Grace, Race and the Church

by Rick

(Gal 2:11-13 NLT)  But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.  When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.  As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.


This morning we continue our series “Grace that is Simply Amazing” by continuing to learn more about the amazing life of the Apostle Paul.  But this message will take a different turn.  Last week I brought up the passage I provided for you today and I discussed the fact that the Apostle Peter had a problem with Gentiles.  Initially, he refused to minister to Gentiles completely, and even after the Lord basically forced him to break the racial divide, Peter limited his contact with non-Jews and he only made contact if his friends were not around.  It is sad, but racism, even in the Body of Christ, dates back millennia.


Unless you have been living in a hole over the weekend you have heard of the verdict in the Zimmerman case.  George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man, took the life of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., and this event has once-again brought the issue of race front-and-center in the United States.  Unfortunately, this is not a new issue.  I will share a portion my story about race in this country.


My mother came to the United States in 1970 with high hopes.  Her journey took her to the Ghettos of New York City and she settled in East New York, Brooklyn.  It was there that she came face-to-face with the ugly head of racism.  She was in the lowest class of the lowest class.  Not only was she a non-English speaking foreigner, but she was in the middle of a violence-riddled gang-controlled area.  The only Whites in the neighborhood where those who came to teach in the schools and who patrolled the area from the protection of their police cars.  My mother did not know it, but she had come to a country that was still attempting to overcome racial injustice.


When I was coming of age in the streets of Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s racism was a way of life.  If a Caucasian person came into my neighborhood they would be beaten close to death and the same was true if one of us (any minority) ever made the mistake of crossing into a White neighborhood.  It wasn’t many years ago that my elementary school teachers quoted the statistics of how many of us (minorities) would wind up in jail, on drugs or dead before the age of 18.


When I was 15 I started working at the Lindenwood Diner/Restaurant in Howard Beach, Queens.  While working there I overcame my own prejudices against Whites and I befriended an Italian kid around my age named John “Johnny” Lester.  A few weeks into my friendship with Johnny it seemed like all hell broke loose.  Johnny was the leader of a group of Italians who chased three young Black men across a highway in Queens.  One of the young Black men was killed and it sparked race-riots all across the country.  When the news cameras came to the restaurant I had to hide.  I knew that if I had come across the television as a friend of John Lester I would most certainly be killed when I got back to Brooklyn.  It was then and there that I was convinced that racism was not only wrong, but ridiculous.


The Howard Beach incident happened in 1986 when the city had just starting calming down from the Bernhard Goetz incident of 1984.  Bernhard Goetz, in another self-defense case, shot four young African American men on a train in Manhattan when he claimed they were about to rob him.  The city was divided over the case, with some celebrating Goetz as a hero vigilante, and others calling for the electric chair.  The Goetz case was still fresh when the Howard Beach incident happened and when that case was over, another one happened in 1989 and the racial tensions in the city erupted again.  In 1989 Yusef Hawkins, a 16 yr. old African American young man was shot to death in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn when a crowd of White youths attacked Hawkins and his friends.  I could cite many more racial incidents in this country, but for the sake of brevity I will stop there.


I lived through these incidents and I saw, first hand how they divided our city and our nation.  When I gave my life to Christ I naively thought I had escaped the jaws of racism.  After all, we are all ONE in Christ.  However, my naivety was short lived as I ventured through Black and White churches.  Since I am neither Black nor White, I had problems in each and to my surprise I was shunned, ostracized, and made to feel unwelcome.  After overcoming racism in Brooklyn the last place I thought I would have to deal with it would be in the church.  It hurts my heart to say it, but 11am Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States of America.

So what does this mean to you today?  It means we should pray.  Whether dealing with the racism Peter exhibited towards Gentiles, or that on display in the Bernhard Goetz, Howard Beach, Yusef Hawkins, or George Zimmerman cases, racism is a real problem and the problem has infiltrated the church.  Let’s pray for our nation, for our churches, for the universal church, and for reconciliation, restoration, and peace in general.  Whether you are the mother of Trayvon Martin or the mother of George Zimmerman, whether you are a minority struggling to overcome racial barriers or a majority attempting to be fair and equitable, whether you were outraged or relieved by the verdict on Saturday night, one thing we all know and that is our nation is still divided on the issue of race.  This problem predates Peter and it is unfortunately still alive today, both in society and in the church.  But this problem, as any problem, is NOT too big for God.


Prayer for our nation:  Father, I join my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ who are praying this prayer along with me today.  We collectively come to You, in the name of Your Son Jesus, asking You to manifest Your peace in your people, in Your church, and in this great nation.  As believers we will take the initiative and ask You to help the change start in the church.  As believers, help us to get past Black churches, White churches, Hispanic churches, Asian churches, and etc.  Some of the division is created because of language barriers and that is understandable.  However, a good portion of it is a carry-over from the racial divide in this nation.  Wherever there is racial division in the church in the United States, we ask You Father, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, to manifest courage in our leaders to tear down the walls that divide us.  Help us to show unity, reconciliation and peace within the church and help us to take that unity into society.  Our nation has a tainted history where race is concerned.  Help us Father, by Your Grace and peace, to change our nation’s race-story as we move forward.  May Your Grace and peace flood the heart of every believer in the United States, and may that peace flow out of us into every meeting, conversation and activity that we engage in today.  Father, may today be a day of reconciliation and not division, of peace and not turmoil, or progression and not regression.  We pray this by faith.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is Today’s Word!  Apply it and Prosper.

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