15 November 2012

Racism

by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday I preached on Titus 1:4, which I translated thus:
to Titus, genuine child in accord with our shared faith: grace and peace, from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Savior.
As I rolled the verse over in my mind, I knew that I wanted to open up the significance of this purebred Jewish Rabbi calling this dirtybred gentile Gentile a "genuine child in accord with our shared faith." I wanted to find a way to highlight what a massive thing it was that Paul, for years, had gladly worked with Titus as his Exhibit A of Gentile conversion, his beloved and trusted coworker, and his go-to guy to send into dicey situations.

But I never felt I had it, never felt I had an angle that would come close to doing it justice...until I connected it with a current story in the news.

Ordained United Methodist Church Reverend Joseph Lowery, "civil rights icon," spoke in a Baptist church in Georgia and said that when he was younger, he thought all white people were going to Hell. But then when he was older, he mellowed a bit.

But now Lowery said he had come around to his former opinion. Lowery also expressed incredulity that any — and here he used a foul vulgarity for "black person" — wouldn't vote his skin-color.

This struck me for a great many reasons, one of which being that I've long been concerned about the ongoing racial division in American Christianity. It is still said to be true that the church hour is the most segregated hour in the week, and it seems everyone is pointing fingers in the opposite direction. Often in the wrong direction, as I increasingly see it.

AN ASIDE: by the way, does the identity of the speaker, or his skin-color, or the skin-color of his "joke's" targets, matter? Should it? From a Gospel perspective, could it?

So I thought of Paul, whose own background was that of prejudice. Apart from Christ, he and Titus wouldn't have given each other the time of day. There's rabbinic snark to the effect that God had a good reason for creating Gentiles: as fuel for the fires of Gehenna. I shared a few other lovely sentiments in the sermon.

Yet now here Paul is, expressing in many ways and locations his affection and respect for this Greek dude, Titus.

But even more, here was a ministry in Crete where Paul's own countrymen were present in force (Titus 1:10). Now look: Paul had a common bond with them. They were the oppressed. They had shared the struggle, shared it even now. Titus and the Gentiles were the oppressors. Where would Paul's sympathies lie? With whom would Paul form common cause? And why?

But of course, Paul's relationship with Titus (and many others) showed that something had blasted apart this wall of racial prejudice and hatred. It was a past issue, a state for which Paul expressed no nostalgia. Paul didn't merely talk reconciliation, he lived it. He fought for it.

Can you imagine Paul standing and joking that he'd once thought all Gentiles were going to Hell, had mellowed — and then had come back around to his former opinion? Or can you imagine what Paul would do if he sat in an audience where that "joke" was told? Would he yuck it up?

Well, you know, as long as we've got Galatians 2:11ff. in our Bible, we don't have to guess, do we?

So what was it that demo'd the wall of hatred and division for Paul? You know the answer. It was the Gospel. It was the Cross. It tilted Paul's world.

The Cross should be the death of such things. The Cross is the death of such things. What do we see at Calvary? A white God giving His Son for a white world? God forbid. A black God, a brown God? Yellow? No. Just God, Creator of all things and all humans, so loving a world of lost guilty rebels of every people, tribe, nation and tongue that He gave His Son for them. You see God's Son hanging between heaven and earth, groaning not under white sins or black sins, but under human sins.

That's a snippet of what I gleaned and applied from this passage; you can find the sermon and the outline here, if you like.

God grant that the church — every part of it — work a whole lot harder to embody what Christ did so much to create.

Dan Phillips's signature


38 comments:

DJP said...

Now let's see how long the comments stay open. I'm not optimistic, but maybe that's just me. We'll see.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Great message, Dan. One that not enough people are even thinking of (incl up to now, me!)

Terry Rayburn said...

Excellent, Dan. Racism or any PRE-judice should break our hearts.

That song, "People Need The Lord" comes to mind, coupled with "Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in His sight."

As to jokes, a good rule of thumb is, "Is it a joke that would HURT someone if they heard it?" Hurt is not love. Nor is that rule Political Correctness, it's Christian love.

P-s-s-t, it's Titus 1:4 :)

DJP said...

Gah! At least I quoted the right verse. Have 1:5 on the brain as I prep for this Sunday. Thanks.

