A Practical Theology for Racial Harmony -- By: Sherard Burns

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 08:2 (Summer 2004)
Article: A Practical Theology for Racial Harmony
Author: Sherard Burns

A Practical Theology for Racial Harmony

Sherard Burns

Sherard Burns serves as Pastor of Evangelism, Discipleship, and Assimilation at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has a great burden to see the body of Christ racially united under the gospel. He is a co-founder of the Black Alliance for Reformed Theology (BART).

Over the past decade or more, with the emergence of Promise Keepers, much has been said and written concerning the issue and need for racial harmony. Although not all of this material is of equal value, it is clear that the church has been awakened by an issue that has plagued her for decades.


It seems fitting to begin by defining some key terms. I prefer to use the term racial harmony over racial diversity or racial reconciliation because of what they convey. Racial reconciliation, while a useful term, assumes realities that were not necessarily so. It assumes that the pursuit of unity among Blacks and Whites, for example, is based on a prior relationship that was defined by unity but was fractured by various incidents and now needs to be restored. This, as I understand the history of America, is not the case. While peoples in other nations may have shared a unity among white and dark skinned people, in America these relationships have been fraught with tensions from the very beginning. This is not to suggest that some relationships did not transcend this tension, but such were not the norm. Thus, reconciliation is a useful term if one is talking about restoration, but it is not the ideal term in this case.

The term racial diversity, though more helpful than racial reconciliation, is also limited in its usefulness. Racial diversity speaks to visual representation, but does not reach the core of what the scriptures call us to pursue in this area. Diversity is good, but we should never rest on the fact that we have different cultures or colors within our churches; we must seek after and pray for more. In fact, to speak of racial harmony as racial diversity undermines the biblical realities of unity. People in such situations begin to think that biblical unity is happening when in fact, it may be illusory. When I walk into a church it is a wonderful thing to see many peoples worshipping together. This is not the end goal, however. There is something deeper to which we are called; it must go beyond the visual to the heart. This is where racial harmony differs from racial reconciliation and racial diversity.

Some who see racial harmony in terms of racial diversity have argued that the world is doing better than the church. Dwight Perry, from whom I have learned much on this issue of racial relations within the church, stated,

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