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Prejudice and the People of God

By Charles Ware
Kregel Publishers -- We Are Called Across Racial and Ethnic Boundaries

The cultural face of the world is changing rapidly. My own country, the United States, faces immigration pressures of unprecedented proportions, particularly from Central America but also from a number of countries with great internal turmoil. The pressures on Western Europe have been even more stressful economically since the turmoil in the former Soviet bloc. Arising with that stress has been new national socialist movements that are renewing the call for racial purity and the protection of the majority race from the depredations of outsiders. On the other hand, loud voices are calling for a new world society with no distinctions at all, a rainbow world in which I cannot say that my beliefs and standards of morality have any superiority over anyone else’s views.
Although this book is mostly about the racial problems of U.S. society, its principles apply to racial prejudices and violent tendencies that adhere to us all as fallen human beings who have been called to be God’s people. Specifically, I want to consider how Christian communities ought to think about racism and how they should live in the midst of societies where groups are still identified as inferior, dishonest, or less moral merely because of their skin color and ethnicity.

A Rise in Cultural Pride

With multiculturalism’s goal of uniting peoples under one social system in a global village have arisen higher standards for cultural sensitivity. Culture may be defined as the ways in which a community of any size has agreed to deal with the world. Generally, cultural practices are neither right nor wrong. Americans drive on the right side of the road by agreement, and they find it difficult to drive on the left side in the United Kingdom. The British find it just as confusing to adjust to driving on the right side of the road in Canada and the United States. Neither way of driving, however, is morally wrong.

Some cultures have practiced infanticide and infant sacrifice. Anthropologists surmise that this practice usually has been a tool to control population growth, but people who believe that human beings, who are bearers of God’s image, have infinite value in His sight cannot accept the killing of infants, whatever the motivation. Therefore, those who believe what the Bible teaches about human life cannot remain silent when the United States has destroyed tens of millions of lives over the last three decades.

Nor can Christians legitimately abide a cultural polarization that refuses to die. If anything, such polarization is increasing. People of different racial, ethnic, national, and gender backgrounds continually confront one another on the basis of a perceived self-superiority. They look for reasons to heap scorn on others. We are experiencing increased cultural confrontation. As polarization increases, each intersection of cultures causes more friction. The media are quick to see and make much of this sad fact. They add to the mutual fear by treating incidences of violence within cultural groupings superficially but highlighting a race or culture connection when people violate each other. This practice tends to blow matters out of proportion and obscures the real problems, which are not so easily reported.

One frustration for an evangelical Christian is that both multiculturalists and those who promote racial pride are assaulting Christianity. Frequently, the charge is that Christianity is a Eurocentric, white man’s religion. An Ojibwe friend wrote an interesting unpublished defense of Christianity titled “The White Man’s Religion.” His audience consists of fellow Native Americans who feel oppressed by the white power structure. Such individuals are keen to identify the cause of their oppression. When they learn that the Christian message is liberation, they wonder why—after they have accepted Christ—they are still in bondage, especially to their white Christian brothers.

An unfortunate twist is that preachers and missionaries of the gospel have often allowed themselves to be used as pawns of oppression by those whose primary motivation has been power and greed. Conquerors learn quickly that Christians are less aggressive. They were quite interested in allowing missionary activity to occur among conquered people. When freedom movements arose among those peoples, however, Christians were identified as being evil supporters of the status quo.

A multicultural society is what many educators envision for a more tolerant America. We are the land of diverse faces, races, and faith. Much is said about how citizens of some nations of Africa and Europe learn several languages to live and succeed in their society. One of the most serious social debates in the United States has been whether Spanish should be the second official language of the United States.

The most segregated hour in America is still from 11 a.m. to noon on Sundays in clear contradiction of what Scripture teaches (John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–19; 4:7–13). The proverbial visitor from Mars would marvel at this phenomenon. With all of the great preaching that goes forth in America, how can it be that this obvious flaw persists? Why does the church so neglect the preeminent command to “love thy neighbor as thyself”? One explanation is that our great teachers have only recently begun to make racial reconciliation a major theme. They have been led in this direction by such groups as Voice of Calvary Ministries, The Mendenhall Ministries, and I hope The Voice of Biblical Reconciliation and Antioch Global Network, ministries with which I am affiliated.
The Promise Keepers movement has made racial reconciliation a major part of its message. How significant to see fifty thousand or more men in a great stadium hearing the Word of God applied to racial prejudice and seeing where they personally have fallen short. However, the church, the entire family of God, must pick up the mantle for the diversity of the body.