DJP said...

Ah! the one-star hater is finally up.

So now we know that in addition to being Roman Catholic, he's a racist.

Frank Turk said...

ILOVEYOUONESTARHATER!

Michael Coughlin said...

After the Lord graciously saved me, He provided evidence in an unexpected form.

After being an unashamed racist for 30 years, a shaming comment from a nonbeliever for a racist email I forwarded only a few days after trusting Christ would not leave my mind.

I had very little understanding of the bible at that time, I wasn't a creationist yet, I didn't quite get the tower of babel or a lot of doctrine that would come later.

But God got a hold of my heart and brought me to tears of repentance for my racism. It was almost an overnight conversion and the only person I hated was myself. I hated myself for hating people so much and saying the things I said and even thinking the thoughts I thought.

The Holy Spirit did this, and has allowed me forgiveness and healing. Now the only people I am prejudiced against are racists; I think they are all wrong. ;) (at least about racism)

Thanks, Dan.

DJP said...

Thank you, Michael; that's a good word.

Kerry James Allen said...

I grew up in a racially changing area and understand racism. I've been beaten and robbed by blacks as was my father. Daylight home invasions occurred two doors away. As a 10 year old in my front yard I was threatened by a black teen with a baseball bat. Property values plummeted. I was a hater. The only thing that changed it was the Gospel at age 19 that took away the power to hate. The government will never break down the "wall of partition" (Ephesians 2:14) between all races through its spending and programs. The Gospel does. Who among us has not experienced the joy of meeting a brother or sister of a different color or ethnicity and feeling the common bond of Christ and His Word? Truly wonderful! Thanks Dan, good thoughts.

Eric said...

"Who among us has not experienced the joy of meeting a brother or sister of a different color or ethnicity and feeling the common bond of Christ and His Word? Truly wonderful!"

Amen to that sentiment!

"Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like that to that above."

Just a small taste of the joy we will experience in heaven someday as together people of all nations, tribes, and toungues raise our voices in perfect harmony singing the praises of our God. What a thought - it makes a chill run up my spine.

DJP said...

Amen. It's something I love about our church here, a factor I asked about during the interview process. We're growing in that direction. Glory to God. You can't get that out of a bottle or a formula.

But what I'm insisting is that it's what the Cross should create every time.

Eric said...

Dan,

Absolutely. The ground is level at the cross. Anyone who thinks himself less a sinner or more an image-bearer than another does violence to the work of Jesus on the cross. It really should and must be unthinkable for us to consider ourselves in any way superior to another, regardless of race.

Great reminder as we struggle here below. Would that our national "race dialogue" had a greater preponderance of this type of godly reasoning.

Michael Coughlin said...

Maybe if Jesus hadn't come as a blond haired, blue eyed, white skinned American, this would all be a lot easier for people to digest.

mindrenewers.com said...

Pentecost sent this message, with the gift of tongues -- all nations. It was confirmed at the house of Cornelius, again with tongues.

The Spirit works unity, and the first manifestation of the Spirit at Pentecost demonstrated that God's message goes to every people, tongue, and nation.

Morris Brooks said...

Unfortunately, the sword of racism cuts in every direction, and no race is immune from it.

We need to keep in mind that just as it was to God's glory to create every nation, tribe, and tongue, it is just as much to His glory to save people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We are all one in Christ, if we are truly in Christ; and God's word to racists of all colors is if you do not love your brother or sister in Christ (no matter their color) whom you have seen, then you do not love God, whom you have not seen.

Peter said...

Maybe if Jesus hadn't come as a blond haired, blue eyed, white skinned American, this would all be a lot easier for people to digest.

Brilliant.

Bill said...

One race: human. Why? Ummm, the Bible says so. BTW, science says so. Racial characteristics (skin color, eye shape, etc.) account for only 0.012 percent of human biological variation.

Frank Turk said...

Bill -- unfortunately, sin accounts for billions of other variations, and its effects run deeper than the skin.

:-)

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

...There are a couple of races I hate; mainly that of Mosquitoes. The word "racism" is an evolutionary term; it and Christianity are the furthest things from compatible.

R.C. said...

