The Church is meant to be a safe house for the soul. A place of social cohesion. For Black Christians worshiping in multicultural churches, the events that have unfolded around the country are profoundly troubling and show that hatred and bigotry are publicly reemerging to overtake the principles of love, kindness, honesty and civility even from some in the Church. We face negative societal views that attempt to amplify, challenge or rearrange our identities. It leads us to feel that the church is not willing to see the depth and complexity that is beyond our skin. This is important because what you think or believe about someone will determine how you define (label) them, which will influence the way you treat them.
We’re tired of hearing racism doesn’t exist, and you don’t see color. You must struggle with those traffic lights. Our every experience is questioned or re-explained by people whose experience is not our own. Stop allowing TV and Social Media to inform how you see Black people; engage us in conversation. We learned our Church family proclaims the Imago Dei; that God is love; that the veil has been torn; and that we are grafted as one – genuinely believe we are different.
Jesus provides a model
The imperatives of what an individual does are based on the indicatives of who they are, and the order is not reversible. Ephesians 5:8 NRSV tells us, “For you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” As imitators of Jesus, we identify people according to how Jesus identified them, led by the Gospel and not by worldviews. Jesus’ ministry has roots in grace expressed primarily through the quality of presence: the way He chose to be present in relationships and other’s company. Jesus provides a model for crossing cultural and racial boundaries to see God’s presence in everyone in our Church. Jesus requires relationships because they shape understandings, expectations, desires and ideas about what is possible. I often hear that the Gospel is about our vertical relationship with Jesus only, and freewill individualism is a personal choice. I ask, which Jesus? The one you learned about in Sunday School or the one who went through Samaria. There is no cross without also having the horizontal relationship. “Love me and love your neighbor.”
Crossing cultural boundaries
In ministry, we can sometimes ignore people when they are different, those whom societal perceptions have caused to be labeled in specific ways. The Syrophoenician woman’s story, in Mark 7:24 -31, provides an example of building relationships, valuing people and crossing cultural boundaries for the sake of the Gospel. She was culturally a Gentile, geographically a Canaanite and was assumed to be at the margin of the Jewish faith community. She was someone with whom Jesus and the disciples would not normally associate. The disciples allowed their worldviews to cloud their calling. They labeled her as unfit, a foreigner and an alien with no right to speak to Jesus. In Matthew 15:23, “They requested Jesus send her away.” Jesus used the opportunity to teach a lesson to the disciples that everyone would be included in the plan of salvation.
Just as God’s incarnate presence in Jesus Christ is a model for us, we are called to exhibit a coherent Christian perspective and response that is relational. In the words of Twentieth-century Theologian Karl Reiner, “the neighbor is given us precisely as the principal way in which God intends us to find our greatest fulfillment … whereby we are led by the Spirit to encounter God most intimately in the communion with one another that the Spirit of Jesus’ presence in another has made possible.”
My question to you, will you send us away under the pressure of someone else’s agenda, or will you be clear and courageous to your faith conviction, even to the cross, as Jesus did?
Rev. Dr. I. David Byrd is an ordained minister who brings his ministerial calling and corporate experiences into a union of service to the body of Christ. Receive his inspirational bi-monthly e-newsletter, The Journey, by texting IMPACTDESTINY to 22828. Reply to [email protected] or visit destinationdestiny.net