Tag Archives: race and spiritual formation

Barna Reports “Racial Divides in Spiritual Practice”

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“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.

The Double- Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

27029_360054929042_83975054042_3430697_4705708_nThe conversation I entered into with the attendees of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks this week picks back up and concludes here:

I suppose that it is a matter of pride and it’s a mind game. James uses the descriptor “double- minded” when speaking of the doubter who prays[i] but this two-ness is found both in the Old and New Testaments. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah.[ii] Isaiah recorded the voice of the Lord saying, “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.”[iii] Jesus spoke of Pharisees who were clean on the outside but inside were “full of greed and self- indulgence.”[iv] He asked them, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?[v]

Great question, Jesus. God made the outside as well as the inside, flesh and spirit.[vi] So, God knows the spirit and while we have a hand in our formation, our nature is a sight unseen by us. And the outside of us does not fool God. He sees everything.

In fact, God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb,[vii] before texture of hair or eye color, before shape of nose or size of lips, before the social coloring of skin. God beheld a form that we cannot see and that no label can attach itself to.

And Paul echoes this spiritual reality and ends the culture war by waving this white flag at the Galatians and Colossians, who are now in the Body of Christ, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek.”[viii] Consequently, race does not form us spiritually but socially and should not inform us spiritually but assist us in understanding our society. Therefore, we must retell the story of our spiritual formation, our Christian identity without it, beginning with God.

Race has nothing to do with it. It is our idolatrous belief in the social construct of race, our support of its prejudices, our use of its stereotypical lens that has made the Church unstable. We waver between two opinions behave as if there are two gospels, two sets of commandments, two segregated heavens and hells. But, we forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and race. [ix]

Therefore, Christian education must challenge social realities and subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture. Christian educators must keep race in its place— out of the pulpit and pews, out of our hymnals and Bibles, out of our fellowship and worship. Christians must serve the Lord with their minds, not merely repeating after society but examining ourselves, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”[x]

We must change our minds about race as it does not renew us.[xi] We must learn about race in order to unlearn it. We must see race for what it is so that we can see our selves and our neighbors as they are. We must speak up about race in order to take its voice and find our own.

Because our faith and race do not agree. Race is not a partner in our becoming. It says that God creates no one new, that God is a Copycat, that we are all members of a boxed cultural set.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that it is a part of God’s plan, that God makes some persons better than others, that God decides who is best according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God judges and prejudices our physical features.

Race also says that we can put God on our side— the side of the oppressed or privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses.  Race teaches us that God racially segregates us.

But, race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, made up as we go along.  We must stop singing and teaching about race as it is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.

Believing in race changes our confession of faith, compromises our witness and confuses our allegiance, fighting for flesh instead of standing in the solidarity of God’s Spirit. The theology of race both deifies and demonizes our flesh. Calling us to worship whiteness, one color becomes our symbol of righteousness and the other of social condemnation.

Suggesting that we are saved by our skin, it becomes our social messiah. Race says that our standing with God and in society is determined by our epidermis. Race says that it knows who we are and that the inside of us, our inner being, our spirit cannot change that.

So, how did we come to believe this, support and endorse it? How did we, spiritual people, get stuck on the surface? How did the Church of the living God submit its mind and members to the power of the flesh? When did we change our minds about the God who loves us all and sent His Son to die for us all in order to support a divided and double- minded Church, a color- coded and dismembered Body? What were we thinking when we began to categorize God’s love, to divide the image of God—all for us and none for them? And what of our witness to the little children, to the next generation?

Do we really believe that Jesus loves us and that he can love us without race? What do you think now? Where do you stand?

________________________

[i] James 1.8

[ii] First Kings 18.21, NRSV

[iii] Isaiah 29.13, NRSV

Also, the writer of Proverbs speaks of a “double heart” (Proverb 25.26).

[iv] Matthew 23.25, NRSV

[v] Luke 11.40, NRSV

[vi] Job 33.4

[vii] Jeremiah 1.5

[viii] Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11

[ix] Matthew 6.24

[x] Second Corinthians 10.5

[xi] Romans 12.1-2

The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

divided-heartThis week, I was in Decatur, Georgia and presented at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of spiritual formation and education.  I, along with several others, spoke about the theological rumblings and ruminations of our shared ministry with Christ.  I will present part one of the message here:

“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.”[i]

 This refrain from a popular children’s song demonstrates the inclusion of racial identity, the connecting of God’s love to social categories. This song teaches the little children that they are loved according to and/or in spite of the social coloring of their skin. I say social coloring because there are no physically colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow or white people. It is not seen. Instead, we believe it by faith. We walk by race, not by sight.[ii] And this song splits our vision, divides us and makes us two people— children of color and children of God.

