The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Race

The End of White Christian America (Part Five)

“Why can’t White Christian America understand how African Americans feel about the black men who have died at the hands of white police officers?”  So wonders author Robert P. Jones (p. 155).

Racial Perception Gap.

Shortly after the Baltimore riots in April 2015 a Public Religion and Research Institute (PRRI) found that 74% of black Americans thought “the recent killings of African American men by police in Ferguson . . . New York City and Baltimore . . . were part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans” (p. 153).  Many white Americans see these killings as “isolated incidents”.

https://www.amazon.com/End-White-Christian-America/dp/1501122290/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479382454&sr=1-1&keywords=the+end+of+white+christian+america

America’s Still-Segregated Modern Life.

Jones sees “America’s still-segregated modern life” marked by geographic segregation, an overwhelming majority of white Americans not having a close relationship with a non-white, and no institutions to resolve “systemic social segregation”.

For example, in 1911 Baltimore’s mayor signed an ordinance designed to “promote the general welfare of the city by assigning separate blocks for the city’s black and white residents”.   Such segregation spread and persisted over the years through housing codes and and property owners’ associations that blocked blacks from moving into white neighborhoods.  It’s resulted black Americans having only 72% of the well-being of white Americans—“as measured across . . . economic well-being, health, education, social judgment and civil engagement” (p. 157).

Second example.  A 2013 PRRI survey found that “on average, the core social networks of white Americans are . . . 91% white and only 1% black” (p. 161).

Third example.  Public schools are the primary institution to bridge this racial divide.  Yet “the average white student today attends a school that is 73% white” (p. 162).

What about the church?  Jones argues that, while a small number have successfully integrated, “the church is still the most segregated major institution in America”, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. charged in 1963.

The Role of White Christian America.

Jones asserts, “No segment of White Christian America has been more complicit in the nation’s . . . racial history than white evangelical Protestants” (p. 167).  He indicts Southern Baptist churches as the guiltiest, but notes that recently SBC churches are leading the way regarding integration (p. 174).

Can the church “desegregate”?  To “reinforce the current racial isolation” would “ensure White Christian America’s declining relevance”, according to Jones.  Better, as some churches are doing (Middle Collegiate Church, New York City and Oakhurst Baptist, Atlanta), to “pioneer a new kind of Christian community that transcends the color line” (p. 179-188).

On her “Huffington Post” blog, Reverend Jacqui Lewis described a transcending-the-color-line service at Middle Church:  “A tall gorgeous Black gay man from our congregation led with One day, when the Glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours, while his petite white husband played the Hammond organ.  The choir–directed by a Mexican American man, accompanied by a lesbian Black woman–filled with the voices of Chinese, Japanese, White, Black, Puerto Rican, married, and single folk who span generations rapped like Common–in unison!  They wept, they stomped their feet as though they were stomping out injustice.  Our congregation was on fire with deep feelings of both sorrow and hope.”

The church we planted in North Jersey in 1973 grew to be about 25% non-white.  Not by our planning.  It just happened.  We all treated non-whites the same as whites.  We aimed at loving each other as Jesus loved us (John 13:34).  We realized Christ’s cross made two (or more) races one . . .

“But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.  He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God” (Ephesians 2:13-16, GNT).
So we tasted the adventure of bridging the racial divide.  But we couldn’t foster unity at the expense of biblical morality.  Nor can we now.  The Bible condemns homosexual practice.
(Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”–1 Corinthians 6:9,10, ESV).  Unity must be in Christ.  A practicing “gay man” and “his husband” and “a lesbian woman” cannot have unity in Christ.
I add a third reason:  the church has the Holy Spirit’s power to obediently live out the unity we have in Christ.  We have no excuse for racism.  For in the end Jesus will be praised for, by his blood, ransoming people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”and making them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9,10, ESV).
Given the racial divide in America and the church’s lingering segregation, we can’t simply wait for more integrated churches to “just happen”.  Is it time to prayerfully consider merging-as-equals with a mostly-black church?  Might the Lord lead some of us in that direction?  I don’t know.  And since I’m retired due to disability, I don’t have to wrestle with that question!  But it may be time for us to take deliberate steps to live out the unity we have in Christ.

The subject demands far more thought than I can give to it here.  Suffice it to generally agree with Jones” conclusion . . .

