Monday, July 6, 2015

THE CHURCH IN DENIAL

The following incident occurred 15 or so years ago when I taught at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston.  CBS is a college that was originally founded to give Biblical and Theological training to African-American ministers and other leaders in the black community.  Though it has diversified since its beginnings, the majority of its students is still African-American, though ironically many of the faculty and most of its wealthy supporters are white.  (While my memory may have failed me on some of the details, I believe the story is basically accurate.

Anyway, I'm sitting having coffee with 3 or 4 students; I'm the only white guy at the table.

One of the students cheerfully informs us, "They asked me to give my testimony at the fund-raising banquet."

"Wow, that's great!" replies another.  "What you goin' to tell?"

"I'm goin' to tell how the Lord saved me and I'm goin' to tell about how this school has been such a help in my spiritual growth."

"Make sure you tell 'em about the drugs," says another, older student.  Smirks appear on the other faces (including mine).

"Drugs?" says the first.

"Yeah," says the other.  "You got to tell them how you were saved from drugs."  The smirks turn to grins.

"But I ain't never done drugs!" was the indignant reply.

"Look" says his self-appointed coach.  "That don't make no difference!  There's two things them rich white folks want to know about us black folks.  First, that we been saved from drugs, 'cause we all are on drugs!  And the other thing they want to know is that we ain't goin' after their daughters!"

Well, this white guy almost choked with laughter, as did the others at the table, except for the deflated young testifier.  However, later as I pondered the conversation I'd heard I was deeply saddened at how true the "coach's" insights were.  For quite some time I had recognized the truth of what was so cynically expressed, though I was hesitant to admit it.

On a previous post, AMERICA IN DENIAL, I spoke of the racism that permeates not only our white American culture, but also the church.  I spoke of how we all can find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of racism.  I spoke of our need as the church for repentance, not only of the racism within us but also of its accompanying twin: denial.  I mentioned some of our trite ways of excusing ourselves.  After posting this I learned of some new ways, not only of denying one's personal racism, but of denying that racism even exists.

In my own experience I have found some of the most ludicrous denials of racism coming from those who are most involved in ministry across racial lines.  I am speaking as one who has spent many years attempting to cross racial barriers, as one who has sought to bring about what used to be known as "racial reconciliation."  After all, we might say, aren't we white people the ones who are making an effort to cross these lines?  To "minister" to these people in their need - for the Gospel, for education, for whatever else?  Yes, but what is our motive for this service?  Does our service reinforce our feelings of racial superiority?  After all, aren't we the ones with something better to give?

I have heard my white co-workers, my white fellow ministers making of-the-cuff racist remarks or using racial stereotypes, often unwittingly.  And I suppose that I have been guilty of the same.  I have also heard those of other races express their distrust of white people, as the above episode illustrates.  Is our racism more obvious to those to whom we minister than it is to us?

As I said before, I am pessimistic of any real change in America's situation.  Though we must continue to work for social justice and racial reconciliation, we must also recognize this fact. However, we as the church, we who claim allegiance to Christ need to rise above the racism of America.  If there is to be change, it must begin with us.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some pointed questions:
-- Do we really believe that Christ died to reconcile us to God and to our fellow human beings?
-- Do we really believe that in Christ "there is neither Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3:11), that "there is no Jew or Greek, there is no male or female" (Galatians 3:28)? How about black and white?
-- Do we really believe that we have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves?
-- Do we really believe that Jesus commanded us to make disciples of ALL the nations?

This is not and should not be a matter of political preference or regional upbringing.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The Second Person of the Trinity stepped outside the comfort zone of Heaven to become one of us.  If I may say, He crossed racial barriers to become one with those who were his enemies.

The Apostle Paul apparently felt that as a follower of Jesus, he needed to cross those barriers as his Lord had done. "For though I am free from all, I made myself a servant to all that I might win the more ... I have become all things to all that I might same some" (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22a).  He lists those he has "become as".

Are we willing to confess our racial pride and fears and become a "servant of all" even of those who are different, who may be suspicious of us, even hate us?

Monday, June 29, 2015

BARB'S THOUGHTS ON FEAR

My friend Barb sent me this via text because she couldn't make the comments on my previous post for some reason or another.  I feel that what she said is important enough to publish as a post.

Thanks Barb!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bill:                                                                                               6/29/2015

Let's try it this way. I seem to have problems posting a comment on your blog. One particular sentence stood out to me and that is what I would like to comment on. You are talking about stricter gun regulations and this is what drew my attention: " these cries will have no effect on a population living in fear."

Fear is such an interesting emotion. There is real fear as in the fight or flight situation where our body recognizes the need for reaction before our mind does. Then there is the bump in the night fear where our mind talks to us. I am well aware of both types of fear. I believe most of us are.

