woman responding to all of the recent racial tension exclaimed “We should have never set them free.” Her assertion was that if slavery never ended, we wouldn’t be facing these problems in our country today.
This is why I believe establishing the Center for Racial Reconciliation at Nyack College is extremely important. We are called to disciple followers of Jesus who look like Jesus, act like Jesus, serve like Jesus, love like Jesus, and minister like Jesus. What better place to do this than in a racially divided world that doesn’t need a truncated version of the Gospel, but the whole Gospel? Let’s represent Jesus well. Let’s move in power. Let’s move in truth. We are positioned to create the disciples that reflect the Kingdom for today and tomorrow. We have an opportunity to fulfill our mission of taking “the whole Gospel to the whole world”—a Gospel not limited to words, but boundlessly expressed with actions.
For Christians, there’s a lot more at stake than being on the right side of history. We want to be sure we are on the right side of the Kingdom.