Today, we recognize the determination, passion, and legacy of a man who lived for something much bigger than himself. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of faith who loved God. While he preached freedom from sin, he preached another freedom that he could only dream about during his lifetime. He envisioned an era and a nation where everyone would be brother and sister, where people would walk on level ground, and that there would be no room for marginalization.
Fifty years later, while we’ve made progress, still have so far to travel. Racism and prejudice are apparent in the media and in our daily lives. Unfortunately, racism still exists even in the Body of Christ. We hear it all the time, Sunday morning church is the most segregated hour of the week. How this must grieve the heart of Christ who died to make us all children of God.
I’ve been blessed beyond measure to be on staff at a very cross-cultural church, so much so that sometimes I think I’m spoiled. I have a small snapshot of what heaven will be like as people will worship God from every nation, tribe, and tongue to be one people: the People of God! (Revelation 7:9). We have so far to go.
This isn’t to say I’m above stereotyping, profiling, and biases based on many criteria. I’m very much still on a journey of being transformed and have to battle cynical thoughts just like anyone. I did experience very bitter racism at an early age which helped me to see the raw end of discrimination. With some of my life experiences, I can’t believe I’m not more prejudiced than I am. But I am a work in progress.
We had a great opportunity this summer to assist in a meal program in a very underserved section of our city. The majority of the kids are African-American and are among the 90% of students at the local elementary school who receive subsidized meals. What an opportunity to feed them lunch everyday for the time they were out of school where they ordinarily receive breakfast and lunch. Needless to say, we were shocked at the level of poverty in some situations, perhaps revealing our own ignorance and blindness.
But the greater shock was at times the indifference and even the nit picky attitude of our hosts. We worked with another church smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood. While they were gracious and more than generous to allow us use of their facility, they revealed a latent issue prevalent in much of the larger Body of Christ. I’m optimistic and believe, maybe incorrectly, that racism isn’t so much the problem as it is a “Northern American Abolitionist Attitude.”
During the Civil War, the Union armies, mostly from the North, fought on behalf of the slaves who were kidnapped from their homeland. When the slaves were set free, the folks in the North also showed their true nature: “stay in the South! It was wrong how you were treated but don’t come up to Chicago, Detroit, and New York.”
I believe that this and many other churches want the residents in lower income areas (let’s just say African-Americans) to follow Christ and have their physical and emotional needs met as well. But they want someone else to do it. They may give money, and even help distribute groceries, or day old bread, but have them in their immaculate Sunday edifices? Forget it.
Sorry, but that’s not only a load of crap, it’s so far from what Christ wants of us as the Church. We’re not here to do food drop-offs, throw money around, and distribute literature. The Body of Christ is here to embrace people in love, heal their wounds, pick them up, and walk through life with them. Especially in our own cities, the marginalized are not a once a month missions project. They are our mission!
We were hassled about leaving the facility open (when actually the lock was broken), about leaving signs (which weren’t ours), about health department posters that were left on the walls, increasing their utility bills, and the fact that these kids were actually eating in the building; they thought we were only going to be distributing sack lunches and sending them on their way. Only one person from that congregation helped the whole summer, and surprisingly, she cared greatly for the kids.
All we were required to do was distribute 3 of the 5 portions of food. But we stayed longer to play games with the kids, talk to them and their parents, share Bible stories with them, and even bring extra food for their families. The only thing preventing us from helping to start a cross-cultural ministry in this area is lack of a meeting place. While we continue to pray for God’s favor, doors remain closed…even with the congregation who refuses to have a “black church.”
Yet, because of skin color, eye shape, hairstyle, orientation, customs, etc. we allow these petty differences to prevent us from fulfilling both the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandments.
God, help us to have Your love for all of Your people. AMEN.