Faith and Race

Paul Bernard  06/21/20

"May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable and pleasing to you, my Rock and my Redeemer."

I’m writing this weekend update on Juneteenth, a holiday that, before this year, I never really knew much about.  I’ve heard it bantered about on different podcasts, but I never really understood the history.  It is worth knowing about if you are as ignorant of it as I was.  Go do a little research.  Obviously, this year, it has taken on a new level of attention and significance.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been hesitant to enter into the discussion on race.  I find myself unable to choose a side and nowadays, as you know, that is simply an unacceptable stance.  Although there is merit on both sides, to say so has you equally hated by both sides.

I’m sorry for my silence.  I’ve had a few rather heated conversations that, honestly, took me by surprise and set me back a little.  What exactly am I stepping into here? 

Even more so than other Biblical issues that have become hopelessly entwined with politics, racism and how the church speaks into that seems to be a hotter button than even homosexuality and abortion.  For right now, at least.

If you know me, you know that I have a strong distaste for politics.  I find it hard to know who is honest.  I find it too easy to put too much faith in politicians or the political system and it often seems to crush my hope.  It is characterized, quite often, by polarity.  It is characterized by self-interest. 

Other than a few subtly political statements, Jesus stayed out of politics too.

But he didn’t stay out of the moral issues of His day, even if they had become political.  We can't either.

Take the Samaritans for example.  Talk about a hot-button political issue.  Racism is the story of the Samaritans.  There was plenty of it to go around from both sides.  The Jews and Samaritans hated each other, often for good reason.  At one point, the Samaritans desecrated the Temple by spreading the bones of dead men all over the place (a serious blasphemy).  The Jews retaliated by killing them. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, we’re told in John 4:9.

It was ugly.  We’re talking Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia ugly.  Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland ugly. Street gangs in New York ugly. 

Politically ugly. Racially ugly. Religiously ugly.

Then, in an absolutely mind-blowing display of courage, Jesus gently walked right into the midst of the fray.  Figuratively and literally.  Yes, he told a parable about a Samaritan, but he also literally walked right through Samaria when every other self-respecting Jew wouldn’t be caught dead doing so.

He entered into that fray willingly and deliberately and the courage it must have taken to do so is staggering.  As I sit here writing this, I can feel the weight of His decision to tell a crazy story about a Samaritan who becomes a hero, right over the top of good religious Jews who acted like cowards (he told that story to good religious Jews, by the way).  Or the time he sat down with that Samaritan woman at the well.  (Oh, the scandal!)  Or when He deliberately traveled through their territory in Israel when he should have just left well enough alone and gone around.  Why stir the pot, Jesus?

Can I share my heart with you? 

I am heartbroken that our country is so broken.  For the vast majority of my adult life, I have lived under the illusion that the racial divide was largely gone.  I live up here in my comfortable little paradise where people of color rarely venture.  I know our highway patrolmen and law-enforcement folks.  They’re my friends.  They’re good people.  I know you, our church family.  You are good people who would welcome families of any ethnicity or color into our church body.  In fact, I’ve seen you do it.

In other words, this doesn’t feel like our problem.  We’re doing fine, right?

C.S. Lewis once wrote about literature, “My own eyes are not enough for me.  I will see through the eyes of others.”

Because I am so disconnected from the experiences of the other half of America, it is hard for me to believe that there is still such a problem.  I do not experience it.  I do not witness it and I do not personally know anybody who struggles with it.  I’m too far removed. 

So we must see what we can see through the eyes of others then. Distance breeds apathy... and it kills empathy.

I’m reading a new book called One Blood by an old black pastor named Dr. John Perkins.  I would recommend it, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

The truth is that if you stop to listen, you’ll hear that the experience of most black Americans is simply not the same as white Americans.  It just is not.  And until we can see this thing through the eyes of people who are not like us - not isolated and insulated in rural America, not white – we will have a hard time believing there is a problem. 

And that’s the problem.  Not that we cannot see a solution, but many of us can’t even see a problem

But it’s there.  If you listen, you'll hear it.

Dr. Perkins writes, “We’ve made a mess of things, but there is a path forward.  I’m just now seeing clearly that the black church can’t fix this.  And the white church can’t fix this.  It must be the reconciled church, black and white Christians together imaging Christ to the world.”

Carol and Sam and I just watched the movie Selma about Dr. King’s famous march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (photo above).  King told the crowd: “There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes.”

Someday, I firmly believe that history will judge this moment and the white church will either be remembered as people who stood alongside our black brothers and sisters in Christ or those who turned our backs on them.

But I watch the news too.  I know there are plenty of reason to turn our backs right now.  Riots, violence, Antifa, Seattle, looting, Aunt Jemima, burning, Fort Bragg, violence, hatred, Wendy's, anger, injustice and blue lives really mattering too… to name a few. 

If you hold America as highly as I do, you could say there is a lot of desecration happening in the temple right now.

And that’s a shame because I believe Satan is using those things to distract the church from caring.  The din has become so loud, it is drowning out the legitimate cry of a people that really have experienced incredible amounts of injustice.

Maybe, like Jesus, we could take a deep breath and simply enter the conversation on the side of grace and mercy.  If nothing else then to sit down at a well with someone of color and listen to their story. Hear them out, maybe practice some empathy. Maybe enter their pain? 

Or, maybe when you get a chance you can extol the virtue and honor displayed by so many people in the black community who are doing it right, instead of just focusing on those doing it wrong.  Talk about the good with your friends, even as other people try to distract you with a Molotov cocktail.

I don’t think Jesus would have fallen for that sort of distraction from Satan.  He would have seen through it.  We should too.  As Dr. Perkins says, “There is no institution on earth more equipped or more capable of bringing transformation to the cause of reconciliation than the church.”

That’s us folks!  What would God have us do?  What would God have me do?  What would God have you do?  The only answer I can hear right now is to get on our knees in prayer for our country and for the pain that holds so many captive, to be released in the name of Jesus Christ. 

And then, maybe the Lord will show us something else.  I'm just wondering if I have the guts to follow...

Leading on my knees,
Pastor Paul

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