Most, if not all, of my prejudices are based on the latter. Be they racial, economic, cultural or personal preference they come from a lack of experience or exposure or were passed to me by those I grew up with.

So what do I do with perceived fear? First I believe I must recognize it, then I must acknowledge it and only then am I free to choose to deal with it. As I move about in my everyday life I am exposed to all kinds of fearful situations. This world is a scary place and, let's face it, no one gets out alive. (Trite but true.)

So what do we do with fear? In what way does fear work for us? This isn't a question about how we overcome fear but rather one that should show us our inner workings. If I fear you because you are black or brown or white that allows me to not deal with the real you. If you are shabby and smelly and have your hand out then certainly I have reason to avoid you. You might ask something of me I am unwilling to give.

These and a myriad of other examples are my prejudices. And guess what? I DON'T LIKE THEM! So what is a person to do? Recognize that this is the human condition but is not the final word. I do not have to act on my fears. They really do nothing for me. I can choose to do that which makes me uncomfortable, that which makes my heart pound, that which makes me feel vulnerable. Even that which seems to take advantage of me. But it does not because I recognize all I have is temporary. It is mine (really?) for a short time. All that I love is only mine for a finite time. That frees me! I am freed from fear. That said, I will feel fear again tomorrow and I will have to make those choices all over again. And I will. I must. We all must.

Well this isn't the original post but somewhat close. I am so encouraged by the recent Supreme Court rulings. But they too have their prejudices. Racism may be part of our legacy but when you consider we are all from the same source it is a bit ridiculous. Mankind is tribal and therefore acts in ways to advance and protect their tribe. Perhaps the young generation with global access will do a better job of seeing all people as real. Thanks for your posts. They stimulate my thinking. Bob does much the same thing. There aren't many of you out there. I loved Sherry's post on marriage. I will be quoting that for awhile. Use of this whatever you want. It's a bit rambling.

Barb

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

AMERICA IN DENIAL

The slaughter last week of nine African-American Christians at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, seems to have had an impact on all Americans.  The picture of a young skinny white killer seemed contradictory.  He looked like a frightened child; he wasn't a tattooed skinhead.  Yet his racist Confederate paraphernalia told the story.

He had been welcomed into the church and sat for an hour through a Bible study before cold-bloodedly shooting his victims.

This horrible event seems to have awakened much of white America to the racism that lies very close to the surface of our culture.  After repeated news stories of police killings and abuse of black people, this slaughter seems to have finally brought forth an admission of this horrible American trait.

Or has it?  We have heard many expressions of sympathy for the families of the victims and for the members of Emanuel Church, but will that sympathy last?

We've latched on to some easy "solutions" to the problem.  There has been a nationwide outcry against the Confederate battle flag flying at the South Carolina capital - the same flag held by the killer in his proudly posted picture.  The governor of South Carolina and most of the state's legislators have agreed that the flag must come down.  Other states have spoken of removing it from public display as well.  Even Wal*Mart!  I agree it's about time, though actually it's about 150 years late.  No matter what its defenders say, the flag is a symbol that represents racism and slavery as many, both black and white have noted, though I have heard little mention of the fact that it also symbolizes rebellion against the United States of America; it is a treasonous symbol!

And then there are the cries for more and stricter gun regulation; of course, these cries will have no effect on a population living in fear.

I must say that I am pessimistic of any real change in America's situation.  Racism will continue.  There will be more cases of police racial profiling, of hate crimes, of injustice toward minorities, and yes, there will be more racist-motivated murders.

Because racism is in an integral part of our nation's history and culture.  And the reader's reaction to a statement like this is probably denial.  Surveys and polls inform us  that the majority of white Americans still do not see racism as a problem.  Inane denials that I heard 60 years ago are still being uttered today:
          "Some of my best friends are black (or colored or N_____s)."
          "I don't see color."
          "I'm not prejudiced."

And of course, the protests:
          "One lone incident does not mean we are all racists!"
          "What about black on white crime?"
          "What about black on black crime?"

The latest one:  "We mustn't politicize this tragedy."

What is so grievous is that Christians - people who claim to be followers of the One who commanded us to love our neighbor - are often the ones who are most caught up in denial.  While we may admit that racism exists, certainly "we have no part in it."

Some have referred to racism as America's Original Sin.  While I may not go that far, I believe that it ranks right up there as a contender for the title.  It has been with us from the beginning, with slavery and wars of extermination of native Americans.  Perhaps it is part of our American DNA as some have expressed.  And certainly it is not isolated to our nation.


I believe that racism - that fear of "the other" or the feeling that I am somehow superior to him - is an aspect of our fallen nature and that it dwells in some form or another in every one of us.  And we live in a fallen world of which America is a part.

