Engaging culture

Our Continued Commitment

How the gospel helps us respond to the sin of racism.

11 days after the tragic, racially-motivated shooting in Buffalo, New York, our country is faced with another tragedy in the shooting and murder of 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. We grieve with the families and communities affected by this appalling violence and pray that Jesus will bring healing and peace. We also pray for churches and individuals as they respond with tangible expressions of Christ’s love. This article, written by EFCA President Kevin Kompelien, primarily addresses the evils of racism and our responsibility to take action. It was published on May 18, before the tragic events in Uvalde, Texas.

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There are errands in life that feel so normal, so mundane, that they almost become second nature. Putting gas in the car. Picking the kids up from school. Running to the post office. Going to the grocery store. As insignificant as they are, these tasks are normal rhythms in each of our daily lives, and we hardly give them a second thought. 

Yet, following this weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, we must consider how the murder of ten African Americans at a grocery store impacts the daily experiences of our brothers and sisters of color. 

Not only do I grieve with ten families who lost loved ones and three individuals who were wounded, I grieve with my African American brothers and sisters who bear the difficult burden of processing another racially-motivated attack. This is a difficult moment, and it should grieve churches in the EFCA as we come alongside our brothers and sisters to bear this deeply painful burden (Galatians 6:2). 

Racially-motivated violence occurs all too frequently in our country. From the 2015 shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the 2019 shooting at Walmart in El Paso, Texas, we must learn from these tragedies and be engaged in solutions that reflect the reconciliation and restoration roles entrusted to us as ambassadors of Christ’s gospel (2 Cor 5:16-21; Eph 2:14). 

Imago Dei and the sanctity of life 

As we collectively process the racially-motivated taking of innocent life, don’t lose sight of this important truth: the imago Dei, the image of God, is present in every human life. 

Scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God, giving each person intrinsic value (Gen 1:26-27; Jas 3:9). This truth bears significance as we respond to matters of race and matters of life. Regardless of race, ethnicity or skin color, we bear the image of our good and holy God. Our sovereign God gives life, so when life is taken, as Christians, we ought to grieve the loss of a valuable image-bearer of God. It ought to break our hearts. 

Let me be clear: people of color, the baby in the womb, the poor, the migrant, the sick, the elderly and those with disabilities—all people bear the imago Dei and the value intrinsically embedded in those created by our good, almighty God. 

Our history 

In 1992, the General Conference of the EFCA adopted a resolution called “The New Racism.” At the close of the resolution, we are reminded of our personal responsibility to resist racism—in our own lives, families, churches and world. I encourage you to reflect on these words adopted by our forebearers: 

Realizing that even as Christians we are not immune to the sin of racism, we resolve first of all to search our own hearts and repent of any racist attitudes we may have no matter how subtle. We further resolve to work toward eliminating racism in our local churches, educational institutions and throughout the EFCA family as a whole (particularly in light of our commitment to plant and nurture many new ethnic churches). Some ways in which we can work are: 

  • Speaking out against racism in whatever setting we find ourselves. 
  • Preparing spiritually for the inevitable tensions and conflicts which will threaten the unity of the Body as the Free Church family becomes multi-ethnic and multi-racial in composition. 
  • Teaching in our homes and in our churches against racism and noting God's desire for reconciliation between races (Eph 2:14). 
  • Developing relationships of mutual education and submission (Eph. 5:21) with people of different races on both an individual and congregational level. 
  • Celebrating the presence and participation of our brothers and sisters in Christ from all ethnic and racial backgrounds in our local churches, our districts and national ministry efforts. 

In addition, our commitment to pursue righteousness and justice for the oppressed is evidenced in Article 8 of the EFCA Statement of Faith

We believe that God's justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed. 

Our history makes it clear: the Free Church is a movement committed to addressing the challenges of racism in our world. Yet, statements and resolutions are not enough. They must be met with fervent commitment, intentional action and personal responsibility. 

It starts with us

I find it interesting that the 1992 General Conference statement begins with self-reflection. How might we contribute, as ministers of reconciliation and restoration, to our country’s fight against racism by addressing racism in our spheres of influence? How might our churches respond as we learn to love one another better? How might people respond to the gospel as our lives, churches and communities are transformed by work of the Holy Spirit? 

Self-reflection is important as we are refined into the likeness of Christ, but we must also move into action. In 2018, 13 EFCA district superintendents, a few national leaders and I visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. (Here is a brief recap of the experience.) One of the purposes of this trip was to encourage leaders in our movement to explore the history of racism and injustice in our country and determine how we might lead toward reconciliation through the hope of the gospel. 

By God’s grace, those initial two days in Montgomery caused a ripple effect: Since 2018, pastors and leaders from the EFCA’s North Central District have made annual visits to Alabama. Their "Moving Toward Montgomery" trips provide an opportunity for pastors and church leaders to lean toward issues of race and ethnicity with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Brian Farone, district superintendent of the North Central District, shared the following: 

“We believe that faith in Christ—in His atoning death on the cross and His victorious resurrection—provides the most robust and powerful solution to the wickedness of racism, to the division that flows from our national and individual brokenness. In the gospel, divided sinners become brothers and sisters in Christ. These trips have given us a genuine opportunity to see ‘ground truth’ on race and ethnicity by exploring the historical reality and ongoing impact of our nation's troubling racial history. We acknowledge that our district is at the start of this journey, and we are learning to lean, with our gospel convictions, into these difficult issues and toward neglected and hurting people of color.” 

The North Central District is not alone. Whether it is a trip to Montgomery, roundtable discussions with leaders of diverse ethnic backgrounds, training opportunities for majority culture churches or initiating ministries in diverse neighborhoods, I am grateful that EFCA districts, pastors and church leaders are passionately addressing racism with gospel-centered solutions. I encourage you to move from reflection and into prayerful, Spirit-led action. 

Urgency of our mission 

Gospel ministry in these days is urgent. As we see the brokenness of sin on full display around us, don’t lose hope. Rather, let us hold fast to the hope of the gospel as we declare the compassionate heart of God for the lost and broken and step out to love them with the sacrificial love of Jesus. 

We have a responsibility, here and now, to see reconciliation and restoration take root in our world—to see the values of heaven lived out on earth through the transforming power of the gospel. May it start with us.

Kevin Kompelien

President, EFCA

Kevin Kompelien is president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, serving in this role since June 2015. He previously served more than 20 years as a local pastor in the EFCA and then nine years as international leader of the Africa division with EFCA ReachGlobal. He and his wife, Becky, are members of Hillside EFC in San Jose, California.

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