Crying Needs

We Christian leaders of all races must be able to frame adequate answers to the accusation that Christianity is a “white man’s religion.” Bible scholars know better (see, for example, Acts 6:10–8:1; 21:17–22:30; 1 Peter 3:11–17, 15). But new converts and non-Christians tend to ask that question after they get to know the realities of church life.

This charge has been cast against the church for centuries on mission fields where missionaries have made terrible errors and instituted practices that oppress and exclude persons. Mind you, those individuals who have been led to saving faith by church planters with destructive prejudices still reserve a warm spot in their hearts for the flawed worker. In their eyes, the missionary can do no wrong. The convert might defend the missionary’s honor against all odds. Others in the target population, however, are not inclined to be so understanding. The larger effect is that most people within the target culture never get to truly hear the biblical gospel, and they develop a warped view of Christians that might make their children and grandchildren more resistant to the invitation of Christ.

We desperately need more contemporary expressions of the New Testament church (Acts 6:1–7; 13:1; Eph. 2:10–3:12; Rev. 7:9). The New Testament church fellowshipped and worshiped together and shared resources with those in need. Leaders wisely delegated the distribution of aid to “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” who were representatives of the group that complained of being neglected (Acts 6:3).

We need more modern models of the love of the brethren across ethnic lines (John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–19; 4:7–13). We are called to make the cross of Christ a stumbling block to the unbeliever; we are not called to–be the stumbling block ourselves. How dare we bring shame on the name of Christ?
Dr. John Perkins’s relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution model is an effective model of empowerment. This incarnation model challenges believers to move into poor neighborhoods; build relationships with individuals in the community; and train, empower, and challenge them to return to the community as leaders. Perkins also challenges suburban ministries to redistribute their wealth by investing in needy communities. As a result of the success of this model, Perkins has gained national and international attention.

Pastor Charles Lyons led the Armitadge Baptist Church to remain in inner city Chicago as a source of light rather than flee to the suburbs. Today, more than forty different nations are represented in Armitadge Baptist.

Here in Indianapolis, the Urban Foundation has identified eleven individuals who are working effectively with inner city people. These ministries needed people with administrative, organizational, and fundraising skills, and the Urban Foundation is supporting an initiative to network and train these individuals.
The DeVos family is sponsoring the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative. This initiative selected several urban leaders from a number of cities throughout the United States and is training them in five core values that will enhance the effectiveness of these leaders: accountability, balance, interdependence, empowerment, and leverage. (I spoke at their first national conference this year on the core value of interdependence.)

Pricked in their consciences, a number of churches are now active in inner-city ministries of feeding the poor and the homeless. True love asks, “What can I do for and with the other person?” The answer is found in the proverb “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Throughout the Bible, God’s people are told to empower the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. The greatest empowerment one can do is to point an individual to the Savior of our souls. Surprisingly, after years of studying and listening to sermons, many Christians conclude that John 3:16 encapsulates the entire gospel ministry and that the gospel ministry is limited to addressing the need of one’s soul after death. Jesus Himself stated His messianic ministry “to preach the gospel to the poor . . . to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

Many biblically based inner-city churches are rich in all of the resources required for success in a capitalistic system, except entrepreneurial vision, management, and capital. Vision and management can be taught, but capital must be accumulated or borrowed. If the surrounding churches that are blessed materially shared their resources, we could make a significant impact on poverty in this generation. Such radical thinking seems to be required if we are to pursue Jesus’ promise that “Greater works than [mine] shall you do” (John 14:12). The gospel of salvation must be accompanied by deeds of love (see James 2:15–16; 1 John 3:16–18). The positive witness of urban and suburban Christians together working out the gospel as they address the needs (although not necessarily the wants) of people everywhere will go a long way toward addressing morality and character (i.e., discipline, work ethic, family disintegration, etc.).

Some of these concepts are better caught than taught. Crossroads Bible College began the Leaders Influencing Friends Everyday (LIFE) programs to network multiple local evangelical faith-based ministries of Indianapolis. The simple conviction that a unified team, rather than a segregated team, could do more to help at-risk communities motivated more than forty-five ministries to form a network within three months. Each ministry focuses on its strength (i.e., providing clothing, housing for the homeless, medical assistance, community promotion, job training, sports, tutoring, or Bible training) while referring those who need the assistance of others to other ministries within the network.
Openness and brokenness are required to become representatives of Christ in both word and deed. We need to confess and correct past misinterpretations and misapplications of certain texts in relation to certain ethnic groups and/or cultural preferences (Prov. 18:19; 28:13; Acts 10:34–35; James 2:1–9). We must uncompromisingly and unashamedly adhere to proper interpretation of and obedience to the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God, the Holy Bible (Prov. 23:23; Gal. 2; 3:27–29; Eph. 4:1–7, 11–16).

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