 

“The road under White Christian America’s descendants’ feet must lead first through the uncharted terrain of remembering, repentance, and repair.  Given White Christian America’s long history of complicity in slavery, segregation, and racism, we are at the beginning, not the end, of the journey across the racial divide” (p. 195).
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The End of White Christian America (Part Two)

I reread yesterday’s post.   Does it sound racist?   Am I longing for the good old days with Sheriff Andy in Mayberry without African-Americans, Asians and Latinos?

Not Racism.

I wouldn’t mind Mayberry.  Nice to leave doors unlocked and worry only if Aunt Susie will drop off an apple pie today or tomorrow.  But my nostalgia has nothing to do with racism.  Nor does Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.

Racism, defined by John Piper in his book, Bloodlines, is “the heart that believes one race is better than another.”  And “the behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another.”  If any of my comments implied racism, please forgive me.  Jones and I are merely commenting on the changes in the country and how they affect “white Christian America.”  I’m writing because our knowledge of those changes is shallow and our ignorance of what they call us to as a follower of Jesus is deep.

Dust Summary.

The following (from the book’s dust cover) fairly summarizes The End of White Christian America:

“For most of the country’s history, White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.  But in recent decades new immigration patterns, changing birth rates, and religious disaffiliation have transformed the United States.  The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population.  Today, even when Catholics are included, white Christians make up less than half of the country.

” . . . Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies—the strident rise of a white politics of nostalgia following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; the stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system—can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.

Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout . . . ”

Do we understand an “evolution” that fundamental has occurred?  Do we realize there’s no going back to Mayberry?

Christian Response.

How, then,  shall we as Christians respond?  We’re blessed to elect government leaders.  We should vote with our Christian worldview clearly in place.  But, if we think politicians will “make America great again” or build us “stronger together”, we’re dreaming.  Evangelical Christians easily fall prey to politics.  When I saw Jerry Falwell, Jr. fall all over Donald Trump at Liberty University, I thought, “Here we go again.  Christians pinning hopes on politicians.”  They’re not our saviors and never will be.  At best, we vote against the worse.  (Too cynical?)  Launching a “Christian candidate” won’t enlarge our Christian “clout” in the country (though it may stave off evil to a limited extent).

Consider two suggestions, alternatives to trying to infiltrate Washington, D.C.  One comes from Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas.  In a 1989 book, Resident Aliens:  Life in the Christian Colony,  he called for the church to be “a colony of heaven”.  By that he meant Christians who recognize they live in a strange land, who emphasize “Christianity’s function as an institution separate from politics and worldly affairs, not as an insider in the halls of power.”

This I see is a prophetic stance.  We speak and act, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as citizens of heaven.  As Old Testament prophets our allegiance is to the Lord of lords.  We pray, “Your kingdom come” through us today.

A similar idea lies in Chuck Colson’s book, Kingdoms in Conflict.   Colson refers to Jacques Ellul (French philosopher, professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist)  who criticized “big government illusion.”  The answer, he argued, lay with “small voluntary associations.”  In the 18th century statesman Edmond Burke called such associations “little platoons.”  These, wrote Colson, are citizens who do works of mercy and oppose injustice.  These are “salt and light” in a world corrupted by human sin.  And, wrote Colson, ” . . . they provide the main bulwark against government’s insatiable appetite for power and control, and a safeguard against the sense of impotence fostered by today’s overwhelming social problems.”

Today’s “overwhelming social problems” and the “government’s insatiable appetite for power and control” hurt us all, regardless of race.  And admittedly, “white Christian America” has often been as much part of the problem as solution.

I post this series of blogs to inform us frogs in the pot how hot the water is getting.  And to think through with you what we might do as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the back cover of The End of White Christian America, Michael Eric Dyson (author of The Black Presidency:  Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America) writes . . .

“Jones deftly and insightfully shows how this new moment marked by white Christian America’s demise holds both promise and peril for those concerned about racial justice and the future of race relations in the country.”

Promise and peril.  As Christians, how shall we respond?  We’ll answer more in days ahead . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Standing for America’s Anthem

Baltimore Ravens’ tight end Ben Watson recently weighed in on the controversy sparked by fellow NFL player Colin Kaepernick who refused to stand for the National Anthem because of America’s racism.

Watson is a devout Christian and father of five.  Last month he suffered a torn Achilles tendon eliminating him from the entire 2016 season.  His  essay on racially charged events in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago went viral, as did a post he wrote following the terror attacks in Paris last fall.