This song also suggests that the love of Jesus and thereby the love of God is determined, informed and influenced by the social construct of race, that God shook and agreed to the social contract of race. We are, in fact, teaching our children to think that Jesus loves them not because the Bible tells us so but in the way that race tells us to.

And it is our singing, our worship that divides us. When asked about our sacred Sunday morning segregation, many people will say as a matter of fact that we worship differently. It’s a matter of taste, of cultural preference. But, no one really wants to say it. Race divides us— believers and churches, “the light of the world”[iii] and “the Body of Christ.”[iv]

Race. The mere mentioning of the word makes us uncomfortable. We hope that no one mentions or acknowledges it, that it rides off into the sunset of history never to be seen or heard from again. Regrettably, we don’t know what to say when it comes to race.

It confuses and unravels us, shames and unnerves us. People who serve the Word- God, the speaking God, are afraid of a word that we created. More specifically, race came from the mouths and minds of Enlightenment thinkers. Practitioners of this scientific racism attached humanity to the “Great Chain of Being,” introduced a second Genesis narrative[v] to account for the different cultures and measured skulls[vi] in order to categorize humanity: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. But, race was not in the beginning with God.[vii]

So, how did we forget that our theology matters and should not be offered up to the false god of race or its progeny, that our spiritual identity in Christ should not be sacrificed for a racial identity though it provides social acceptance, privilege and security? How did we forget that in order for the Church to work, we cannot accept identities that work against our new nature in Jesus the Christ? How do we now focus on spiritual formation when we have invested so heavily in the social realities of race? Bishop William Willimon asked, “What are we to do with a church that speaks to people on the basis of their gender or race, all the while baptizing them on the basis of Galatians 3.28?[viii]

And where did our theology go wrong? Who gave us the directions to race and why do we continue to follow them when in search of identity? We’re going around in circles, coming back to “the color line” because no one wants to stop and say that we are lost, that we have lost the Way.

_____________________________

[i] The words are by C. Herbert Woolston (1856-1927). The music was written by George Root and was originally for an American civil war song according to http://www.cyberhymnal.org.

[ii] This is a play on Second Corinthians 5.7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

[iii] John 8.12

[iv] First Corinthians 12.27

[v] Gossett, 45-47.

[vi] This science was known as anthropometry.

[vii] Genesis 1.1; John 1.1

[viii] William H. Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 7.

Race Has Bewitched Us

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing the faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?– if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”

~Galatians 3.1-5, Revised Standard Version

In this passage of sacred Scripture, Paul is disappointed with the Christian believers at the churches of Galatia. He has presented the gospel of Jesus Christ and they have so quickly turned to another gospel, a gospel that says that they are justified by the works of the law and not that of faith. “Who has bewitched you,” he asks? Paul’s presentation of the gospel, their subsequent confession of faith and conversion experience is different from the standards that the Galatians are living by now. The message has been changed. They have been charmed, led away in error.

The same can be said of most if not all of America’s Christians. We, too, have been bewitched, charmed by race, seduced by the power and privileges given to the social coloring of skin. Like the Galatians, we have been led away from the gospel that was presented to us. Though we know the means by which we came to know Christ, that we were saved by a confession of faith not because of the possession of a favored social coloring of skin, still we continue in the faith, living not according to the sanctification of the Spirit but of skin. But this is a false belief, a seduction of the flesh.

This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Race has nothing to do with our spiritual formation and despite the use of the word “race” in modern interpretations of the Bible, it cannot be found in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, the primary languages employed in the composition of the Holy Bible. There is only the use of “nation” and “people”; neither term is synonymous with race, the social coloring of skin, prejudice or stereotypes. To insert this social practice and belief would be a gross error. It would be to present another gospel. Race is not a part of our spiritual struggle but a social tug of war, evidence not of one’s divine chosenness but social favoritism.

We will be saved because of the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ not the social coloring of our skin. We are saved by faith not works of the law, including the laws of race. We are saved based on our belief in Jesus Christ and His power to save us from sin. This confession of faith is our only contribution to our salvation. We can do nothing else to be saved. There is nothing else, especially not the social coloring of skin, that would satisfy the penalty of sin. O foolish American Christians! Race has bewitched us.