50 Years: Racial Reconciliation and the Church
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PORTMORE, Jamaica — Paul writes in Galatians 2 about his confrontation with Peter after Peter and fellow Jewish Christians pulled away from their Gentile brethren.
Peter had the privilege of preaching the message of Jesus to the Gentiles, and he did so with boldness. In an instant, however, his actions threatened to destroy the very foundation he had labored so hard to build. Paul had to address the situation head-on because of the potential damage it would have done to the church if there were even a semblance of prejudice.
Two thousand years later, some would hasten to say that there is not a problem with prejudice in the Lord’s church. Being a member of the church since 1998, I have had 20 years to glimpse what prejudice looks life. I have had the unwelcome opportunity to observe it destroying congregations.
“In 2018, why is it that black and white Christians do not feel comfortable in congregations that are predominantly different from their own race?”
In 2018, why is it that black and white Christians do not feel comfortable in congregations that are predominantly different from their own race? Why are some missionaries comfortable working with different races in foreign countries but apprehensive about brethren from their home countries, yet of a different race, visiting them? Why is a young black man celebrated for being a good Christian by his church’s white elders until he becomes interested in an elder’s daughter?
No matter how much we deny it, discrimination exists in the Lord’s church. I know of a brother who left the Caribbean some time ago to study in the U.S. He was one of only four black persons who worshiped with a 200-member Church of Christ there, yet he felt invisible. He was ignored and treated with disdain. He left the church and never returned. Today he still bears the scars. How many hundreds of fellow Christians have had similar experiences?
Prejudice in our churches isn’t always about race. We allow our nationalities to separate us. Once, at a lectureship here in Jamaica, we hosted some dynamic black ministers and church members from the U.S., but they didn’t seem interested in hearing from their Jamaican brethren. When their sermons were over, they left. This damaged the spirit of the lectureship.
Then there is prejudice based on the ever-growing divisions between rich and poor.
“We cannot hope to win the world for Jesus Christ while holding on to our prejudices, be they racial, national or economic.”
One of the things that pulled me to the Church of Christ was the camaraderie, fellowship and inclusiveness I observed. It was hard to distinguish who was a member, who was a leader and who was a preacher. Everybody operated with a sense of togetherness and equality that I had never witnessed in denominational churches. Those words about the early church having “everything in common” in Acts 2 seemed real to me.
Now I sense more division in our fellowship. From a Caribbean perspective, the majority of Christians in congregations here are people of meager means, just surviving above the poverty line, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable difference in the way they are treated versus those who are well-off. This is contrary to the teachings we read in passages such as James 2. Any distinction among brethren based on social and economic status is sinful.
We cannot hope to win the world for Jesus Christ while holding on to our prejudices, be they racial, national or economic. The Church of Christ is greater when we are united. Let us dialogue on these matters and commit to finding solutions and make Jesus Christ proud to claim us as his bride.
Paul Blake is a minister for the Independence City Church of Christ in St. Catherine in Jamaica’s Saint Catherine Parish. He is a graduate of the Jamaica School of Preaching and Biblical Studies.
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