Recently former President Jimmy Carter made the accusation that the opposition to health care reform, including the outburst by South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson is motivated by racism. http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/15/carter.obama/index.html On the other end of the spectrum there are many who are saying that racism plays no part what-so-ever in that debate or other disagreements with the president. My strong hunch is that both positions are overstated in the extreme and as important as the particular political issues are, they are not my main concern.
What all this turmoil has done is forced me to ask the question, “Where is the Body of Christ when it comes to racism?” To put it another way, “How would the tone of American life and politics be different if the church had been consistently living out the radical biblical mandates of loving your neighbor and having a concern for the oppressed, no matter their race or ethnic background?” Maybe even more simply, how would the world be different if followers of Jesus Christ really lived and interacted with one another as if we really were the brothers and sisters in Christ that Jesus calls us to and the Bible says we are?
You need to understand that I come to this as a white guy whose family moved out of the city at the height of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. We did it for one very clear reason; to make sure I did not have to be put on a bus to go to school with black kids. We were a part of the massive white flight migration from the city to the suburbs. Oddly enough I spent most every Saturday and most days during the summer with black people. Starting at the age of ten and for the next three years I worked at my fathers business. He owned a car dealership and I washed cars, swept the shop floor and ran errands. Most of that happened back in the shop were I worked alongside seven or eight black men and a teenager named Kenny. It was okay for me to work with them, but not go to school with them. So you can well imagine that I did not grow up in a family that was open to ethnic diversity or crossing any racial divide.
But then I came to faith in Christ and all of life began to change. One of the most dramatic changes was that in the first two years of my Christian walk I was mentored by a black man named Howard Perdue. I wrote about Howard in a previous blog. https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/provocative-obedience-the-high-cost-of-loving-jesus/ Howard not only shaped my ability to tell others about Jesus, he helped me learn to love someone very different from myself. He helped me to see the truth of what Paul said in Colossians 3:10.11 “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” If you are a follower of Jesus Christ then you have a bond with every other follower of Christ. You are family together and it doesn’t matter what ethnic background you come from.
Last night I had the privilege of experiencing a bit of what Paul must have envisioned as he wrote to those first century Christians in Colossae. I was at a dinner hosted in a home of a close friend. There were ten of us around the table, five white Americans, two black Africans from Sierra Leone who have recently become U.S. citizens, a black couple from Ghana in western Africa, and a white South African who grew up in the harshest years of apartheid. For three hours we shared a meal, laughed together, prayed, wrestled with serious issues of life and in the end wondered how soon we could get back together and do it all again. I wish that the world could have had a looking glass that miraculously allowed them to peer into that dinning room and see what the Spirit of God had created.
People talk about wanting to change the world so that people will be kind to one another and get along. Jesus prayed that the world would know that we are His followers by the love we have for one another, regardless of being black, white, rich, poor, young or old. The world has never really experienced that as a widespread, long-term reality. In fact many are convinced that it is impossible. But it is not. Jesus prayed for it to be so. Last night I was blessed by it. When we cross the racial divide we show the world the power of the Gospel. We demonstrate the reality of the Holy Spirit who binds us together. That truth sounds out like a trumpet call of victory and celebration and it announces the King of Glory who is Lord over all.