Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: traditions

The Church of God is not racist

But members sometimes do and say inappropriate things

Several weeks ago the French news magazine Le Point carried an interview with a man who had come to France in his youth from Togo. The title of the article was France is not racist, a point of view staunchly upheld by the man being interviewed, although he did talk of incidents when the colour of his skin had caused difficulties.

This man had come to France to attend university, then stayed and made himself at home. He applied for citizenship and in due time received a brown envelope in the mail with a paper inside that told him, “You are now a Frenchman.” He wondered about the  impersonal nature of that notice. Many years later he became Minister of Citizenship in the government of François Mitterand and used the opportunity to establish a public ceremony for welcoming new citizens.

Being born in France, or born elsewhere to French parents, is not the only way to become French. France has always welcomed people from all parts of the world, believing that anyone can become French. But that means that you must become French, become at home with the language, the culture and the French values of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

Within this framework there is room for a great deal of diversity. One example is that education has been compulsory in France for 140 years, but the law has never made school attendance compulsory. Home schooling is legal, as long as it includes the essential subjects, which includes achieving fluency in French and one other language.

In the same way, the Church of God is not racist, even if there are sometimes misunderstandings between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Membership is never by birth, but only by choice, in choosing to answer the call of God to salvation and sanctification. Anyone can become a member, on those conditions.

We can be united in faith, yet not think and act in identical ways. That is perfectly all right, we can all learn from the ways that people of a different ethnic background see things.

However, when most members of a congregation are of the same ethnic background it is easy to assume that we do things in a certain way because that is the way that a Christian should do things. Some of those things are deeply rooted ethnic traditions. They are not wrong, but we cannot expect that people of other ethnic backgrounds will conform to those things that are passed on through our culture.

Problems arise when ethnic traditions harden into a belief that there is only one right way to think or act. This is being carnally minded, not spiritually minded. Another way to describe such an attitude is ethnocentrism. Such an attitude hinders us from seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people with different cultural values. It may hinder Christians of other backgrounds from feeling at home among us.

That is not racism. There is nothing deliberate about ethnocentrism, it is learned in childhood and one is unaware of even having such an attitude. I believe the time has come for us to name it as a problem. That does not mean we need to change our culture, such a thing is pretty much impossible. All we need to do is learn to value and love people of other cultures just the way they are.

What happened to the dream?

“I have a dream!” As Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior spoke those words in 1963, millions around the world dared to dream with him of a better day; a day when outward differences would lose their power to divide us; a day when we could all join hands to work together, to pray together.

That dream frightened some people; on April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet ended Reverend King’s life. That assassination happened in Memphis, Tennessee, the hometown of Elvis Presley. Two months later, Elvis used his prodigious talent to rekindle the dream, recording the song “If I can dream,” echoing Martin Luther King’s dream of a better land where there was peace and understanding.

What happened to that dream? Why is there still so much prejudice, so much fear? Why is it still possible to say that the most segregated place in America is a church on Sunday morning? I am a Canadian; we like to say we do not have the race problem that exists south of our border. When I lived in Montreal in the 90’s maybe 5% of the city’s population was black and it looked like every one of them was heading to a church on Sunday morning. And it looked like about 5% of the white population were also on their way to church. But they went to different churches, sometimes the same denominations, but different churches.

The dream is essentially a Christian dream. If it will come true anywhere, it has to happen first among Christian people. What is our problem?

I could blame the Church Growth Movement. One feature of their mission strategy was to use the marketing methods of the world to divide people into natural affinity groups and tailor the gospel message to appeal to each group. I thought the gospel was supposed to unite people, not divide them.

But the real problem is our fear of getting to know people different from us. Ignorance breeds mistrust. We have been taught what was right, and it is so plain that there is something evil about a person who does things differently. If we step out of our comfort zone and meet some of those other people, we risk the pain of having to re-examine our preconceived ideas.

It is worth the risk, and the pain. Most likely, we will find that our ideas are not quite the same as God’s ideas; our traditions have bent, not only the way we perceive other people, but the way we perceive what God is telling us in His Word.

We will not change the entire world. All God asks of us is to see our little corner of the world in a new light, the way He sees it. That is enough. It will make a difference.

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