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

Sister to Sister: Christ over Color (Part 3)

 

As I continue to think about this subject, I must acknowledge that the America we live in today is different from that of a half-century ago. There are policemen in certain communities in our country who are increasingly anxious when pulling over a violating automobile when the driver is a black man. That is simply reality. Sometimes in these communities, due to violence occurring between African American citizens and police officers, our black brothers and sisters, though they’ve had nothing to do with the incitation of violence, are fearful when family members leave their homes.

We could spend time deliberating about which fears are founded and which are based on unsubstantiated claims. But regardless of the the basis for it, fear is always uncomfortable. Christians should always be compassionate toward brothers and sisters who fear. Here is one quote from a dear brown friend of mine about her own fears. I love this sister deeply. She is truly evangelistic. She is a woman of integrity. Sadly, she is fearful. 

“I am a member of an African American…group on FB and it would break your heart to hear the concerns of law-abiding, everyday women scared about the future for their children, scared about whether their husbands who left their home that morning to go to work will be unlawfully stopped and make it back home to them, who have children in college that have experienced racially motivated attacks against them as well as the plans of some who are mapping their path out of this country. I have to say every day my husband gets in the car and leaves our home I pray for his safety going and coming. I try to squelch my fears about someone executing a racially motivated attack against (his workplace). When I hear his happy voice reach from the front door each night the gratefulness to God floods over me. He is leaving right now and as I think about it, it makes me so emotional. Anything could happen in a general sense but there is an additional fear because of the color of his brown skin.” 

I want to go and put my arms around her when I read her words because she is my sister and she is afraid. 

But I am sometimes fearful, too. There are some areas of my hometown to which I would not dare to venture at night. These are areas in which crime is rampant, murders are common and theft is a real threat. In this particular town, those areas are the predominantly black areas—the areas in which the population is, by and large, African American. I try to be evangelistic and honest, as well. Like my brown sister, though, I am fearful. I have no doubt that she would sympathize with my fear in the event I had to travel through that zone of trepidation, just as I do with hers, because we love one another with the love of the Lord. We should and do pray for one another.

Sometimes we struggle, though, with how racial tension should affect our congregations and the church in general. Next time, we will focus on the church and race relations. I’m praying that this series is useful, at least in a small way, in making sisters who read ever more determined to be a part of a movement to be united in Him, even as our culture seems to continue to be sharply divided. 

 

Christ Over Color–(Part 2): When the World Got into the Church

It’s hard for a patriot to look back at her country’s history and see the dark days when sinful practices were legitimized, both in the legal processes of the nation and in the minds of those who governed. I am, for instance, while thankful that Providence allowed for the founding of our great nation, aware that the revolt against British government in the late 1700s, no matter how tyrannical and unfair that government, was a movement that Christians could not support, according to Romans 13.

Certainly, the dark history of slavery is another painful era for Christians to contemplate. While the Bible does not specifically condemn slavery, certainly the kind of forced slavery that occurred in our nation’s history is implicitly condemned by multiple principles and passages beginning with the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12. There is simply no justification for the national sin that continued from prior to the birth of our country until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Much time could be spent on American slavery’s atrocities and the huge and multi-generational negative ramifications in our society. But that is not within the purview of this post.

One of those lasting ramifications was the culture of segregation that persisted for much of the twentieth century. The U.S. military was legally segregated, as was the public education system, as well as many public and private community and social facilities all over our nation. This was particularly true in the South.  At first, of course, it was a legal separation mandated by the Jim Crow laws, giving African Americans a “separate but equal” status in southern society. Let me once again emphasize that Christians—people who are called to adhere to the principles of the Word of God—have to constantly examine the culture around us and reject the ideas of culture that are sinful (Romans 12:1,2).

Sadly, there’s considerable evidence that the prevalent societal norm during the early to mid-twentieth century was far too influential in the thinking of many Christians. When I read statements such as the following, from men who were powerful and prominent preachers among us, I  can hardly believe it. The devil must have been very happy when he could succeed in getting men who were loudly proclaiming the gospel to make statements such as these:

…From a well-known preacher in the Bible Banner:

Reliable brethren in the Valley have reported the definite inclinations of the negro man and his wife in charge of the orphan home for colored children at Combes toward social equality. They are supposed to be members of the church, and some of the white brethren are apparently encouraging them. It is said that these two negroes have privately stated that they favor social equality and are working for it. The young editor of “Christian Soldier,” in the valley, admits that he roomed with the negro preacher, R. N. Hogan, and slept in the same bed with him two nights! And he seemed to be proud of it! Aside from being an infringement on the Jim Crow law, it is a violation of Christianity itself, and of all common decency. Such conduct forfeits the respect of right-thinking people, and would be calculated to stir up demonstrations in most any community if it should become generally known.”

…Another excerpt:

When (well-known preacher) held the valley-wide meeting at Harlingen, Texas, some misguided brethren brought a group of negroes up to the front to be introduced to and shake hands with him. Brother (preacher) told them publicly that he could see all of the colored brethren he cared to see on the outside after services, and that he could say everything to them that he wanted to say without the formality of shaking hands. I think he was right. He told of a prominent brother in the church who went wild over the negroes and showed them such social courtesies that one day one of the negroes asked him if he might marry his daughter. That gave the brother a jolt and he changed his attitude!”

I could include other quotations. It is a painful process to read and print such. I confess that the above quotations from men who preached the gospel in the 1940s were, to me, shocking and disturbing. How could these men, who studied their Bibles diligently, be so very calloused and hardened to the teachings that permeate its pages, from the golden rule of Matthew 7:12 to the treatise of James in chapter two?  Where was the disconnect?

I believe it was in the same place as it so often is today. We, without even recognizing its power, allow the thinking of society around us, to affect our own thinking and the result is that our words and actions are corrupted by the world.

The lesson for me is obvious. It is a parenthetical lesson as we travel through a study of race relations, but it is still important: May I never get comfortable accepting the ideas of the world around me without carefully and honestly scrutinizing them in the light of the Word. This has got to be true for me even in examining legal mandates. It must be true for me even with reference to the ideology of the leaders of society or the community’s respected voices. It must be true for me when examining messages from the pulpit. I am, at all times and in all ways, accountable to the Word. It is the Word that must guide me in matters of race relations and indeed, in all relations. If men who spent many hours weekly in the Word could be so affected by the world, surely I must  constantly be on guard, to be sure my mind is constantly being renewed by the Word (Romans 12:2).

Next Time: Lingering Fears in the 2017 Church