On Monday, he wrote from his hospital bed . . .

 

Benjamin Watson

 

Editor’s note: The following column originally appeared on the Benjamin Watson Official Facebook page.

I will not have the option to kneel this Sunday while the National Anthem is being played.

A week ago, in what would prove to be my last pre-game opportunity of this 2016 season, I stood with my right hand over my heart as the anthem played. And if I am fortunate enough to ever be dressed for another game day I imagine I would be doing the same thing I did in my last. Standing. Not because America is ALL I desire it to be because most assuredly it is not.

Racism still stews, families are fractured, the unborn are trashed, schools are struggling, religious freedom is increasingly under attack, violence pollutes our cities and our suburbs, and there is a growing divide between law enforcement and the community.

I stand, however, because I grew up in NAVY town USA and traveled overseas to support members of our armed forces who follow orders regardless of their personal sentiments. I stand for those who were forced to give their lives building the country that confined them to the tobacco fields and indigo plantations.

Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it.

I stand because as a child, I saw my father stand. A man who lived the tumultuous transition from “separate but equal” to the times surrounding the Civil Rights Act when angry people who held signs at his new school viscously screamed “NIGGER GO HOME!”

I stand because, on the contrary, no one held such a sign when I walked into my grade school.

Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it.

I stand, because this mixed bag of evil and good is MY home. And because it’s MY home my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel.

Kaepernick’s actions and similar actions by figures of the past and present are a vital part of our journey and a key component of the equation for social change and should be respected as such.

From the country’s inception, such displays against the status quo are distinctly American. My hope, though, is that these actions bring more attention to the PROBLEM than to the PROTESTOR. And that ensuing dialog discover truth and that truth give birth to justice in legitimate situations where there is none.

My hope is that in this time of toil and discord we collectively use our positions in public and private life to take responsibility for our role and collectively seek solutions, not because we HAVE to but because we CARE to.

Sometimes listening is of greater value than speaking. As elusive an aspiration as it may be, our goal, especially in the arena of race, should continue to be to create an America where eventually everyone can, in good conscience, stand. No matter the historical context or the present circumstance that is the unity I, perhaps naively, imagine when I see our flag and listen to our anthem.

Conflict when handled correctly strengthens. Conflict when mismanaged destroys.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Benjamin Watson is a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, a writer and speaker, and a widely read and followed commentator on social media. He is the author of “Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us” (Tyndale Momentum, November 17, 2015). He attended Duke University as a freshman and transferred to the University of Georgia, where he majored in finance. After an all-SEC senior campaign, he was drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. He won a Super Bowl ring in his rookie season and appeared in another Super Bowl following the 2007 season. After a three-year stint with the Cleveland Browns―including the 2010 season in which he led the Browns in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns―Watson signed with the Saints in 2013. Watson serves on the executive committee of the NFL Players Association and is the founder of the nonprofit One More foundation along with his wife, Kirsten. They live in Baltimore with their five children.

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Level Ground at the Cross

O Preacher(Please play video at end.)  The existence of an organization like “Black Lives Matter” (http://blacklivesmatter.com/is only one indicator of America’s racial divide.  How can we ever bridge it?  If we think about it, we realize racial schism stems from a deeper divide–the one between us and God.  Today’s text, the fourth sermon in “The Acts Eight”, speaks to both.

Accompanied by fellow-believers from Joppa, along with Cornelius’ three
messengers, Peter has arrived at Caesarea.   The Roman centurion has invited
family and friends to hear what Peter has to say.  We should note that God
called this meeting.  Remember how he gave visions to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-6)
and Peter (Acts 10:10-16)?   (See theoldpreacher.com/visions?/He has orchestrated this unusual encounter.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (10:34,35).

Peter admits he now understands his “zoo” vision.  God doesn’t play favorites.  We shouldn’t skim over Peter’s admission.  It’s as mind-blowing as a religious white supremacist realizing God accepts the loudest Black Lives Matter protester!  For long rabbis had taught what the Old Testament didn’t–that Gentiles (all non-Jews) were “unclean”.   On this day God is righting racism by the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ . . .

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached . . . (10:36,37).

Peter knows Cornelius knows about current events, but he’ll review them anyway.