Every one of us - I am speaking as a member of the white branch of the human race -  can find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of racism.  At the far end of this continuum we can find those who are members of the hate groups:  skinheads, neo-Nazis, Klansmen or "lone wolves" such as the young murderer of Charleston; and there are plenty of these.  But the rest of us, even those who consider ourselves "liberal" can find ourselves somewhere along this line if we'd bother to take an honest look.

I believe that it is time for the (white) church in America to stop "being conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2) in its racism.  It is time for us to stop saying, "we have no sin" and stop "deceiving ourselves" (1 John 1:8).  I believe we need to - we must - examine our own hearts for the racism that lurks there.  We must repent and confess it to God, as well as to our fellow human beings.  We need to ask God not only to forgive us, but to continue to show us where we are racist in our thoughts and actions.  We need to ask Him to, by the power of His Holy Spirit, cleanse us of this sin, this chronic disease.

We cannot on our own eliminate racism from our nation but we as the church of Jesus Christ can move toward cleansing it out of our midst.  Only then, I believe can we expect to see a real change in our culture.

Father, we confess that we your church, have been guilty.  We and our fathers have sinned in our racism, our lack of love, our hatred toward those who are different than we are.  We have compounded our sin by our denial of its existence.  We have compounded our sin by our tolerance of it in our churches and among our fellow believers.  Forgive us.  Open our eyes.  Cleanse us we pray.

Monday, June 22, 2015

BACK TO BASICS

Christianity is often criticized - even attacked - by its opponents as being ethically inconsistent.  Often such criticisms are justly aimed at our hypocrisy, our failure to live up to the demands that we seem to make not only of ourselves, but outsiders.  Other criticisms point out (at times justly) that we are selective as to which "rules" we stress and which we ignore.
 
I do not intend to address hypocrisy here, since I have often done so before.  And I must confess that I have been guilty of this myself.  I will only point out that hypocrisy does not invalidate one's ethical code, but rather serves to validate it.  As it has been said, "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."
 
But our alleged selectivity is another matter.  Critics seem to enjoy pointing out what is perceived as inconsistency and though they are sometimes correct, often the criticisms are due to an ignorance of what Christianity really is.
 
For instance, one issue that has been at the front of these criticisms lately is Christians' condemnation of homosexual behavior. The criticism usually takes one of two directions.  The first is that while this behavior is clearly condemned as sinful in the Old testament, the penalty required is death by stoning (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), yet only a few, extremely radical Christian spokesmen would advocate this.  This is pointed out as inconsistent.

A second approach is to point out that various Old Testament dietary laws are given as just as binding as the laws on sexual behavior (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 18).  So if one condemns homosexual behavior but eats shrimp or pork chops, he is just as guilty as the one he condemns.

What the critics of Christianity, as well as many of its adherents fail to understand is that the ethical codes of the Old Testament are not binding on, or even addressed to, the follower of Christ.  The law of the Old Testament - the Law of Moses, was given to the nation of Israel by God at the beginning of that nation.  For nearly a millennium and a half the people of Israel were bound by this Law, even though they often - usually - failed to keep it.

And About halfway through this time period, God spoke to the nation through the prophet Jeremiah:  "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the LORD:  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" Jeremiah 31:31-34 - ESV.

There also were many more promises and details concerning this new covenant and to put them all together and explain them in their historical context would take more time and effort than I wish to expend here.

When Jesus came, he presented himself not only as the Messiah - the Anointed King - of Israel, but also as the Mediator of this New Covenant inaugurated by his death.  At his last Passover supper with his disciples just hours before his death, he took the cup of wine and said:  "This cup that is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood" Luke 22:20 - ESV.

So the follower of Christ, whether Jew or non-Jew, is not bound by the Old Covenant.  He is a participator in the New Covenant.  Our ethics then are not derived from the Law of Moses (the Old Covenant) but from the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and elaborated in the New Testament Epistles.  The Old Testament ethics are often similar, and should be a part of our study but they are not binding.  Many of these ethical requirements are carried forward into the New Testament, but many are not; some are clearly annulled, such as the dietary restrictions (Mark 7:18, 19; Acts 10:9-16; Romans 14:2, 3).  Of course, there is ongoing debate as to some of the details and Christians will undoubtedly continue to have disagreements.

Most of the above should be understood by the critics of Christianity as well as its practitioners.  Ignorance of these basic distinctions has led to unnecessary conflict between Christians and outsiders as well as within the church.

A few more things need to be said.  First, Christianity is not primarily an ethical system.  It is a religion of redemption.  As the promises in Jeremiah 31 tell us, it is about forgiveness and about a work of God on the "hearts" of human beings.

Also, the New Testament ethics are not given for the Christian to condemn others, especially outsiders.  Our attitude toward those with whom we disagree, those who do not follow the ethics that we claim, is to be an ethic of love.