Martin Luther King And Racial Divide

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr_.svgIn my community dominated by Hispanic Americans, I’m an ethnic minority. Perhaps that’s made me sensitive to the plight of Hispanics in America, especially with immigration reform having become such a hotbed issue.

Young Hispanic males are just as apt to be stopped by police and viewed with suspicion as African-Americans. The Oscar nominations that everyone complained about being so white, didn’t seem to have any Hispanic actors to consider!

The point is, while so much of the focus in the press here in the US has been about confrontations between police in Ferguson and New York with African Americans, the racial divide is much more complicated. Then too, it’s probably more accurate to call it splintered than divided.

Yesterday, my pastor pointed out as part of his sermon, passages in the New Testament that had radical overtones in first century Judea. When instructing the Church, the apostle Paul undercut the splinters and the divides separating people along racial, ethnic, gender, or economic lines. There is no Jew or Greek, he said, no slave or freeman, no male or female.

Obviously the Church had a wide variety of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, husbands and wives, rich and poor, so what was Paul going on about? He explains in his letter to the churches in the region of Galatia that believers in Jesus Christ experience a oneness, no matter what our outer circumstances might be:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

Christians are family. There isn’t going to be the Japanese church and the Irish church and the Russian church and the Brazilian church in heaven. We won’t congregate around the throne of God, situated according to our skin color. In fact, we won’t be ostracized by our language either.

Revelation tells us that no language or people group will be excluded:

“You [Jesus Christ] were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9b-10)

Peter reinforced this Christian identity:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:9-10).

I don’t see a racial divide there. Or a fractured family. Not in the hereafter, certainly, but not in the now either. John wrote emphatically that no one could say he loves God but hates his “brother”—another person belonging to Christ.

James called out those who were treating the rich in special ways and ignoring the poor or pushing them off to the side. His words were very much intended for instruction to Christians in the here and now.

All this to say, the Reverend Martin Luther King spoke of his hopes for America, and he led peaceful protest intending to draw attention to the changes that needed to be made. Today we commemorate him for the courageous steps he took—ones that cost him his life.

But in reality, the Church should already have been blind to the color of our skin, the differences in our ethnicity and our finances and our education. And whatever changes still need to be made should be made in the Church. Now.

How can we expect to spend eternity with people we don’t even want to sit next to in church?

Prejudice in the Church should be the greatest oxymoron imagined.

The watching world should look at the Church and see how we love one another.

How can those Jews and Arabs get along like that, they should be asking. How can those African-American and those Asian believers help each other and go to those Bible studies together? How can rich people and poor people find so much in common?

The answer ought to be this: we are simply mirroring the actions of our Savior who loved indiscriminately, who made provision to win the nations, who declared His work at the cross to be all-encompassing—in fact, for the world.

God’s plans were always for His people to represent Him on earth: Adam, Israel, Christ, the Church. As cliche as it has become, today we are His hands and feet.

Which leaves no place for racial fractures or divides.

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