by Bill Tuck
Prejudice is deep-seated. It has a long history in our world. The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, and Moses stood before Pharaoh and challenged him: “Let my people go.” Later when Israel became a nation, it showed great prejudice toward other nations. In fact, they declared that everybody else was a Gentile, not as worthy as they were in the sight of God. The Greeks proclaimed that they were the superior people of the human race. The Romans saw others as inferior, especially the Syrians, whom they looked upon as dogs. The Chinese erected a wall to separate all of the heathen devils from them. People on our nation’s west coast often show prejudice toward Orientals. Those in the southern borders of our country often are prejudiced toward Mexicans. Many in the Southern states are still prejudiced toward blacks. Northerners are often prejudiced toward Southerners, and Southerners are prejudiced toward Northerners. Prejudice is an awful reality in our world, but it is real.
Albert Schweitzer often mentioned the impression that stuck in his memory as a young child on seeing in the town’s square on many occasions the statue of a black man burdened down with heavy chains. Later Schweitzer went to Africa to minister as a medical doctor to the black man. He knew that he did not put that black man in chains, but nevertheless he felt a sense of responsibility to help ease the burden placed on him by the white man.
Oh, I know you can say: “Well, I have never burned a cross in anybody’s yard. “I have never thrown a rock at a person of another race.” “I haven’t expressed hatred toward a person of another race.” But that does not mean that you and I are free of prejudice. Too often we prejudge another person by his or her education, background, social status, appearance, or skin color.
The Church declares boldly that God is the Creator of all persons. God created man and woman in God’s image. Paul daringly asserted that we are all one in Jesus Christ. He declared that “there was neither Greek nor Roman, slave or free, Jew nor Gentile, male or female in Christ.” We can also confidently say that there is no black or white in Jesus Christ. In him we are all one. At the foot of the cross the ground is level. God’s love reaches through the crucified Christ to all persons. Jesus reminded his disciples: “The one receiving you receives me, and the one receiving me receives the one having sent me” (Matt. 10:40). Even a cup of cold water given to someone in need is to minister in Jesus’ name. When we reject our fellow man or woman, we are rejecting our Lord. The writer of 1 John reminds us: “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
As Christians, let’s acknowledge that we are all one in Jesus Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that we are one in God’s sight. When you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus Christ began to break down all the barriers which society had erected. He called Simon the Zealot to be one of his disciples and broke the political barrier. He reached out to minister to a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and ignored the reputation barrier. His conversation with a Samaritan woman at the city well transcended the sexual barrier. His nighttime talk with the aristocrat, Nicodemus, whom he told must be born again, and his eating a meal with Zacchaeus broke the class barrier. He told a parable which praised the prayer of a publican over a Pharisee and disregarded the religious barrier. He reached out to the poor and outcast of society and broke the poverty barrier. He made a Samaritan a hero of one of his parables and challenged the racial barrier. He praised the faith of a Roman centurion and transcended national barriers. Again and again Jesus broke the barriers which had been set up to separate persons from each other.
Remember, Jesus was not crucified because he said: “Behold the lilies of the field, how beautiful they are.” He was crucified because he attempted to break down these barriers. He taught that man and woman, whatever their status in life, were loved and welcomed by God. Like its Lord, the Church is challenged to go into the world with a gospel that breaks down all barriers as it calls all men and women to become the sons and daughters of God, saved by his grace. As members of the Church, you and I are to be the salt and light in the world as we reach out to all persons to lead them to redemption in Jesus Christ.
What can we do as Christian people to combat the problem of racism? First, we can acknowledge that we are prejudiced. Every single one of us can acknowledge that he or she has some kind of prejudices. I have them. You have them. None of us is free of them. They are still a part of our life, heritage, sectional background, training, community mores, and regional values. Let’s acknowledge our prejudices. They are, unfortunately, a part of us. Then, let’s seek by God’s grace to overcome them.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge that God is the creator and redeemer of all persons. Let us celebrate our diversity. Let us rejoice in the wide variety of gifts and heritages that are in the world. Let us remind one another that we are one family under God, and in Jesus Christ we are one in his Church. We are created in God’s image. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Let us love and respect all persons regardless of their race or color.
