Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 11)

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1)

In this, the first mention of Hellenistic Jews, we see two groups of people in the early church. The first were the Jews who had generally remained in Judea and spoke the Hebrew language. They were, in fact, called “Hebrews”. The Hellenists were Jews who had become scattered among the Gentiles and who spoke the Greek language. They used the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. The term “Hellenist” itself means “Greek” or “Greek speaking”. The verb form of the word is “Hellenize”, meaning to adopt Greek culture and ideas. From history, we know that there were dissensions between these two groups of Jews. The Hellenistic Jews were often made to feel like outsiders. Sometimes they became jealous of the Hebrews. Sadly, the divisions did not always automatically go away among members of the two groups who had become Christians. It seems that the problem with the widows in Acts 6 may be indicative that this problem was affecting the young church in Jerusalem. So the apostles chose seven men to attend to the feeding of the Hellenist widows. It is noteworthy that all of the men chosen to do this job had Grecian names. It appears that the apostles acknowledged the differences in the two cultures and made the appointments which would work best. It wasn’t wrong to do that. It isn’t wrong to admit that we come from different cultures and use that fact as we love one another and work together to advance the cause of Christ and the work of the church. Today, if we had an eldership made up of two white men and two men of color and they had a delicate problem to work through with a particular family in the church, it would not be wrong for those elders to consider the color or cultural background of the elders when choosing which shepherds to send to help rectify the problem. Thus, there may be a great advantage to having bishops of all races represented in the congregation PROVIDED they are qualified. But never, of course, should we appoint elders based on race quotas rather than on the biblical qualifications. As was shown in the last post, we must, in one sense, be colorblind. Yet the colorblindness described in Galatians three would not preclude our using our racial differences to maximize our congregational potentials in spreading the good news of Christ. In fact, the unity demanded by Galatians 3 would insist that we value every gift brought by every individual and appropriately use those gifts within the parameters of God’s will for our collective lives of service and our worship to Him. May we view the work of the kingdom with meekness; that is, each of us having a cause much bigger than ourselves.

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 10)

These last few installments are the most important ones of this series. Several of you have contacted me and said something about the bravery it takes to talk about race relations. But there is a real sense in which it does not make me afraid or timid to discuss this topic. Writing about race relations is not a difficult thing when the Holy Spirit has so plainly spoken. Any time I can speak or write about things that are spelled out by God, I do not have anxiety, because HE is always just. He is always loving. He is always right. He empowers us to talk about and put into practice the principles that cannot be wrong for our world. Regardless of color, in the church we share a dedication to our King Jesus, and a commitment to restoring New Testament Christianity.  Take a look with me at racism in the first century and how it was handled when people of different races came together in the church.

Galatians 3:26-29:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

 Imagine the weight of the words in the first century culture:  “There is neither Jew nor Greek,”  or,  “there is neither slave nor free.”  Clear distinctions in those people existed in their culture.  God’s answer to those distinctions was unity in Christ:  “You are all one in Christ Jesus.”

How would this read if it was written today in America? I cannot imagine it not including words like  “there is neither white nor black nor brown;  you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This passage is simply razor-sharp relative to our current discussion. It teaches that the resolution is colorblindness in the church. We are one.

It is surprising that some folks are rejecting the term “colorblind”or the concept of equality of opportunity.    It isn’t enough that all peoples today should have equal opportunity for education and be equally paid and successful in all careers.  Some, instead, see America’s wealth as a pie.  Caucasian people, for two hundred years, got much bigger pieces of this pie. As a result, some see colorblindness today as an insufficient solution.  They believe society must “pay back” what their ancestors were denied.  This is the call for reparations.

The New Testament’s method  to fight racism has never been civil disobedience nor reparations.  It has always been one body in Christ where every person is loved without regard to nationality.  Colorblindness is the biblical goal. There are Christians who reject the term “colorblindness” in reference to the way we view race in the church. I believe “colorBLINDness” is an  accurate word to summarize the Lord’s description of the church in Galatians 3. The verse does not mean that there really were no native Jews or native Greeks. Of course there were. It did not mean that there were literally no slaves or free men. There were.  It does not mean that there were no gender differences. Of course people could tell the difference between men and women. But the verse means there were no distinctions in value. The word “blindness” — blindness to distinctions that would cause us to value the fellowship of one more than the other— is a good descriptive term to characterize our attitudes and actions toward all of those who are physically different than are we, in the body of our Lord. 