God sent a message to Israel . . .  The message is the good news of peace.  Peace here isn’t a serene feeling, but the state of reconciliation with God . . . God told this message of peace through Jesus Christ (that is, Jesus Messiah, God’s Anointed One, long-promised by the prophets) . . . Jesus Christ is Lord (Master, Ruler, Sovereign) of all.  He’s not a parochial deity:  he is Lord of all.  His gospel of peace is for Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Having summarized Jesus’ identity and message, Peter now turns to Jesus’ actions . . .

–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen– by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (10:38-41).

Jesus clearly possessed power–power to do good and to heal people dominated by the devil.  The source of that power was God the Holy Spirit.  “We (the apostles)”, says Peter, “saw it all.”  Peter isn’t telling a passed-around story; he’s testifying to what he saw with his own eyes.  That included Jesus’ death at the hand of the Jews.  And–this is the heart of apostolic preaching–“God raised him from the dead . . . ”  God had previously chosen witnesses–those who ate and drank with him alive after the grave–so they could verify Jesus-in-the-flesh was back from the grave.

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:36-43).

Peter sees himself (as do the other apostles) as a man under command:  To testify to a double-sided truth.  One, Jesus is the God-appointed judge of the living and the dead.  Everyone must stand in his courtroom and answer to him.  Every human who has  ever lived must give an account of himself/herself to the Risen Lord of All.

Two, (and here Peter points back to what the prophets told about Messiah):  “everyone who believes in [the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  This is the gospel of peace, the gospel of reconciliation with God.

The Holy Spirit Falls.

Peter gets no chance to lead his hearers in “the sinner’s prayer”.  Instead, God the Holy Spirit interrupts.  Why this extraordinary intervention?  Because these are Gentiles.  People counted “unclean” by the rabbis.  Romans who stand outside the promises of God.  But on this day in this house, a frontier has been crossed.  A Jew has preached the gospel of God’s peace through Jesus Christ to non-Jews.  And God wants to show his approval.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,  “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (10:44-48).

* * *

The ground is level at the foot of the cross.  No one—regardless of race, gender or politics—is barred from coming to God through Jesus Christ’s gospel of peace.  And at the cross, everyone is the same.  Race is secondary.  Gender is secondary.  Politics are secondary.  Jesus Christ is all in all.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter from Birmingham Jail

P.AllanI want to think  racism in America has vanished.  Surely the vast majority have quit counting one race superior to another!

Racism.

But today I read this from presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson . . .

In 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he said, “I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.”

After fifty years of liberals making promises and the last seven years of false hope from President Obama, not much has changed.  African-Americans are still fighting for space on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

The high poverty rate in the black community continues because the very tools that should be used to promote economic opportunity instead keep low-income and minority communities in chains.

We have an education system that continues to penalize low-income and minority students by keeping them trapped in failing schools rather than giving them the choice to attend schools that best suit their academic needs.  The status quo rewards national teachers’ unions at the expense of what is best for our students.

I doubt that’s just campaign rhetoric.  Many African-Americans still suffer the residual (some would say “systemic”) effects of past widespread racism.  That’s one reason why I’m writing about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this commemoration of his birthday.

The Man.

King was a Baptist minister and a civil rights advocate.  The latter started almost “accidentally” when Pastor King was elected to lead a bus boycott in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama responding to Rosa Park’s being found guilty of violating the Montgomery City Code when she refused to surrender her seat to a white man on a crowded bus.

Dr. King played a pivotal part in ending legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and in creating both the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Perhaps he is best known for his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech (see above).

On Good Friday, 1963, King and his team ignored a court injunction that prohibited a peaceful march in Birmingham, Alabama.  Barricades were erected.  Shouting police arrested the kneeling King and his friend Ralph Abernathy and threw them in the Birmingham City Jail.  King was put in solitary confinement without a mattress, pillow or blanket.  A few days later a guard brought him a published letter signed by eight white clergymen condemning King for his actions.

The Letter.

King responded with a letter of his own (Letter from Birmingham Jail) that has been called “the most eloquent and learned expression of the goals and philosophy of the nonviolent movement ever written.” (Let the Trumpet Sound, p. 222).  It’s long but worth the investment of time ( http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf).

Below is what may be the most soul-stirring part of that response to the white clergy . . .

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she’s told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “Nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

The Word.

Every human being, regardless of skin color or economic standing or gender or anything else, has value and dignity having been created in God’s image . . .