Thanks for another good piece. One important corollary- because the gospel combats our prejudices (what a delight to read the comments from so many who have by His grace moved on from this sin) it must mean that this sin is a foundational one. That is, we don't have godly Christian men who just have a race problem, discreet and hermetically sealed. What we have is a pride problem that will flower in many different directions.

DJP said...

This post has been up for about 12 hours. This is the 21st comment.

I have a question for all those who have commented thus far:

Are any of you "persons of color," non-whites, non-Caucasians, however-you-care-to-put-it?

If not, why do you think that is? And what do you think could or should be done about it? And by whom?

That question's not coming from snark, but from a genuine concern and puzzlement.

rfb said...

"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."

Even though the above list is not exhaustive as written, I think an argument could be made that Paul meant it to be understood in that manner.

With unity caused by Christ by being in-Christ, then it does seem symmetrical that outside of Christ, everything is division.

What can be done about division: preach Christ.

I do not believe that focusing upon any of the (so called) attributes of division is anything other than a distraction. Sin is the root and branch, and Christ is the answer.

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent...

Michael Coughlin said...

DJP, I'd be considered white and I don't know the answer to your question.

I wish I did.

mindrenewers.com said...

I pastor in Scotland. If I read an Englishman saying English Christians need to improve their relations with Scottish Christians, I would keep my mouth shut and move on -- whether I agreed with him or not.

Someone I will try to minister to now or in the future inevitably will look at it very cynically. There may be strong resentment. Or an outsider might grab what I say and demagogue it. So why jeopardise my ministry just to comment on a blog?

You aren't likely to get many non-white pastors commenting on this. They may need to teach slowly and gently, not just shoot blog comments all over the place. Their people have been taught by so many voices in the community that resentment is the answer.

Of course, there's another theory. Maybe, a lot of non-white people don't like your style of writing or sense of humor, so they aren't here at all. This is partly serious -- most of the black friends I've had through the years just aren't the type to enjoy the kind of writing you do.

T. Newbell said...

If I were to guess, the silence my be more an issue of readership and the general busyness of life. But I am a Black woman and just wanted to thank you for engaging on this topic. The comments have been great to read also. The gospel unites and breaks barriers. I hope you will press on regardless of who is reading or commenting. -Trillia

Eric said...

Hi Dan,

I'm about as white as you can get, but I married a "woman of color".

I'd suggest that many times a lack of comments can simply indicate a general agreement without a lot to add. Oftentimes I read a post here, and other than "good post", I don't feel I have anything that I want to add in the comments, so I refrain. The lack of comments from people in general and people of color, specifically, may be simply an indicator of agreement.

Besides, we all know that controversy drives the longest comment threads. This post is filled with the beauty and simplicity of the gospel and its outworking, and doesn't contain anything edgy or controversial. Maybe you need to change the title to something provocative?

Morris Brooks said...


Are any of you "persons of color," non-whites, non-Caucasians, however-you-care-to-put-it?

If not, why do you think that is? And what do you think could or should be done about it? And by whom?

To answer your last question, all parties are responsible. But to prevent a one-sided diatribe we would need to have some non-whites in the discussion.

Michael said...

Let's not repeat that nonsense about church being the most segregated hour of the week.

Dinnertime is.

Families go home to their own people and eat their own kind of meals. How racist is that??

That's what many churches do, sing the kind of songs they like with the kind of message they like in the church culture they like. It's only racist when someone who wants to join in a particular congregation is barred for their colour or race or etc. While that used to happen a lot and might still from time to time it happens far less in churches than people think and less than it does in bars, restaurants, private businesses and private homes.

That "most segregated hour racism" thing is a furphy we ought not to give credence by repeating.

Susan said...

Funny that the first Pyro post I see after my mini-vacation is on racism, because while away I encountered something that made me wonder. My mother and I were lining up at the hotel's bagel shop to purchase breakfast when a well-dressed young woman came in with a young man. The two women in front of us were white, and so was the young woman who came in after us (not sure about the man with her). I was busy looking up at the menu behind the cashiers when I heard the young woman ask the woman in front of me, "Are you in line?" For some reason it sounded odd that she didn't ask my mother or me, so I peeked out of the corner of my eye and saw her standing in a place where she thought the end of the line was (not behind us, obviously). At that moment I blurted out, "We're in line, too."