In an address before the joint session of Congress, former president John F. Kennedy said: “I ask you to look into your hearts, not in search of charity, for the Negro neither wants nor needs condescension. But for the one plain, proud, and priceless quality that unites us all as Americans: A sense of justice. In this year, the Emancipation Centennial, justice requires us to ensure the blessings of liberty for all Americans and their posterity, not merely for reasons of economic efficiency, world diplomacy, and domestic tranquility, but above all because it is right!” It is right! All persons are God’s children. God is creator and redeemer of all. So let us begin by acknowledging that we are prejudiced, that diversity is a part of our created world, and learn to glory in that diversity as we see the variety of gifts in all persons.
Thirdly, we acknowledge that the Church is called to be the transforming element in society. It should be the showcase for the world of brotherhood, justice, and righteousness. There can be no “Check Point Charlie”, no Berlin Wall, and no barred doors at the church’s entrance where persons are not allowed. Anyone to whom Jesus Christ extends his hand is my brother and sister.
I wish we could say that because a person has committed his or her life to Christ, he or she is free of prejudice. But we know that is not always true. Peter is a good example of this. Even after Jesus had commissioned him to preach the gospel to all nations, he was still prejudiced against the Gentiles. In a vision on the rooftop of Cornelius, Peter was made to see that he was to call nothing common or unclean which God had created. He saw the barrier of his racial prejudice crumble. Then, he was able to preach the gospel to all persons.
Fourthly, we need to be bridge builders. We are called by Jesus Christ to be his servants in building bridges to men and women. We are to tear down fences of hatred, injustice, oppression, and hostility. It has seldom been easy to be a bridge builder. We rarely recognize the great prophets as they walk among us. Today you and I can look back and talk about how great Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Jeremiah were, but the people of their day despised or misunderstood them. History will show that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the great prophets of our age. He worked and died to bring justice and righteousness for minority races in our country. The struggle for racial justice still continues.
The denial of any person his or her God-given rights is an affront to God and a denial of the creation and redemption of God. In Christ there is no north or south, east or west, slave or free, male or female, black or white, Jew or Gentile, all are one. After Cain slew his brother Abel, God asked him, “Where is your brother?” Cain responded by asking: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” No, Cain. You and I are not our brother’s keeper, but we are our brother’s brother. We are our brother’s sister. We are sisters and brothers to each other in Jesus Christ.
Let all barriers be broken. We are to be bridge builders, not fence contractors or wall builders. Let us lift up those who are in need and not hold them down. Let us encourage and not discourage. Let us remove the “Keep 0ut” signs and erect signs that say, “Welcome.” What we need is less bullying and more brotherhood. We need less platitudes and more performance. We need less arguments and more action. We need less rhetoric and more righteousness. Let our walk match our talk. Let there be an end to discrimination and the beginning of a greater practice of brotherhood. Let there be an end to bigotry and a greater practice of harmony in the world. Let there be and end to provincialism and a greater practice of freedom. Let there be an end to isolationism and a greater practice of communion. I hoped and prayed that the inauguration of President Obama would usher in a new day of racial harmony and good will among all persons of all races. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
There is a legend that will not die from postwar Germany. During the Nazi regime in Germany, Hitler gave an infamous edict that had to be read from all church pulpits. The edict declared that no Jew was welcome in any church and had to leave. One day a Nazi officer entered a Christian church and announced that anyone who had Jewish blood on his father’s side must get up and leave. Several on the main floor got up, one in a side balcony, and one from the choir loft rose and left. Then the Nazi soldier instructed those who had Jewish blood on their mother’s side to leave. This time about half a dozen more left. The legend then says that the figure of Jesus Christ the Jew, who was hanging on the cross over the altar, came down and walked out of the church.
Whenever we attempt to bring bigotry, prejudice, and racism into his church, he walks out of it and goes into the world. He came to destroy such barriers not erect them.
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