When God created man,
he made him in the likeness of God.
He created them male and female and blessed them.
And when they were created, he called them “man”
(Genesis 5:1,2).

This is especially true for those who are “in Christ”.  For Paul, the issue was Jew–Gentile.  What he writes here applies to black–white as well . . .

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth
and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”
(that done in the body by the hands of men)–
remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,
excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
without hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross,
by which he put to death their hostility. 
He came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near. 
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 
In him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 
And in him you too are being built together t
o become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit
(Ephesians 2:11-22).

The Grace of Not Knowing.

In 1973 Lois and I moved to Montclair, N.J. to plant a church.  In contrast to where we had come from, Montclair had a significant African-American population.  So did, of course, the public schools.  We wondered how our children would respond.  After the first or second day we asked them, “How many black kids are in your class?”  They didn’t know.!

May God give us all grace not to know!

Image result for little kids holding hands black and white

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Confederate Flag & the Cross

P.AllanWill furling the Confederate flag from State grounds improve race relations?

Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Flag company explains why they’ll no longer produce the Stars and Bars:  “We hope this decision will show our support for those affected by the recent events in Charleston, and, in some small way, help to foster racial unity and tolerance in our country.”  Amazon, Google, Wal-Mart and others have followed.  Some southern states—South Carolina the prime example—have removed the flag from State property.

Symbols Clash.  Opponents see the flag as an emblem of slavery and racism.  Supporters say it represents the South’s heritage and culture, and it memorializes Confederate casualties of the 1861-1865 Civil War.

Symbols hold different meanings for different people.  For Christians, the cross represent Christ’s sacrificial death by which we sinners are reconciled to the holy God.  For non-Christians, the public cross represents Christians’ attempts to force their faith on everyone.  Shall all offensive-to-some symbols be removed from the public square?

I understand the Confederate flag can remind African-Americans of white supremacy.  If my grandfather had been hanged by the Ku Klux Klan under that flag, I would cringe every time I saw it wave.  However,  that same flag can remind us of racism’s horrors and drive us to never permit them again.  If a state decides to furl the flag, so be it.   Big merchandisers?  I think that’s a bit over the top.  Certainly individuals shouldn’t be despised nor disallowed the flag.

More can be said.  A good overview of the history, regionalism, economic interests, etc. of the Confederate flag is here— http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CLASS/am483_97/projects/sarratt/intro.html.

Let me make just two points about this from a biblical worldview . . .

One, God created races.  Eliminate God as Creator, and we’re left with time+chance as race-source.  Then any race can claim supremacy according to their rating system.  But, if every race is God-created, a “supreme” race loses its footing.  Adam and Eve are Dad and Mom to us all.  After the Flood the grandchildren of Noah “spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations” (Genesis 10:1-5).

Racism, therefore, is man-made and sin against our Creator.  It’s not just a human issue or a source of social or economic contention.  It is an offense against the God who made us.  The old Sunday school song proclaims sound theological truth . . .

Jesus loves the little children,
all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Two, Christ’s cross unites the colors.  Details were different then.  Racism wasn’t black/white but Gentile/Jew.  God’s solution wasn’t to take down a flag but nail up his Son.  The crucified Christ made the two one.  Peace wouldn’t come by a law but by the cross.  That would be the way to reconcile Jew and Gentile, black and white, to God.  And in that peace the two would become one new humanity, in which there would be “neither Jew nor Greek . . . neither slave nor free . . . no male and female” but “all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  This overflowing passage requires careful reading . . .

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth
and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”
(that done in the body by the hands of men)–
remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,
excluded from citizenship in Israel and
foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
without hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus
you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace,
who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross,
by which he put to death their hostility.
He came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
In him the whole building is joined together
and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
And in him you to
o are being built together
to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Furling the Confederate flag is a small, symbolic step.  Politicians tend to take these as loudly as they can.  Maybe it will help.  But storing away a flag doesn’t change the reality of history, however one views it.  And pulling flags from the shelf can’t change the human heart.

Only God in Christ can do that.  And we are transformed when we who trust him understand that he died to make one new humanity in which identity isn’t determined by race, economics or sex,  but by the redeeming, saving work of Christ.

When blacks and whites are “brought near [to God] through the blood of Christ”, we are brought near to one another.  And then, standing shoulder to shoulder as family, the only flag flying over us is Christ.

 Christian Flag

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