She said nothing. She didn't even bother to look my way to see who had spoken to her.

A mere two seconds later, her male friend quietly walked away from her and lined up behind us. She joined him yet another few second later.

It was just one of those moments that made me wonder if I had just encountered an extremely mild case of racism--either that, or the young woman was just rude and extremely stuck up. In any case I was and am thankful to the Lord for protecting us from being taken advantage of (sorry--how do I not end with a preposition??). Upon pondering further, it seemed pretty obvious that she didn't have Christ. It is truly amazing that the Gospel breaks down racial and cultural barriers--kind of like the undoing of God's judgment on Babel?? But I'm babbling.... :)

Charlene said...

Whoa. I'm a little late to this but I'm dark brown (hey, hold up a black or white piece of paper to compare skin color--no one is truly black or white, just varying shades of brown) and I think this is a great post. I have no idea what your readership demographic is but perhaps there just aren't a lot of dark brown folks who read Pyro. I often read but don't comment here but that's just 'cuz I usually can't play with the big dogs here for fear of being eaten alive. I mostly read and learn ;-)

Also interesting is the fact that I'm currently reading about this very thing in Emilio Ramos' book "Convert: from Adam to Christ". It's really encouraging that you've brought this perspective to your congregation. Most "sermons" on the topic of racism blame everything except sin and offer everything but the gospel for a solution. Rock on, Dan.

DJP said...

Thanks so much, sisters.

D. C. said...

Dan,

I am curious, as a person of color, why do you think it took the Bishop Lowery comment to spark you? I mean in all your years you had not heard comments from others that would give you pause and say, "What's up with that?" That is not a snarky comment but a possible lesson in itself. I think your aside is on to something.

DJP said...

I've written on the topic a number of times, DC. This isn't a new concern. What is is that I don't see things getting better, and I see what I think is racism from unexpected places. Not white places.

But as God is my witness, DC, that remark would have sparked me regardless of the skin-color of the speaker. But what increases the alarm is that I look around and don't see folks standing with me who I otherwise would expect to see.

That's a candid answer; if you want to take a swing, have at it. Open dialogue, I hope, helps. Let's see.

D. C. said...

Hi Dan,
Trust me I don’t want to take a swing (hehe), the matter of race especially in American in the Evangelical community is one filled with lots of twists and turns. I think Bishop Lowery can be given a little slack because of his age and although I don’t use the N word (which I assume was part of what struck you as racist ) it is a word I heard far too often as a kid growing up in my community (and to some extent still today). I found his comments to be those that were probably meant more for the internal family than for wide dissemination (not an excuse just a context). Not to say that he would shy away from them. The notion that with his background he would think that all white people would be going to hell is more in tune with some of this experience on the front lines of the movement than his actual beliefs. It is a good preacher line that is outdated (not that it ever should have been in vogue).
I do not share your concern that things are getting worse. I will say that they are not progressing as fast as I would like (speaking particularly in the evangelical world). In fact I fear that the rest of the world might be progressing much faster than we who proclaim to be brothers and sisters in Christ when it comes to dealing with the issue of race in America.
For the last 20 years I have been a member of a predominantly Caucasian church. Over the years the diversity has blossomed into a wonderful mix of colors and ethnicities. I will confessed that when I came to the area I searched for several months to find a African American church that I felt was in line with my views of the Word and God kept bringing my family and I back to where we ended up. I have been in this church longer than I was in the church I grew up in. I consider it one of the greatest blessings God could have given me.
I have a question for you. What role do you think our political views cloud the issue of race for us? I contend Bishop Lowery was making more of a political statement than a theological one but because of the setting and because of his title it becomes more of the latter than the former. So sometimes political statements made in the context of a Christian setting (be it in a pulpit or a blog) can bring about a tension that blurs the message. Granted I understand that our political statements should be informed by our theology but I believe that is not always the case. Example (narrow one I admit) but I heard a lot made of Mr. Obama need to renounce the teachings of Rev. Wright on lots of matters (including race) but very little about the need for Mr. Romney to renounce the teachings of the Mormon Church when it comes to race. Why do you think that is?
I don’t think we wrestle enough with the issue of race from a biblical perspective because we are saddled with cultural and political baggage that is not easy to let go of…but we must press on to the high calling. Raising honest points like this is one way to do that. I just hope as we might start in different places we will all end up at the cross. Not in way that blurs those differences but in a way that illuminates and sees the heart of a brother. Sorry for going on so long. Pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

D. C. said...

Correction
..... in America in the Evangelical community ......

