The UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March, gives us an opportunity as a church to talk about racial justice from a gospel perspective. The UK equivalent is Racial Justice Sunday, orchestrated by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland during February. But sadly, I have observed that many British evangelicals are not aware of these calendar dates and I can't help but feel this is a missed opportunity for church leaders to extend the conversation of racial justice. Whilst there are many reasons one could deduce that this is not happening more widely, from my own observation, it has much to do with the view that some evangelical leaders still see the gospel as primarily addressing sin, and see no connection between the gospel and racial justice concerns.

British evangelical identity is rooted in a certain understanding of the gospel as the good news of Jesus – redeeming humanity from sin. Whilst not taking away from this understanding of the gospel, but in a contested polarised society as multicultural Britain, we should also give thought as to what the gospel has to say about how we develop a radically inclusive church that addresses the sin of racism? How can the intercultural practices of belonging and integration empower our churches to treat strangers well in our society? Briefly, I want to address and give food for thought about a contextual understanding of the gospel and its implications for creating a counter-cultural community of hospitality.

The word gospel’ comes from the ancient Greek religious concept of a sacrifice, in the form of a thanksgiving offering to the gods for receiving good news. This idea was taken over by the Roman imperial cult of Octavius Caesar who was given the divine title of Augustus (Majesty, Divine) because he was seen as both man and a saviour-god. Augustus (also known as August One) ushered in Pax-Romana, meaning peace to end wars’. Therefore official messengers and writers of the day talked about offerings being made to celebrate this good news that Augustus had ushered in. 

It is this notion of good news about the peace achievements of Augustus that the gospel writers articulated with a new counter-cultural meaning that it is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that saves humanity from sin and that that is actually the good news. In addition to this apologetic of a new gospel, the evangelist writer’s understanding of the gospel was also shaped by the Old Testament context of the word Yahweh’, heralding universal victory over the world and His kingly rule with His enthronement. 

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The gospel should therefore be counter-cultural, transforming personal lives, culture and structures. The gospel addresses sin because other gods like Augustus should not be the centre of our existence and worship. The gospel is polemical because it is counter-cultural speaking against the dominant cult-culture of the day. The gospel therefore transforms personal lives, speaks into culture and challenges worldviews. The counter-cultural narrative of the gospel means that we need to develop radical, inclusive communities in a multi-ethnic, multicultural, polarised Britain. So, how can we begin to do that?

"How can the intercultural practices of welcoming, belonging and integration empower our churches to treat strangers well in our society?"

Before the death of George Floyd, there were many conversations about the need for British churches to go the extra mile in tackling racism in our churches. Many leaders of Colour felt ignored to the extent that some have given up altogether in calling us to action. Since his death, there has been a renewed interest in talking and addressing racism in our churches, church structures and organisations. 

Perhaps, a way to begin to address racism in our churches is to recognise welcoming is not enough and therefore create a process that leads from welcoming – to belonging – to integration. Welcoming is the first step in our hospitality and should never be treated as the end result. Welcoming is intentionally creating spaces and contexts for new people to feel comfortable in our fellowship. 

Welcoming therefore goes beyond offering teas and biscuits to someone on a Sunday morning, it is ensuring that the new people feel comfortable in our church. Belonging is much deeper, as it goes beyond the introduction of welcome, to again intentionally creating spaces and contexts for new people to begin to express who they are in order to feel they can belong. If welcoming is about comfort, belonging is about identity. Do migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees feel they can honestly share some of their struggles in our churches or do they feel they will be stereotyped, judged or misunderstood? Can People of Colour in our churches express the racism that they face both at church and in society in our house groups? Creating a sense of belonging sometimes disrupts our comfort because we are not seeking to assimilate new people, we are seeking to understand where they are coming from.

Finally, we want to be working towards achieving integration where new people in our church no longer feel like strangers but as an important part of our fellowship. We want them to feel they are integral to what is going on in the life of the church because they have been welcomed, they feel they belong because they can share their struggles and joy, and lastly, (but not least) they can contribute to the dynamics of the church. Let us be encouraged to welcome and integrate people into our churches intentionally creating a radical inclusive community.

"Let us be encouraged to welcome and integrate people into our churches intentionally creating a radical inclusive community.""