Category Archives: race and Christian practice

Martin Luther King on being a transformed nonconformist

“Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

| Romans 12.2

“‘Do not conform’ is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo.  Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three. …

In spite of the prevailing tendency to conform, we, as Christians, have a mandate to be nonconformists.  The Apostle Paul, who knew the inner realities of the Christian faith counseled, ‘Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’  We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility not social respectability.  We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty. …

This command not to conform comes, not only from Paul, but also from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

When an affluent society would coax us to believe that happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our homes, and the expensiveness of our clothes, Jesus reminds us, ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.’

When we would yield to the temptation of the world rife with sexual promiscuity and gone wild with the philosophy of self- expression, Jesus tells us that ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’

When we refuse to suffer for righteousness and choose to follow the path of comfort rather than conviction, we hear Jesus say, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

When in our spiritual pride we boast of having reached the peak of moral excellence, Jesus warns, ‘The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’

When we, through compassionless detachment and arrogant individualism, fail to respond to the needs of he underprivileged, the Master says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.’

When we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up into hate toward our enemies, Jesus teaches, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’

Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity. …

Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, the institution which has often served to crystallize, conserve and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.  The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God.  Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical.  Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained- glass windows.  Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), 8-10, 11.

Not Your Average Identity

During this season of Lent, a kind of forty- day challenge for some believers, I have been reflecting on surrender and what we mean when we say, “I give up.”  In the practice of our faith, according to the terms and conditions of our discipleship, giving up is a good thing.  Dare I say, it is the goal.  “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16.24).

In our surrender to the Spirit of God and the denial of self- gratification, we practice a little of Christ’s death.  In denying our carnal selves, we accept more of the spiritual life of Jesus.  Because he denied himself on a daily basis in service to humanity and as a servant of God’s will: “not my will but yours” (Luke 22.42).

He could have been full of himself.  He could have touted his successes.  He could have pointed to the number of angels that follow him.  He could have boasted of all his creations– but he didn’t.

But, the social construct of race does just the opposite.  It puts the confidence and the change in our flesh.  Whether privilege or powerless, it is a work outside of the Spirit of God.  Race says because of the social coloring of skin, beige, black, brown, red, yellow, white, we are valuable and worthy.

But, if we are following the social construct of race, we are walking in the opposite direction of Jesus Christ.  Race puts our flesh up front and says that if we are this “color,” then we are good, acceptable, blessed, righteous, pure, upright.  This is heresy.

It is not your average, run of the mill identity but competes with our identity in Christ Jesus.

Race say that there is no change, no room for improvement.  We are who the social coloring of our skin says that we are.  There is no wiggle room but these are our marching orders.  We can only fall in line as there is no place for those who would not surrender to the color- code.  But, we cannot be a disciple of Christ and race?  Either you are going to be a color or a Christian but you cannot be both– because Christ’s is not your average identity.

Barna Reports “Racial Divides in Spiritual Practice”

Image result for report clip art

“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’ clock on Sunday morning.”

{Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.}

Last month, Barna released a report on the differences in spiritual progress according to the social construct of race.  I had planned to discuss this sooner but was distracted, namely by the protests after our most recent presidential election among other things.  Still, the question is timely as I had no answer then and I do not know the answer now: “Why do lingering divisions exist in the Church, the very communities built on the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation?”  Why can’t we practice what we profess?  What prevents us from forgiving and coming together?  Why do we practice self- imposed segregation as it is no longer the law of the land?  Christ stretched his hands out on a cross to save us from our sins but we cannot extend our hand out to greet a new neighbor who may be from a different socioeconomic background or culture.

As the country reels and rocks after ICE raids of undocumented immigrants lead to more protests, the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries along with false bomb threats to their houses of worship, I am looking for stability in a sacred space.  But, I cannot find it there as there are new reports that the majority of socially colored white evangelicals support the ban issued by President Trump.  How do they interpret the Bible’s call that we welcome the stranger?  “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23.9, NIV).  But, if you do not see yourself as a foreigner or have never been a position of oppression then this may be hard to understand.

More than the numbers, I am concerned about the names, the stories and the reasons for which this report is true.  Reading the same Bible, I understand that due to our experiences, education and personal expectations we will not always agree on its interpretation or personal application.  But, when there are expressed commandments and callings for the ministry of reconciliation, how do we say no or ignore it?

While culture may explain the differences in our worship style, it does nothing to make sense of our segregation.  Called the Body of Christ, we are dismembered in our gathering as beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white churches.  What will it take to bring us together?

Click here to read the full report.

Questioning Race during Advent

IMG_0103.JPGChrist has come! This first Sunday of Advent reminds us that power was found in a cradle– not a crown.  Like persons in Jesus’s day, we are guilty of looking for him in the wrong places and among the wrong people.  As outlined in his stories, Jesus came to rearrange and change the order of things, beginning with himself.

The first will be last (Matthew 20.16). The greatest will be the servant (Matthew 23.11). Love your enemies (Matthew 5.44).  God becomes a human being.  A virgin will give birth to God.

In order to bring salvation to the world, God runs to a woman’s womb– not for office. God is with her.

Creator God becomes “Infant God” as described by Francois Mauriac in his book The Son of Man. So, how is it that the Divine is capable of such humility and we are not?  The only supreme power, God did not need skin, the social coloring of it or a cultural affiliation, because it is not needed for the image of a God.

The Word became flesh; the transformative power then rests with the Word and not the flesh.

God did more than meet us where we are; in Christ, God became one of us.  So, how is it that we are so different?  God is divine and yet, without obstacle in maintaining a relationship with us. Still, we cannot seem to get around race.

If God is with us all, then why do we use race against “them”?  Jesus came as the Savior of the world so what about us allows for self- segregation? Coming in the flesh to save us, why do we continue to deny the humanity of our sisters and brothers who can only be human?

God is with us, looking on and listening in as we make some people invisible and unheard of. Why do we do that despite the fact that Christ has come?

 

“The Racial Context of Christian Churches in the United States”

 

tell_truth_xxlThis is the title of a chapter of Rev. James Ellis III’s newest book Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors, where he served as the editor.  It is a book that includes a number of true stories from clergy who may differ in denominational affiliation but all wear the same collar and experience many of the same challenges.  The above- mentioned work was written by Dr. David F. Evans, an Assistant Professor of History and Mission at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The truth that he shares with readers is about race’s place in the church in America. 

While I don’t want to spoil the book, I thought that I would offer some teasers, a few quotes from his work that would challenge us to think more clearly and to pursue truth more passionately.  Dr. Evans writes:

  • “Race in American churches is not a neutral issue.”
  • “Race matters in US Christianity.”
  • “The stained- glass windows of churches often reflect the expectations of the dominant society in which they exist.”
  • “The racism that exists in churches is deeper than outward appearances.”
  • “Racial arrangements, while visible and audible, in the architecture and artistry of images and hymns were only outward expressions of deeply held beliefs and practices.”
  • “Is the Christian religion, with its rituals and beliefs, powerful enough to root out the fear and violence of racism in its churches?”
  • “Future ministers and church members cannot afford to pretend that the religion of US Christianity is pure and undefiled from systemic evil or that racism only exists in some white supremacist congregations.”
  • “The foundations of US Christianity were constructed with the same tools and materials that made the US a white supremacist nation.”

I pray that his words help us to look more closely at the ways in which we practice our faith and to examine the traditions that we share and pass down to each generation.  Have a race-less day!