The idea on the part of any group  that the term ” colorblindness”  fails to recognize the distinctive and special gifts that “our” people bring to the table is a divisive concept. Not one of us brings any gift worthy of even being at the table, when it is the feast of the Lamb. It is only His blood that makes us worthy. And His blood makes us all worthy to the same exact degree. 

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 9)

The final matter about which Christians must take what is sometimes an unpopular view is resistance to civil authority. We’ve come to the sad place in our country in which authority is often seen as “white”. There have been many contributing factors, but there are some areas in which, if a policeman is black, he may be considered by peers as being too “white”. 

It is disconcerting that, when a person is shot by a policeman, leaders in the black community may begin using the term “murder” before the facts are known. Riots are sometimes occurring before investigations have been completed, despite the fact that there are often both black and white people who are involved in and may be targets of the investigations at various levels. Reports are made public, then, and if they are contradictory to the view that initially incited the rioting, there may be more rioting in protest of the findings. 

Is it probable that there are unbalanced, bigoted people in police forces across our country? No. It is not probable. It is certain and those officers should be ashamed, prosecuted and punished. I know these officers are there because of the powerful force of Satan and the way he historically has placed evil people in all professions.There are lawyers who embarrass their legal associations. There are teachers who commit sexual immorality with students. Our  former Alabama governor just resigned in the midst of scandal, embarrassing our state. There are definitely policemen who have committed brutal acts against men and women of color. Christians should do all within their power though their voices, votes and all legal avenues to bring policemen who have violated ethical and legal standards to justice. 

Yet, in reference to law enforcement and the keeping of the peace in our nation, what should be the Christian’s attitude? Remember,  adherence to the Word is far-and-away more important to children of God than is any compliance to popular culture. The Word says this: 

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves”  (Romans 13:1,2).

It’s sobering, in view of the civil unrest in America today, even sometimes among people who claim Christianity—yes, even sometimes in the “name” of God—that these instructions of the Holy Spirit were given to people who were oppressed and even persecuted by their cruel Roman government. The command of the Holy Spirit is so very clear. They were never to resist this governmental authority, which had been providentially empowered for their day. The Romans were not accidentally in power at the time of the founding of the church. The prophecies of this power were made centuries before the early church (Daniel 2). God was/is sovereign. He knew about the brutality and, yet, he commanded submission to governmental authority.

We can be no less submissive as Christians in 2017. Putting ethnicity a distant second to Christianity, we must command respect for civil authorities in our homes and in our congregations. 

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 8)

Perhaps the subject of this post is the one I’ve considered most as I’ve thought about race relations in America today and the effects of the cultural tension on the body of Jesus . The subject is the transferral of the sins of some members of a group to the whole group. Can a class or group or body of people be guilty of, repent of, and make reparations or restitution for the sins of present or past sub-groups within the larger group? 
I believe Ezekiel 18:20 answers the question: 
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
I am only responsible for my sin. I cannot repent of the sins of others merely because they are in the larger group of which I am a part. While pondering this, I thought about the fact that in the 1980s and 1990s, a well-known apologist and creationist was committing adultery and, in the end, brought scandal to the organization which he founded. Does it follow that all creationists should apologize for him and attempt to make restitution to his wife and children and those in the other families that he hurt along the way? Well, of course not—because of the principle of Ezekiel 18:20. Just as no soul bears the guilt of another’s wrongdoing, so no person or group can repent of sins for any other person or group. Each of us will give account only for our own failings. 
Being a white Christian, then, does not give me the right to repent or make reparations in behalf of  those white Christians who have been (or even those who are currently) racists. Scripture does not allow me to repent in behalf of another. No one should require that which the Bible does not permit.
In reading about race relations in the church, I read one author who said that the modern church of Christ needs to repent of racism. Once again, the Biblical principle of personal responsibility for sin is violated in this plea. Can the universal church sin? I do not believe so. Individual people sin. Groups of people only sin in the sense that the individuals within the group have sinned. Can the universal church repent? If so, how? May I suggest that the New Testament provides no hierarchy, no pope, no headquarters to make such confession even if worldwide penitence in the church was needed or possible. The church becomes better one soul at the time. It is for my sin and my sin only that I can repent and seek forgiveness.
We should refrain from saying the church needs to repent and, instead, say there are individuals who have needed or do need to repent of racism. Further, we cannot call for reparations within the body for sins committed by others in days gone by. According to scriptures, restitution is made by those who sin. 

