Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Racism - The Shame of the Church


I grew up in the 1960s. I was not a believer. But I remember great strides in the culture as it pertained to prejudice and race. I never heard one single word of prejudice in my home. Perhaps it was because my mother was a thespian and had rubbed shoulders with black actors. I once asked my parents if they would object to me marrying a black woman and my mother said absolutely no, she would not object. However when pressed my father just said, “Stick with your own kind”. That was the extent of our discussion on race.

I attended a high school that was 99% white, but one of the two black students was a friend of mine. But here is what I have seen over my sixty years on this earth. It wasn’t the church which helped bring healing between the races, especially not the predominately white church. It was the secular music genre as well as professional sports. Yes, the secular arena helped push forward race relations. I loved Motown music. Michael Jackson was my brother’s favorite singer back in the 1960s. And we all loved Willie Mays, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a long list of black athletes. Every Christmas, my mother who was not an evangelical, would call a pastor of a black church and ask him for the individual names of a black family who would not have a Christmas this year. We would all help buying and wrapping and delivering the gifts to that church with all the appropriate age and genders. I never knew real racism as a child.

But where was the church in all of this? Much of the white evangelical church absolutely hated Dr. King and all he stood for. And the church in the south proliferated prejudice and segregation and even used the Bible to substantiate their racism. Instead of being Jesus to a divided nation the church in many ways became a stumbling block. As we look back, it was a disgrace.

What should be very easy to see from Scripture and from the life of Jesus seems to be difficult in many evangelical circles. I mean really, racism? Do you want a litmus test to see if you have any prejudice in your heart? Could you rejoice if your white Christian daughter married a black Christian man? Is there any hesitancy within you? If so, than there are traces of racism. Please do not hide behind the “They will have trouble in society” because that dog will not hunt anymore. And since when did the racism in the culture take precedence over the Lordship of Jesus?

A couple came to me once in one of my pastorates. He was black and she was white and Latin. They had been living together and yet they had both made professions of faith many months ago. They had children together and they had been coming to the church for well over a year. I did not know they were living together however what was I to do anyway. They desired to get married and baptized as well. I planned the event several Sunday’s in the future and advertised it in the bulletin. That Sunday came and I preached on the color blind redemption of Jesus. After the service I invited the congregation to stay for the ceremony and some refreshments. The majority stayed, but two elders would not stay. They disagreed with mixed marriages.

That was in the 1980’s. Can you imagine such a thing, and do you believe that does not exist anymore? And given the circumstances and caustic verbiage this past election, are you still blind to the overt and latent racism that still exists in the church? Are there any jokes still told with racial undertones? Do white parents watch their daughters very carefully in a mixed youth group? How many black ministers pastor white churches? In fact, why are there black and white churches? And of course I realize that racism exists in black churches as well, but as a white man I am very comfortable correcting white believers.

So let us not be liars and say there is no racism in the evangelical church. There is. And millions say that they “strongly” oppose President Obama because he is a socialist and not because he is black. Some of that may be true, but they are still blind to the latent racism that still remains in many hearts. And the socialism thing just reveals the level of fondness the church has for money and the callousness we exhibit toward the poor. But I contend without doubt that if Barak Obama was white and named Charlie Anderson, and if his policies were the same as President Obama’s, that the depth of hatred and dismissal would not be nearly as severe. The jokes would have to be different. Of course believers would still listen to enemies of Christ on the radio which would still reveal their hedonistic tendencies as well as their spiritual dearth.

But the church’s overall track record on race has been abysmal. And now new “enemies” have arisen. Latinos and Muslims have now overtaken the blacks. What will be the history of the church concerning those classes in the years to come? With the gospel at stake, and the love of God on trial, will the church once again resist the Spirit and worship at George Washington’s feet instead of the feet that are nail scarred? And allow me to throw a major hand grenade into the well fortified bunker known as the evangelical church in America. How will we treat the gay community in the years ahead? Apples and oranges, you say? Perhaps, but the gospel is for both the apples and the oranges. In fact, the love of God through Jesus Christ desires to reach the most rancid and rotten fruit among us. You see, I was some real rotten fruit when Christ reached me.

But I had an advantage. I was white and heterosexual and therefore embraced as a legitimate sinner by the church. As followers of Jesus we should be doing much better.


JMD said...

You make valid points, I remember my daughter asking me the very question about if she married a black person. I told her I had no problem and that as long as she could handle how some people would act, react and treat her that she should follow her heart.

I have no idea if that was the correct parent answer but I just wanted her to be aware of the pressures that society can and does put on people that marry outside their race.

KA9FON said...

What you've espoused really racism has been the cry of my heart. The whole US evangelical church should hear this. Rather it is plagued by under the radar racism and love of extreme capitalism based on greed. Our God is not like that! I have not so learned Christ!