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 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.

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 5)

I am concerned about several things as I speak to my sisters about the issues surrounding race relations and the impact of those issues on the church today. The first is the apparent expectation of loyalty that seems to be so prevalent in the black community.  By this, I mean that, if you are a black person, there seems to be a great deal of pressure from community to adopt a particular narrative.  One evidence of this is in important elections, and the predictable delivery of a block vote from African Americans. Perhaps this is driven partially by the media which consistently seems to be talking about the “black caucus” or simply even the “black vote” as if to suggest black Americans are always united in a singular cause, following one united way of thinking.  I hope that my black sisters are not influenced by the assumption that they must vote with the majority of black people. But there have been times when it has seemed that some were under tremendous pressure to bend the knee to such a political power block over blood-bought Christianity. 

 Closely associated is the embracing of the Black Lives Matter movement among some of my brothers and sisters. I have sisters whom I love dearly who have defended the movement, believing  that one can support the movement without supporting violence. I do not believe that can be done. I believe the movement is known for violence and that to try to detach it from its reputation is an exercise in futility.  

But even if we could separate Black Lives Matter from destruction of property, harm and loss of life (i.e. even if it was a non-violent movement), I would still have a big problem with supporting the movement.  The group’s website states clearly its agenda. Here is a portion of that statement:

Black Lives Matter is “a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes” and, embracing intersectionality, that “Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. (http://blacklivesmatter.com/about)

All three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement are women, and Garza and Cullors identify as queer.[21] The founders believe that their backgrounds have paved the way for Black Lives Matter to be an intersectional movement. Several hashtags such as #BlackWomenMatter, #BlackGirlsMatter, #BlackQueerLivesMatter, and #BlackTransLivesMatter have surfaced on the BLM website and throughout social media networks. Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history at Georgetown University, has praised BLM for allowing “young, queer women [to] play a central role” in the movement (https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/women-black-lives-matter-interview-marcia-chatelain).

I understand that there may be some variations in the purposes and activities of organizations that align themselves closely with the movement, but I am also certain that the voices across the board for “queer” and “trans” to be a part of the “intersectional” aspect of the movement are far too loud and too frequently communicated  for anyone who is examining it to believe BLM is not allied with sin.  The movement itself is an attempt to embrace and give dignity to evil in the culture with regard to gender identity. 

There is a part of me that wishes I did not have to say that I believe it is a breach of our covenant with God, as New Testament Christians, to support Black Lives Matter . But I cannot investigate a cause, find that it is involved in the promotion of sin, and still lend my moral support to that cause. 

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 4)

Some congregations are struggling with how Christians respond to the racial tension that prevails in their cultural environment. Some preachers and teachers, I believe, are afraid to even speak about the subject of black/white relations. But I believe that the Bible speaks clearly about our treatment of one another as well as what has its place in worship and what does not.

There are congregations of which I am aware which celebrated Black History Month inside of their worship services. In one particular such service, the minister mentioned that the church at that place exists in that southern city because the “whites did not want the blacks worshipping with them.” While such a statement, sadly, may be accurate, I would still ask whether such a statement and celebration is appropriate in a worship service of the Lord’s church.

Another congregation in Alabama recently celebrated Black History Month and the preacher allowed, from the pulpit, that Jesus was a black man; a statement both inaccurate and inappropriate.

My husband recently received a phone call from one of our old and dear friends, a preacher of the gospel. He wanted to talk over some problems he was having as he was preaching for a mostly black church. He is a black man. Here is what he said: “I’ve been preaching on what the Bible says about ordaining elders. I have been saying that we are doing wrong when we simply choose not to have elders—that it is simply wrong when we do not want elders. Several brothers in the church here are criticizing me and asserting that I am ‘preaching white’.”

Sisters, I don’t know what you are thinking about such a statement, but when any preacher, black or white, is teaching what the Bible says about a subject, fellow Christians should never criticize him because of some kind of breach of loyalty to his culture. Our loyalty is not ever primarily to culture. Our loyalty is primarily to Christ and to the Holy Spirit of God, Who has revealed His will to us in the Holy Scriptures.  Our worship, our goals as congregations, our lifestyles, our families, our political decisions, yes, even our allegiances to ethnicity—all of us; heart, soul strength and mind—should be wholly directed and affected by the New Testament.

I believe, if we are not very careful, we can allow the world to have its way into our attitudes and assemblies. There are lots of ways to be conformed to this world. When the world is focused on an issue, it’s important to address the subject of focus from a Biblical standpoint, if the New Testament speaks to the subject at all. It is even more important that we do not allow cultural ideas and  norms to move us from Biblical principles. Truth must trump culture every single time.

Next time: Specific Concerns about the Church in these Troublesome Times