The Gospel, Racism, and MLK

Saturday, January 20, 2018 @ 09:01 AM

Once God made the world and everything in it, He declared it to be  “good”.  Shalom (peace) ruled creation (Genesis 1 & 2).  Soon our original parents decided to go rogue,  and shalom became an increasingly rare commodity on planet earth.

By Genesis 6,  we read “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…and the earth was filled with violence.” (verses 5 & 11).  It is interesting to note that the writer specifically links evil thoughts with violence.  Much of this violence was based on race and culture.

Between the time of the fall and the birth of Christ,  God chose to prepare the world for the Prince of Peace through the ancient nation of Israel.  However, He did not limit His work to that group of people. God was intentional in choosing to work through non-Jewish people in weaving His tapestry of redemption. Rahab and Ruth (Gentile women) were included in the lineage of Jesus.

The Gospel writers made a point of including examples of Jesus working with Gentiles. The Samaritan women at the well (John 4); the  Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7), and the healing of the 10 lepers (Luke 17)  are 3 examples.  After His ascension to heaven, the Prince of Shalom sent 2 of His apostles to bring the Good News to Gentiles (see Acts 9 and Acts 10). Redemption was offered to every tribe and tongue.

So, after all that, the Church got the message that all races are made in the image of the Creator, and all should be treated with dignity, right? Not exactly.  A tacit review of Church history demonstrates racial bias among some of the great leaders such as Martin Luther, the great German reformer, and George Whitefield, the great evangelist in early America.

There were, of course, notable exceptions. Augustine of Hippo encouraged the Roman emperor to do away with slavery.  John Newton and William Wilberforce, two Christian leaders in 18th century England, were instrumental in the abolition of slavery Great Britain..   Quakers led the way in 17th century America in fighting slavery.

And yet,  by the 1960s,  violence in the name of racism was firmly entrenched in American cities, from  the Watts riot in California to the church bombings in Alabama.  In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, the same hour many are standing to sing: “In Christ there is no east or west”.  For all that he accomplished, Dr. King’s work toward racial equality in the name of Christ in America is far from over.

Dr. King stood alone in the struggle to win the hearts and actions of the very people who claimed to be followers of the Prince of Peace. The term “preaching to the choir” takes a whole new meaning as we watch him write his “letters from a Birmingham Jail” to 5 established religious leaders who bid him to be silent and wait for change to take its course.

My question is, why? Why, after countless admonitions from the Bible does the Church of Jesus not enthusiastically embrace the Bible’s teaching on the equality of all men? Why, after Christ’s new commandment for His followers to love one another, and His High Priestly Prayer for believers to be one, do we still need books and seminars and training on race relations? Why was the issues of slavery  and the Civil Way, 1800 years after Jesus left the earth,  even an issue? And why, in the year 2018, does the church and American society answer racism with shallow sound bites or by creating rules of  political correctness that put band-aids on gaping wounds and divide us with trivial rules and power plays?

Before you point your finger at the KKK, or politicians, or “those guys out there”, take a look at yourself. If you are a Christ follower, you are what Jesus called the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt and light are agents of change. Salt can take a dull tasteless meal and make it delicious. Light overpowers darkness when they come into contact. The Church of Jesus Christ sets the bar, and the world works off of her lead. When the Church turns a blind eye toward injustice, the world system will reach no higher. When the Church defends evil,  why would we expect the world system to do otherwise?

Jesus told us that we will receive power form on high when the Holy Spirit comes. The power that the Spirit brings is to set us free from sin and free us to walk in the steps of Jesus. The Spirit brings power for us to bring Shalom to our families, our neighborhoods, and our world.  And yet, 2ooo years after He spoke those words and sent the Spirit, the Church is  still bogged down and divided.  And  the world system follows our lead.

It is not too late to march with Dr. King, at least in spirit. Christians can make a difference in their families, in their workplace,in their neighborhoods,  and as part of the Church impacting our world for Christ.  I was raised a White, Southern Republican. There is nothing wrong with that. What was wrong was that for years I limited my interaction to people who looked, thought, voted, and believed like I did. Coupled with that, I limited my Bible study to the familiar passages that were preached every Sunday in my church that was populated by White, Southern Republicans. I had little grasp of the Bible’s message of redemption as a whole, or of differing points of view. Over the last 20 years God has graciously shown me a new way at looking at things. That new way of thinking fuels Hope Houses Houston and other ministries working around the city of Houston.

May I suggest a few ways to begin to walk more closely with Jesus and Dr. King in the area of race relations and justice?

  1. Become intentional about studying the Bible as a whole. If you have not done this before, you wail run into some passages that seem very out-of-or place.  Don’t freak out. Make a note of the passage for later investigation. The book “How To Read the Bible For Al Its Worth”  by Gordon Fee can be very helpful to readers in understanding the context of many of these passages.
  2. Be diligent in asking the Holy Spirit to change you from the inside out. Take the Psalmist’s prayer, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,   and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139: 23 & 24)
  3. Go out of your way to develop relationships with people who differ from you in background, beliefs,  race, politics, etc. Enter this relationship with the goals of friendship and learning from their perspective. Practice active listening; do not look for opportunities to argue your point.  See https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html
  4. Visit other churches in parts of the city different from your own. Come with a goal to listen and learn; not to evaluate and judge.
  5. Read books like Generous Justice by Tim Keller. Keller does a masterful job at laying out the Bible’s teachings on justice, which will cross  the barriers of race, political affiliation, and economic paradigms.

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples, teaching them in His name. That covers everything from being born again to how to influence His world in His name for Shalom. It can’t be done by the few Dr. Kings. It can be done by the collective Body of Christ. Lets get to it!

 

 

2 Responses to “The Gospel, Racism, and MLK”

  1. Rick Lyons says:

    Well done article, Brother Dave! As you know I come from a very similar background as yours. To look past the skin color, culture, etc. of another human being is a decision, by God’s grace, to do. I confess that I am far from perfect in this endeavor. Faith without works is a dead faith, and part of that work is seeing others as fellow humans, not someone to look down upon. I read a book called Darwin’s Plantation, and have since been purposing to see people in different “Ethinicities”, rather than a different “Race”. I don’t think it is simply a matter of symantics. Our Heavenly Father created the Human Race(singular), not Races(plural). It seems that trying to recognize different races, rather than one Race, is a big part of the problems we face.

  2. Dave says:

    Hello Rick! Great to hear from you, and thanks for your comments. I agree completely with your statement that looking beyond our differences is a decision that we each have to make. The Scriptures make it clear that we are all made in God’s image, and there is no excuse for bias or prejudice. Jesus prayed that His followers” be one, as we are one” (John 17:11) and said that we prove our allegiance to Him by our love one for another (John 13:35).

    I haven’t read the book you mentioned, but will check it out.


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