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I, Too, Have a Dream

by Kim Harrington

 

     "God, who made the world and everything in it...has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings. (Acts 17:24-26)

     Not long ago an assembly of denominational leaders got together to heal the breaches between the black and white communities in the Pentecostal churches. While much healing no doubt took place in those meetings, it is still a sad commentary on the state of the church today in America.  Why should we need the declaration of a "day of racial reconciliation," especially in the Pentecostal- charismatic movement, which was integrated from its inception in the early Twentieth Century?

     Why is Sunday morning still the most segregated time of the week? Why do we have white churches and black churches? One man called our church a few months ago on Sunday morning, and the phone was picked up by our keyboard player, an African/American lady.  He asked a few questions about our fellowship, then began to hem and haw before finally coming to the point-- "what culture is your church?" You see, she didn't have a recognizable accent, and he wasn't able to figure out what color she was.  She answered, "We're multi-cultural." He didn't show up.

     Conventional church growth wisdom states that the prospective church planter must first choose an audience--a particular demographic target group--in order to succeed.  Are you trying to reach upwardly mobile white suburbanites, urban native Americans, blue collar Hispanics... who?  Now I realize my impact in the black community may be limited because I'm white, yet I'm not yet ready to bow to that sort of practicality--I believe the church, of all the institutions in our land, should still hold to a uncompromising idealism.  I believe the church of Jesus Christ is for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, how much money they make, how young or old they may be.

 

There is No Racism in the Bible

     In spite of the crude wrestling of Scripture by the slavers of the Old South, or even the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, which have attempted to prove otherwise, the Bible is entirely free from any suggestion of racism. Our opening text, from Paul's message to the Athenians on Mars Hill, states unequivocally that all the human nations (Greek, ethnos) are made of "one blood." Genesis 10:32 says we are all the sons of Noah. As Bill Nye ("the Science Guy") pointed out, all humans have brown skin--there are light brown people and dark brown, but we're all brown. It's a matter of pigmentation, not of blood, of innate intelligence, strength, adaptability or spirituality.

     The so-called curse of Ham is actually the curse of Canaan...

     Then [Noah] said: "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren." And he said: "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. (Gen 9:25-26)

This prophetic curse was fulfilled when Joshua subdued Canaan's land, and subjected the people he had not destroyed.

     The Bible abounds in examples of racial equality and tolerance. Four of Jesus' most prominent ancestors were Gentiles: Tamar the Canaanite, Rahab of Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. If the truth be told, the purest Jew--then and now--can only be half Hebrew, as all of Jacob's twelve sons married either Canaanites or Egyptians. (Incidentally, that means that King David's grandfather Obed, the offspring of two mixed marriages in a row--to Rahab and to Ruth--was only one eighth Jewish at best). God's injunctions to His people not to marry women of other nations was based on their religious practices, not upon racial differences.

     Moses' second wife was an Ethiopian woman. His brother and sister attacked the woman on racial grounds, but this was clearly a smoke-screen--it was really a power play for the leadership of the Jewish nation (see Numbers 12). Incidentally, this story tells us there were black Africans among the "mixed multitude" that followed Moses out of Egypt.

     Jeremiah had only two faithful followers willing to stand by him and pay the price for faithfulness to Jehovah in that hour, and one was Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian (see Jeremiah 38).

     An Ethiopian eunuch, from the court of Candace the Queen of Nubia, was the first black man to receive Jesus and bring the Gospel to Africa (Acts 8). According to tradition, Matthew Levi, one of the twelve, went to Nubia and was eventually martyred there, but not before converting hundreds of thousands of people. The Nubian Empire was the first nation to officially embrace Christianity as the state religion, and the last to fall to the Muslims (they held out for a thousand years, and are still fighting in ancient Nubia--Sudan--today).

     Simon of Cyrene, who carried Christ's cross (Luke 23:26), is possibly the same man as "Simon called Niger" ("the black"), mentioned as one of the elders in the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1). In any case, a black man from Cyrene in North Africa was among the teachers and prophets of one of the most prominent churches in the First Century. Incidentally, it is wise to remember that, although black Africans played important roles in the early church, the majority of North Africans -- e.g. Egyptians, most Cyrenians, Libyans, etc. -- were fairer-skinned. We needn't recreate Hagar and other biblical heroes from North Africa as blacks to make our point. We certainly shouldn't cast Christ Himself as a black African (as some have done)... we prove nothing but our own ignorance and prejudice. The new Roman Catholic portrait of the Christ may be politically correct, but it is historically in error. Jesus was neither black nor white--he was light brown, like all the other Jews and Arabs of His day.

 

The Essence of Racism

     Why does this need to be an issue at all?  Why do people feel the need to point out the color of one's skin, to recreate Jesus in their own image? Racism. One way or another, it's all racism. To be free from racism, skin color or national heritage has to be a total non-issue. If you feel the need to point out that so-and-so is a black man or a white man you demonstrate that skin pigmentation somehow matters, somehow has a bearing upon who or what that particular individual is. We'll be free from racism when we accept each other without any regard for racial differences or similarities.