DJP said...

D.C., sorry, been very busy so it's taken me longer than I'd've wished to get back to you.

I wish I knew you better, it would help me not to fire wildly off-target in my response.

You see, when you say that you don't think things are worsening, but in that same comment you seem to make a game attempt to explain or contextualize or in any other way minimize the true awfulness of what Lowery said — and that you seem to think it ever could have been a good preacher's line anywhere at any time — that discourages me, and does nothing to lessen my alarm.

Brother, talking about Hell is a theological concept. Doing it as an ordained minister speaking in a church just adds to the impact.

I'm trying to be as transparent and honest with you and myself as I can. Best I can do is to imagine how I would feel and respond if John Piper, or John MacArthur, or any other man I admire were to make a crack like that about black people. Can I even conceive of myself responding in any other way than to denounce the remark in unqualified terms, and call on the brother to repent and retract? I just can't do it.

As to Romney, he was in fact zinged about his cult's former position on blacks. He has spoken at length about it, about how moved and glad he was when their position was changed.

But Romney was a cultist, D.C. He wasn't a Christian, as Lowery I take it claims to be. And if Romney had chuckled in a Baptist church about all blacks going to Hell, I absolutely flat-out guarantee you his support would have vanished, and the denunciations would have been loud and global.

Shouldn't we as Christians be leading the world in reconciliation?

BTW, I was in a similar church situation for 7 years, pastored by a black brother who is probably the best preacher I've ever heard in person on a regular basis. It was a cultural stretch for us, and I was delighted about it. The church I pastor also is growing along similar lines, praise God. It's a live issue to me.

Morris Brooks said...

Dan,
I so appreciate your bringing up the subject of racism. For many of all colors, it has been the gorilla in the room for way too long.

As I said a little earlier, racism is the sword that cuts in every direction, no matter the color of the hand it is in.

My first teacher and mentor and model was a black man who did not hold my whiteness against me, but just loved me and all of the rest of the white people in his class, as brothers and sisters in Christ, who battled sin just like he did.

All of us need to be more loyal to the Lord, than to our skin color.

D. C. said...

No problem Dan….I understand that the turkey was a higher priority. ;-)

“I wish I knew you better; it would help me not to fire wildly off-target in my response.”


You are not firing wildly. The joy of engaging via this medium means we have to work a little harder at being understood but that is ok. And when you are as poor at putting words down as I am it becomes even more difficult. But this is a subject that I wished we explored more and so that is why I weighed in. I view you through the prism of Phil Johnson so I know you must be alright ;-)


I was not trying to “minimize the true awfulness of what Lowery said" but I was trying to provide a little context because context is important, not an excuse just giving you a little more information. I tried to acknowledge the theological part of the comments but the idea that you see Dr. Lowery in the same vein with Drs. Piper or MacArthur is a stretch for me. He is known as a civil rights leader not a theologian and a leader whose effective days are much more in the past than in the present (for all the Dr Lowery fans out there I am in no way minimizing the important contributions he has made) So I would caution you just a little about putting too much weight on the current state of race in the church based this statement from him. I in fact do not think things are getting worse and maybe again that is because of my own life experiences (growing up in the south in the 60’s). Like I said I have been in a church for 20 years engaging one relationship at a time to live out the beauty of being one people in Christ. I would hope you will not be discouraged based on this one article. I remain totally optimistic about the great work God is doing in all of us.
So I will join you in denouncing this statement.


As for Mr Romney, I will accept your comments about his own denouncement of his faith’s past (was not aware of that).


I now await your wildly off target engagement with the rest of my post ;-) I am perfectly happy to take this offline and engage via email.


Thank you for your labors for the kingdom.