Recognizing and renouncing racism in the church.
I grew up in a low-income, inner city area in Houston, Texas, and my high school mainly consisted of African-American and Hispanic students. In that building, the young girls avoided a certain staircase where many of the African-American boys lingered.
One day when running late to class, I took that stairwell to avoid being tardy. In doing so, I was aggressively catcalled and groped. In fear, I walked out of there as fast as I could.
That year, my mom and sister went to a nearby school to register for summer classes. As they walked to the building from the parking lot, two African-American men violently tried to snatch their purses. Mom refused to let go of hers, and the robber struck her in the face, knocking her down.
These events shaped my view of African-American men and made me afraid of them. Because of that fear, I avoided them. My husband (an Anglo-American) constantly confronted me (a Mexican-American) about my racial profiling and avoidance, but I dismissed my responses as just being honest. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I recognized I was being unjust.
The CoG7 church I attend in Galena Park, Texas, is a diverse community of believers. Our services consist of people from many races and cultures. When I started working in youth ministry there, I found myself in charge of students of various races, and my love for them grew, as it does with all the youth placed in my care.
I noticed I did not view anyone based on race or color but simply as my beloved lambs. Because pastoral work is about care and concern for a group of individuals, I began building relationships with my students. Through this ministry, through true love in relationship, God blessed me to see beyond color.
Recently I came across a book by Dr. Christena Cleveland called Disunity in Christ in which she discusses the racial divide in the church, and it really hit home with me. Dr. Cleveland asks, “What if there were no them in the body of Christ?”1 This was a strong challenge and chastisement for me. It helped me recognize how my past circumstances shaped my views.
What was Paul seeing in the first century church that compelled him as well to write about disunity across ethnic, gender, and class lines? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The divide was quite large. However, Paul understood that the message of Christ was for everyone who believes. Tim Keller states it this way: “The Gospel is an exclusive truth [as in you must believe to be a part of it] but it’s the most inclusive exclusive truth in the world.”2
Through all this, God was changing my heart to see beyond race. But still, I rarely spoke of my hang-ups. Another book caught my attention: Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us, by NFL player Benjamin Watson. He observes:
. . . ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced, and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot, and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus, and with it, a transformed heart and mind.3
After reading Watson’s book, I felt a call to confession, to renouncing false seeds that had taken root in me. I felt a call to transformation. We are all aware of the fruit of the Spirit, but are we aware of the fruit of the flesh? Do we understand that participating in dissensions and factions is a result of living in the flesh and not in the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-26)? If racial discord, jokes, or rationalization of injustices arise in our words and deeds, we must stop and ask ourselves why we hold these views. If they are not the ways of Christ, we must reject them and make ourselves obedient to Christ. This includes all fruit of the flesh.
Not until we talk about these things and share what has shaped our views can we denounce anything that is not of Christ and repent from it. The love of God for His children has no color. It’s time to stand with all our brothers and sisters, regardless of our racial differences, and truly love each other as our Lord Jesus Christ intended.
God is calling us to love as He loves and see others the way He sees them and as He sees the heart: “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Can we look beyond the outside and reach the heart of others?
United in Christ
The church in Philippi is known as the church that Apostle Paul trusted the most. According to Acts 16 and Philippians, among the believers in Philippi were a Jewish family, a Roman jailer, a poor slave girl, Greeks, and women church leaders/teachers. These believers represented the most discriminated-against groups in the first century Roman world. There was prejudice against women and the poor, hatred of cultural elites and authorities, and suspicion of religion and ethnicity. Perhaps Philippi was Paul’s most trusted church because in Christ, they rose above their notable differences and lived out His teachings to be united as one.
The question then remains: Will we be that church as well?
- Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 63.
- Tim Keller, March 26, 2013: https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/sta tus/316643741052051456. Web accessed 11-7-16.
- Benjamin Watson, Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015), xi-xii.