     Whenever we treat someone differently on account of his or her racial background, we indulge in racism. If someone has a better chance at a job because he is a person of color--due to the fact that a particular company has a quota to meet--that is racism, just as surely as if he'd been denied the job because of his race. To be treated differently, or assessed on the basis of nationality or race, whether for better or worse, is still to be treated with discrimination.

     If I, out of a sense of misplaced guilt or silly sentimentalism, give preferential treatment to a particular visitor in our church because he is of African/American descent, I'm just as prejudiced as I would be if I made him sit in the back of the building. True equality is not the giving of preferential treatment, it's the total lack of preferential treatment to anybody. Everybody stands on his or her own merit, without any assistance due to their race.

     Preferential treatment because of race is actually a subtle and more dangerous form of racism than outright hostility. It smacks of paternalism and superiority; it carries the underlying assumption that "these people" need our help, that they cannot go it on their own. It robs its beneficiaries of dignity and national pride. Yet few people would refuse such assistance--privilege and economic reality generally speak louder than dignity and self-worth.

     Furthermore, if we are free from racist tendencies, we should be able to discuss the subject, perhaps even joke about it in a good-natured way. I did a wedding a few weeks back in which there were two black and one white groomsmen; I placed the white man between the two, and somebody commented that they looked like an Oreo cookie. Everybody laughed, which is how it should be. One the other hand, I once jokingly introduced another member of our flock as our "token Jew," and he took me to task about it, very heatedly berating me for my lack of sensitivity, in making light of all the suffering his people had been through. Apparently our relationship was not deep enough, and his own racial orientation not comfortable enough to be able to flow with a little good-natured humor. I apologized, for I had erred in judgment--yet that shouldn't be an issue between friends, and brethren in Christ.

     No race or nationality has a corner on persecution or suffering. I'm of Irish descent, and the land of my forefathers has been oppressed as few other lands in the history of the world--I am here in the United States because of a cruel famine that was the direct result of the cavalier carelessness of our conquerors. When you visit the Emerald Isle, the locals might point out a nearby hill where hundreds of women and children were slaughtered by Cromwell and his British troops. The story is the same almost everywhere you go. The Armenians of Turkey were the victims of perhaps the worst genocide the world has ever seen, the native Americans have had their land brutally taken from them; many Africans were betrayed by their own people and sold to white slavers, to be treated as cattle for the next few hundred years. We need to remember the sins of the past, so we don't repeat them. Then we need to get over it!

 

I, Too, Have a Dream

     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)

     In Christ there is no such thing as a Jew or a Gentile, a white man, a black, or Hispanic. We are all of one blood, we are all equally capable of excelling in things spiritual, intellectual, artistic or athletic. White men can jump and black men can think. Nobody's women are more beautiful, or men more virile. These are all myths, but they are continually perpetrated by one side or another to gain the advantage. We need to get back to the biblical pattern, and assess each other arightly, on the basis of who we really are, not on the basis of preconceived ideas of supposed racial strengths and weaknesses.

     The church especially needs to get away from orienting itself around race and color. Perhaps among immigrant communities, where language is a real barrier, it is excusable to have a racially or nationality-oriented church congregation: a Hmong church, or an Ethiopian congregation, for example. As for the rest of us, we need to take real steps, not symbolic ones, towards true racial integration, true multi-cultural expressions of the body of Christ. Instead of the black urban church and the white suburban church getting together for a special joint service, we ought to have new churches springing up, composed of both black and white people. These ought to be the norm, rather than the exception, especially in communities where in every other arena people of various races are thrown together. The church should accurately represent the composition of the larger community it is in.

     I've never felt comfortable with Messianic Jewish congregations, for example. Paul paid dearly for his stand on the subject of the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers--was it in vain?  Too many Gentile Christians treat the Jew as a higher class citizen in the kingdom of God... perhaps the majority of people that attend Messianic congregations in the United States are Gentile "wannabees" rather than Jewish believers.  Brethren, these things ought not so to be.  I understand that a Jewish-oriented congregation might be more conducive to reaching the Jewish community around them, and I don't advocate the closing down of Messianic Jewish congregations, but I am troubled by all the Gentiles who are learning to emulate traditional (not biblical) Jewish ways and customs--especially as these are the same people who turned their backs so defiantly upon their own traditional Catholic or Protestant ways.  One group's extra-scriptural traditions are no holier or more spiritual than another's--let's have some consistency here. Let's not redraw the lines that the Apostle Paul, a Jew, was trying to obliterate when he said, "there is no Jew nor Greek... you are all one in Christ."

     Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. It wasn't a dream of the black man finally throwing off the yoke of his oppressor and getting revenge for all the years of suffering and humiliation. It wasn't a dream of more-than-equal rights for people of color in the schools and places of employment in this great nation, it was a dream...

deeply rooted in the American dream... a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed -- we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood... that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

 

Copyright 2000,  Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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