Friday, January 3, 2014

Building Multi-Racial, Multi-Ethnic Churches

It deeply troubles us that the evangelical support for our Black brethren trapped under Jim Crow segregation laws was so minimal. There are many reasons to grieve over this great injustice. Perhaps worst of all, racial discrimination violates righteousness and the Gospel itself:

  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism. (Eph. 4:4-5; John 10:16; 17:11; Romans 12:4; 1 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-20)

In Christ, we are all one, but our actions didn’t always demonstrate this, to our great regret and detriment. Jesus insisted that the welfare and witness of the church depended upon maintaining our unity – our oneness. He prayed:

  • “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one… Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

People are more alienated and lonely than ever, according to recent surveys. They are desperately seeking community – the very thing that we have to offer them. We need to be the light of the world, demonstrating that Christ can bring people together from many diverse backgrounds, neutralizing the hate and dissension. When they find unity among us, the world will more clearly know and believe that the Savior is in our midst.

We all have a responsibility “to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace!” And I think that all true believers accept this responsibility. However, we differ regarding the “how” question. How do we maintain the unity we share in Christ – our mystical oneness as members of His glorious body?

Some pastors promote a worldly solution involving a form of reverse discrimination – affirmative action re-shaped for the church. One pastor claimed that it wasn’t enough to accept one another as equals. Instead, the long-favored racial group had to make it up to those racial groups that had been disfavored. Consequently, merit, gifting and calling would no longer determine the composition of church leadership but primarily, racial quotas.

This is very different from requiring parties who had been guilty of racism to confess their sins and to even make reparations. Instead, reverse discrimination would place the onus, by virtue of race, even on those who had absolutely no responsibility for the evils of Jim Crow.

The pastor explained that if we want unity within the body of Christ, we are required to give the highest seats to those who had been disadvantaged by the color of their skin. However, such counsel is not consistent with the light of the Gospel. James wrote in favor of impartiality:

  •  My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 4:1-4)

Any form of favoritism – whether social, racial or ethnic - has no place within the body of Christ, unless justice requires some form of reparation.  Instead, we are called upon to care equally for one another, granting each his voice irrespective of any racial assessment. Moses was clear that neither poverty nor riches should twist justice:

  • “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17)

The prohibition against favoritism is not simply a Mosaic concept of justice; it extends into the church as well:
  • I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. (1 Tim. 5:21-22)

Paul forbade favoritism even in regards to the “laying on of hands” – the commissioning to church office and service! It shouldn’t be according to friendship or racial preference.

Nevertheless, there had been a need for affirmative action. Many Blacks had been unjustly discriminated against. Justice required that their cases and resumes be re-examined so that they would be given those things to which they had been entitled, along with reparations.

This is a matter of justice. However, racial quotas have not and will not heal the wounds of Jim Crow. Nor will racial distinctions maintain biblical unity – the very thing that we should all long for! If anything, these distinctions will simply perpetuate the divide. After all, how can racial preferences eliminate racism! Instead, they have served to perpetuate our problems.

Even more problematic is the insistence that we have to bring racial distinctions into the church. Not only are these interventions racially discriminatory, they also displace our God-given solutions. These require us all – not just the underprivileged - to build the church. We all must forgive; we all must put others’ needs before our own; we all must put Christ first before any worldly solutions:

  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:29-32)

This didn’t come naturally for me. I had experienced much anti-Semitism and had been painfully aware of the history of genocide that had stalked my people for centuries. I responded with hatred. It was so deep that I thought that white folk actually had a different odor – a nauseating one. (I grew up around only Caucasians.) I therefore entered the church very reluctantly, convinced that each white person who shook my hand was a hypocrite who hated Jews.

However, that was 36 years ago. Since then, the Lord has taught me to love His thoughts and to gladly disdain my own! This has become my prayer for His beloved bride – His multi-racial church.

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