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 7)

Consistency. It’s very important in any discussion about ethics and morality. If I pick and choose which instances of honesty, for instance, are important to me, I throw out the entire value of personal integrity and am not trustworthy. I’ve learned as a parent, for example, that violations of rules must exact the same punishment today as they did yesterday. If they do not, the power of the punishment is negated along with my child’s trust in me. So it is in race relations. For Christians, consistency is paramount.

 

The Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 that enjoins me to treat others as I would like to be treated works, for me, all of the time. I fall short of mastering it, but I intend —I want—to apply it in every situation. Its work, however, for the unity of the body is in direct proportion to the percentage of folks in the body who are personally applying it. When only a few people in a church are living by the Golden Rule, its effectiveness in keeping that church united and happy, is proportionally minimal.

 

The amazing double standard in the black community at large, is concerning. I mean, out in the world, there are many phrases and names that brown folks commonly use when referring to one another that would be highly offensive were I to use them to refer people of color (and I certainly have no desire to use them). When I sometimes hear rap music blaring over some woofer system when waiting at a red light, it is common to hear black artists referring to one another in vernacular for which a white person, using the same terms, would be in big trouble. That is the world. Inconsistency is a hallmark characteristic of the devil’s deceit and it will occur often in his domain. But it should not happen in the body.

 

But sometimes it does. Sometimes brothers and sisters can align themselves with what they profess to descry. Publicly advertised black-only events are antithetical to unity in the church. Whatever would happen to our unity if such were done in the reverse? What would occur if an exclusively white prayer breakfast or luncheon of celebration were planned? My opposition  to events that are exclusive is not because I am white. I am opposed to them because I am a Christian and consistency is paramount to the survival of our unity.  Logic demands that, when we walk under the banner of the Golden Rule, we apply that rule across the board. When we do not apply it equally to all races, we become inconsistent, weaker, and may become racist.

 

The same is true for congregational organization. Whatever sad histories may be true about the original reasons for the founding  of congregations, what is true today is that, in many areas of our country, there are predominantly white churches in the same towns with predominantly black churches. Let’s merge! Let’s unite in worship and work! Let’s serve God side by side. Our outreach would be greater. Our enthusiasm could soar. Our best combined ideas would impact our communities for greater good. But, until that can happen, brown brothers and sisters should be careful not to be unfairly critical of congregations that are predominantly white, assuming the Christians in them are prejudiced against black brethren. That simply may not be the case. It isn’t right for an assumption of racism to be made against the largely white church, simply because it is mostly white. After all, there is often a predominantly black church in the same area. Is it right for folks to assume they are unwelcoming of white Christians? Assumptions of racism because of congregational make-up does not align with “believeth all things”, a defining characteristic of love in I Corinthians 13. Let’s assume the best and enjoy the precious fellowship of sister congregations.

 

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 6)

Another sad reality about race relations in the kingdom is that it becomes a great temptation for us to be ultra-sensitive about how people of another race may treat us. This is counter to the Biblical principles that are all over the scriptures about how that we are to be far more worried about our treatment of other people than we are about their treatment of us. “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s well-being,” is what Paul, through the Holy Spirit admonished the first century Christians in I Corinthians 10:24. 

