Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 5)

In my last post, I referenced that word through the apostle Paul, which says, “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); and I asked the question, “How do we—both Blacks and Whites—as fallen human beings living in a fallen world, demonstrate this unity that God says exists among those who are baptized into Christ Jesus?” In order to answer this question, I said both Blacks and Whites need to shed some racial baggage. There’s something people of both races need to do. I asserted that “Christian Blacks must, with God’s help, forgive Whites”, and “Christian Whites need to both acknowledge this country’s racist past and admit that racism is still a problem. Even if your ancestors came to this country after slavery was abolished and had nothing to do with slavery, you still enjoy—as a legacy of our country’s racist past—privileges that go along with being White.”

Until this is done, I don’t think any real progress is possible. Let me add, however, that I am not some Pollyannaish optimist; I am a realist. I know racism and racial strife will never disappear from this country of ours until Christ returns. Our nation suffers (and will continue to suffer) the consequences of condoning the enslavement of African people and their descendants, along with perpetuating socially- and legally-sanctioned injustices against Black people well into the 20th century. Our country must reap what it has sown, and it will until the Lord Jesus sets everything right at His return.

Nevertheless, we who profess Christ Jesus as Lord should live as those who have been set free by Christ. Just because our nation will suffer racial strife doesn’t mean that Christians should participate. Unfortunately, just like in everything else, the visible church marches along with the culture. Divorce, abortion, homosexuality, domestic battery, child abuse, racism…you name it—every sin we see in the culture is alive and well in the visible church. This should not be. Believers are called to a higher standard and set free to follow a different reality: “You are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, getting back to the first paragraph, both Blacks and Whites need to get rid of some baggage. First of all, Christian Blacks must forgive Whites. I think all Christians know this, but perhaps we need a reminder: forgiveness is not an option for the Christian (Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; 11:4). We who have been the recipients of God’s abundant grace and mercy in Christ Jesus have no right to withhold forgiveness from those who have sinned against us. The unregenerate can hold grudges and harbor hatred and bitterness if they want. That’s one of the reasons they’re going to hell. But, if you’re a Christian, you must forgive. In fact, where there is genuine faith there will be a willingness to forgive. An unwillingness to forgive is a sign of an unregenerate heart.

Some reading may wonder, what if the offender never asks for forgiveness? I know that, technically, we cannot forgive one who hasn’t confessed his or her sin against us, and even God does not forgive us until we confess: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So, what should be the response when the offender never acknowledges their sin, never confesses, never apologizes? I believe, even in this situation, we must be willing to forgive. Consider that you have been forgiven much by your heavenly Father.

Blacks should not be surprised when racism rears its ugly head. I’ve been alive long enough to know that a Black person cannot move among White people and never encounter racism. This is not meant to disparage White people; this is just racial reality in the United States. Racism happens, eventually. Ultimately, however, you can’t do anything about what people say or how people act, but you can do something about how you respond. You cannot allow the attitudes or deeds of others to cause you to hate them and harbor bitterness in your soul. You need to “let it go” and move on.

I’m reminded of my great grandparents. Both of them were born and reared in the South, in rural Lauderdale County, Alabama, outside the town of Florence. They left the South in their early 20s. They reached adulthood in era before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, before the abolition of segregationist “Jim Crow” laws, before Supreme Court decisions and Constitutional amendments that helped secure the rights of Black people. They grew up in the South as it was. Yet, to the best of my recollection, they did not express any hatred, bitterness or even dislike toward Whites. Yes, there was some racial “baggage” (some other time, I can write about the lasting effects of racism on Black people), but there was no animosity toward Whites. They learned to forgive and move on with their lives.

Because my great grandparents demonstrated a willingness to forgive and let go, they didn’t pass down to me second-hand hatred or animosity toward Whites (I would eventually have my own first-hand encounters with racism to deal with). Compared to others who, it seems to me, didn’t manage to handle their experience of growing up in the South as well, I would say my great grandparents were happier and more at-peace. One thing is for certain: Unforgiveness hurts most the one who harbors it in his or her heart.

Unforgiveness also drives away those you harbor resentment against. If Christians of different races are going to come together, there must be forgiveness. The resentment you harbor will only help maintain the barrier between the races. I’ve seen how Black resentment eventually drives away well-meaning Whites who genuinely desire fellowship. My Black brothers and sisters, that’s not right. It’s so unlike what I saw between my great grandfather and his White former co-workers. In the years after he retired (when I was 9 years old), I saw my great grandfather interact with former co-workers, and saw the obvious mutual respect and affection they had for each other. Because he held no animosity against Whites, my great grandfather and his White co-workers were genuine friends. I’ll never forget that when my great grandfather was at home dying, a White man who was one of his former co-workers somehow found out he was sick and came by the house one day to see him one last time. I think that visit spoke volumes about both of these older men. Somehow, they found a way to transcend racial barriers.

If these two old men could come together, surely we could do the same within the Body of Christ. Let’s put in practice God’s word, as given through the apostle Paul (Colossians 3:12-14):
“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
(To be continued…)

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