Monday, June 25, 2012

Racism: The Old Elephant In The Church Parlor

What God has made clean, you must not call common. (Acts 10:15)

God had to repeat Himself three times in a supernatural vision to prepare Peter to step over the racial divide and preach the Gospel to Gentiles. Then it took a divine sign, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues, to convince him that the Gentiles were truly capable of receiving the Gospel and being born again.

Racism is nothing new to humanity, and it is nothing new to the church. Even after the glorious salvation of the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion home, Peter's ministry was called into question by those of the Jewish ethnic in Jerusalem. Peter had to defend preaching the Gospel to and baptizing Gentiles. When he relayed the story to the Jewish church, the initial reaction was shock, "When they heard this they became silent."  Finally, however, the Holy Spirit's work was accomplished in them and "Then they glorified God, saying, 'So God has granted repentance resulting in life to even the Gentiles!" (Acts 11:18)

I could go into great detail here about my upbringing, how far it was from the racial tensions of the deep south in which I now pastor, how I became aware of my own racist prejudices even though I thought I had none. Yet, that is not important. What is important is the issue of racism raised by the election of an honorable, and godly black pastor from my state to lead my denomination.

In 1995, my denomination issued an apology for its support of slavery and the civil oppression of black people in this nation. In 2012, it elected Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans as its president. All I know of Fred Luter leads me to respect him and rejoice that he is our president. Not all, however, in our convention will rejoice. A few will probably leave. A few will shake their heads and wag their tongues.

Fred Luter knows the significance of his election, and is much more aware than I am of the issues within the entire church over race. So, there is no reason to avoid this old elephant, or pretend that it has gone away.  This elephant is as old as the human race, and he is multicolored, for racism is a series of two way streets which run in all directions. 

It took God awhile to work on Peter, longer to work on the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and apparently longer to work on some of us. May He never stop, and may we, all us followers of Christ, never settle for anything less than the image of Christ being fully developed in us . . . red and yellow, black and white.