Out in the world, there are rules that seem to change fairly often about what verbiage is  politically correct for white people to speak in relation to people of color. When I am writing, it is difficult for me to know exactly which terms are acceptable and those for which I will be criticized—in that world. I do not think it is correct, for instance, for me to say “Negro” in 2017. I am unsure whether I should say “brown people” or “black people” or if either one is correct for today. I certainly struggle with whether I should say “black culture” or “African American culture” or just perhaps “African American minority community.” I know there are some lines of sensitivity that might close evangelistic doors if crossed. But, in the church, we should all be so busy doing all we can to treat one another with respect and courtesy, that we are willing to overlook our own preferences in deference to relationships with our sisters. I wish that everyone, black and white could be more concerned with how we love each other and less sensitive about whether or not we are politically correct in our terms of address. Of course, we need to be respectful and polite, but, still, we should give a little grace in the body when we truly love each other and want the absolute best for each other.

The term “white fragility” has surfaced several times as I explore race relations in the body of Christ. According to overcomingracism.org/resources/white-fragility, white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include. the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.

Of course, Christians of any color should not become angry or deflective when facing a stress related to or an accusation of racism. But the problem with this definition is that it precludes the ability to explain or defend actions that might be identified as racist, which, in reality, may not be racially motivated at all. If someone accuses me of being racist, then almost any reaction on my part, except for agreement and admission that I am indeed racist, would be interpreted, according to this definition, as “white fragility”. Sisters, if I react with a calm defense, I should be heard and my defense should be examined fairly. If I react with honest guilt, then I should be encouraged to repent. If I react with silence, then maybe I should be engaged. If I react with fear, then, if you are my sister, you should attempt to allay my fears, as I should attempt to relieve yours. Labeling sisters with a negative term before they are heard is unfair and is not a step toward unity, but a step toward division. 

Paul, again, said this by inspiration:

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Ephesians 4:1-3).  

It seems to me that, as brothers and sisters, we should always allow one another the privilege of explaining actions and the that the term “white fragility” is, whether intentionally or not, an unfair attempt to silence every dissenter before that person is given a chance to speak. That silencing is accompanied by the assumption of racism and foolishness on the part of the “fragile” person. As we examine Paul’s statement above, it seems to me that the label of “white fragility” is less than longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, and lowliness. Maybe it is not a full endeavor to keep unity in peace. In fact, when we consider Paul’s admonition, we have to agree that his instruction applies absolutely equally to white people and brown people. Just as we should all be ashamed of any attitude of prejudgment toward brethren of color, so people, white or brown, should be ashamed of automatically labeling the anxiety or dissent of a white person in a conversation about race relations. Righteous people can be anxious in situations of racial tension, even as they strive to be what God wants them to be.  Good people can be distraught or need a space for respectful disagreement when accused of racism. It seems to me that “white fragility” is a term that attempts to silence any defense, even if it is truth, before it even begins.

May we all, whether black or white, consider others more important than ourselves. May we give each other the benefit of the doubt. May we assign pure motives until we know differently. May we bear with one another, even when it may not be popular with those who are like us, physically, but who are conformed to the world, spiritually. May we do absolutely all we can to preserve unity in an eternal bond of peace. 

I believe it’s important for white parents in 2017 to be very careful that our children grow up without respect of persons. God’s people are family. We share the same heavenly Father. We are blood kin in the most important way. We refuse to let skin color be a factor in our relationships in the church. Brown parents do the same thing. They refuse to let the world around them in 2017 influence them to allow their children to believe that racism so saturates their worlds that those children fail to recognize the purity of heart that true Christians maintain, even if they are white. We need to shed the sensitivities right along with the prejudices. We have great potential in 2017 to be spiritual non-conformists in a world of racial tension. But it takes all of us spending a lot more time and concentration on how we are treating others than we spend on how we are being treated. 

When I read the first ten verses of Philippians 2, I know that, even if I do all that I can to exalt those around me and serve others to my maximum potential, I fall very short of the servant spirit of my Lord, who humbled himself as a man, being obedient to death, even death by execution on a cruel Roman cross. May I, like Him, make myself of no reputation.

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.