Standing Up to Racism: The Gospel Thing to Do

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Jesus came to give life and give it more abundantly. It was a promise he delivered by Crucifixion.

In Acts 2:33, Peter explains the unexplainable turn of events at Pentecost as a sign of Christ's promise after being resurrected. The Holy Spirit’s power is poured on the earth. Several people groups were there and they spoke different languages. Yet on this day, they understood each other. It was a transformative event. It is a demonstration of godliness. But it was not the end of ethnic superiority.

Later on in Acts (chapter 6), Holy Spirit-filled Greek-speaking men accuse the Holy Spirit-filled Hebrew speaking Apostles of favoritism. The Greek-speaking widows were not fed as well as the Hebrew-speaking widows. The text does not explain why this took place, but it does reveal that the apostles listened to the complaints and trusted the complainants by allowing them to choose leaders to repair the injustice.

Therefore, it would seem church leaders repented once and for all from internalized ethnic superiority. Wrong. The opposite is true.

The Apostle Peter, steeped in Jewish cultural superiority, segregates himself with Jews from the non-Jews when he visits Paul in Galatia. Even Barnabas is led astray. In Galatians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul opposes Peter to his face. Paul elevates Peter’s hypocrisy to a serious matter when he labels it as “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (v. 14).

And once again, in Acts Chapter 10, Peter is confronted with his own ethnocentrism. God shows Peter how he stigmatizes Cornelius as a non-Jew. Peter repents for calling a people group unclean, one that God has made clean.

For myself, coming into the Christian Reformed Church seemed like coming into a church community that thought they had the “right way, the better way, the clearer way” to follow Christ. But it was like asking the Brazilian soccer team to play the game like their Dutch opponents. It was frustrating yet helpful in comprehending the scriptures.

But lately, as the church transitions in identity from Dutch to white to issue identity, I have been challenged by the diverse cultural views competing for superiority. Addressing the real sin of racism has once again been ignored by other social priorities of sexuality, genderism, and a quest for religious rightness.

Racism is much more sinister than favoritism and as such a more hideous belief in superiority and inferiority based on skin color is behind the segregation of congregations and communities. This segregation has led to animosity and reinforced the belief in racial hierarchy. Its denial by euro Americans ignores the texts on the matter and the warning of the seriousness of straying from the gospel.

Racism was birthed within the justification of slavery, the genocide of native people, and the economic well-being of European settlers. It is a silent but deadly force behind the hatred we are experiencing in our society today. Not addressing racism is not living into the Holy Spirit’s power of having our identities transformed in such a radical way that we can reimagine each other as the image-bearers we all are in Christ Jesus.

Christ uses words like “Kingdom”, “born again”, “new life”, and other words of sustenance. The words are not only spiritual but life flourishing. In sharp contrast, He also uses words like “dying”, “crucified”, “confessing”, and “sacrifice.”  

Easy words to say but I wonder if I, if we, really grasp their meaning? Will our understanding change the way we live? If we understand the words, are we willing to acknowledge, confront and repent of the sins that leave us segregated, polarized, and ineffective in proclaiming the good news to our scared and enraged neighbors?

Better yet, like Paul to Peter, are we able to oppose each other for the sake of the gospel truth?

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I am thankful for parents who raised me to realize that there is 1 race...the human race. And that God created all of us brown. Some of us are light brown. Some of us are dark brown. But in the end, we are all brown!

We need to see each other the way God sees us: as individuals created in His image. Not as members of artificial groups based on our DNA.

Those who wish to divide us (and profit from that division) based on our skin tone, must be opposed as deniers of the true Gospel of Christ. That Gospel teaches us that people who harbor animosity based on skin tone (whether dark-toward-light or light-toward-dark) will be forgiven by Almighty God when they accept God's call to the Cross and leave their animosity there for Christ to destroy for all eternity. Man-made schemes will not bring forgiveness and reconciliation. Only the True Gospel can do that!