Racism has it roots in the church. For example, the African Methodist Episcopal Church has a unique and glorious history. It is unique in that it is the first major religious denomination in the Western world that had its origin over sociological rather than theological beliefs and differences. The immediate cause of the organization of the A.M.E.Church was the fact that members of the St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in PhiladelphiaPa., in 1787 segregated its colored members from its white communicants. The Blacks were sent to the gallery of the Church, to use the venerable Richard Allen’s own words. One Sunday as the Africans, as they were called, knelt to pray outside of their segregated area they were actually pulled from their knees and told to go to a place, which had been designated for them. This added insult to injury and upon completing their prayer, they went out and formed the Free African Society, and from this Society came two groups: The Episcopalians and the Methodists. The leader of the Methodist group was Richard Allen. Richard Allen desired to implement his conception of freedom of worship and desired to be rid of the humiliation of segregation, especially in church.
Richard Allen learned that other groups were suffering under the same conditions. After study and consultation, five churches came together in a General Convention, which met in Philadelphia, Pa., April 9-11, 1816, and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The name African Methodist came naturally, as Negroes at that time were called Africans and they followed the teaching of the MethodistChurch as founded by John Wesley. The young Church accepted the Methodist doctrine and Discipline almost in its entirety.
Another example is the Baptist church. Perkins and Rice point out that in 1873 the First Baptist Church of Illinois was white and a split occurred when the blacks of that same church were relegated to sit in the balcony during worship services and were not accepted into full membership. Consequently, the blacks left and formed their own church naming it, Second Baptist. When research about the history of the First Baptist church was conducted some complained why bring up the past?
However, in this model raising awareness of racism involves reviewing history. Unless we understand the past we can’t understand the present. The Scriptures record “where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Proverbs 29:18 Martin Luther King, Jr. coined the phrase, ‘Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week.” Do white and black Americans know why this came to be?
The Migration World Magazine article (March 2000) noted that racism is still thriving today (23 years since the 1979 report) because it is deeply embedded in the American experience. Racism exists, in some form, among all peoples, in any form it is intolerable and unacceptable.
As Christians, we need to be secure in who we are in Christ. Discipleship classes may be the forum in which to educate the body of Christ before we can effectively relate to the racial masses. Youth and adults need to know the history of church desegregation in America and why it is our calling today to reunite the races. However, it must be put in perspective for believers to understand racism is a sin and the importance of truthful repentance of sins (1 John 1:9,10).
Again, racism is a sin. We begin with three facts. First, racism exists; it is part of the American landscape. Second, racism is completely contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Third, all baptized believers have a moral obligation to work toward the elimination of racism. (Migration World Magazine article, March 2000)
What is meant by racism? Racism is a personal sin and social disorder rooted in the belief that one race is superior to another. It involves not only prejudice, but also the use of religious, social, political, economic or historical power to keep one race privileged. (Migration World Magazine article, March 2000)
Racism exists, in some form, among all peoples, in any form it is intolerable and unacceptable. Racism is personal, institutional, cultural and internal. Personal racism shows itself in an attitude or action taken by an individual to diminish the God-given dignity or rights of another because of race. An example of personal racism in action is the verbal or mental demeaning of African Americans simply because of their color. (Migration World Magazine article, March 2000).
Institutional racism allows racist attitudes or practices to shape the structures of an organization. Institutional racism reveals itself, for example, when promotions are manipulated so that African Americans are not fairly considered for certain positions.
Cultural racism is the extension of this sinful attitude to the mores,
standards, customs, language and group life of a whole society. One culture’s ways of thinking and behaving are then regarded as the only way to live. All other social patterns are dismissed as deviations or dangers.
Internalized racism is a sense of inferiority or lack of self-esteem because one belongs to a particular race. When an African American child grows up believing that to be black is inferior, he or she is a victim of internalized racism.
Events continue to remind us that racism thrives. Look at the brutal and racially motivated death by dragging an African American in Texas (1999). Consider the more recent aggravated sexual assault on a Haitian prisoner by members of the Brooklyn Police force. Search the web sites filled with racially charged hate speech on the Internet. All this is so blatantly racist that it can shock and therefore move us to ask again how to confront more effectively the sin of racism.
Any confrontation cannot ignore the more subtle forms of racist actions: realtors who manipulate sales and steer clients along racial lines; law enforcement officers who routinely profile black drivers for police checks; department store detectives who automatically follow young black males, parents who drive past an excellent school to register their children at another because a substantial number of the students in the first school are African American, groups who deliberately avoid contact with racially diverse or culturally different communities.
Almost unconsciously, the sin of racism can touch and stain every aspect of life, from friendships to work relationships, from where people recreate to what programs they watch on television. Given the long history of racism in our country, how can anyone hope to abolish at last this moral plague? (Migration World Magazine article, March 2000)
Model of Discussion/ Questions For Reflections for Cell Groups and Workshops
- What does it mean to be prejudiced? What will you do today to increase your multicultural awareness?
- How and when would you implement the above goals?
- The Catholics in the state of Illinois took the initiative to try to end racism and Perkins and Rice have a Voices of Calvary model, what do you think must be done to end racism across America?
- Why do or do you not personally believe racism is a sin?
- How is racism contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
- What can evangelicals do individually or collectively to end racism?
- Do you see hope in America that one day there will not be racism? Why or Why not?
Racial reconciliation is spiritual and the best results will be the unity and common bond between all Christians across the racial divide. We are to be imitators of God (Eph 5:1) and must “And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10: 27). A preaching ministry is good for changing the soul of an individual that their societies may be changed. Also to change societies so that the individual’s soul will have a change (MLK,Jr). The Christian ought to always be challenged by any protest against unfair treatment of the poor. (MLK,JR). What we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for what is right and be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. (MLK,Jr) This universe hinges on moral foundations.
As recorded in Matthew 14: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.” Also one like it is recorded in Matthew 16:24, then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
In order for a Christian to deny his or her self, take up his/her cross and follow Jesus, spiritual maturity is imperative in taking the big step toward racial reconciliation. Individuals must be secure in who they are as Christians before they can begin or even understand the process of reconciliation. It is not an easy fix and will not happen over night. As Perkins and Rice explained, it is a relational effort. The Christian has to be secure in their call to this effort and when it gets tough, not lean toward the easy way out and quit but press on until the very end. And as Jesus, remembering to pray in the midst of the painful persecution or suffering, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”
Therefore, the recommended strategy for the pastor would be to organize cell groups or small study groups that focus on the spiritual development of the individual. As the pastor disciples the youth and it is evident the fruit of the spirit is operating in their lives, then they are better prepared to intentionally “go forth” living the gospel by intentionally developing interracial relationships and unity in the body of Christ.
Perkins and Rice model of admitting racism exists, submitting to God and to each other, and committing The following are some possible cell group actions for the pastor and/or leader to monitor and all to prayerfully take:
1. Admit racism exists (James 5: 16):
Take a personal inventory of your own heart and discover what has to change. Ask yourself, confess those sins and repent (I John 1:9,10).
- When I hear the term (African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Native Indian, Caucasian, or Hispanic, etc), what thoughts or images regarding them and their behavior, attitudes, and lifestyles come to mind?
- What do I admire or respect about (African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Asian, Native Indian, Caucasian, Jews, or Hispanic, etc)?
- How have significant others (friends, family, co-workers, etc) in your life influenced your attitudes about (African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Native Indian, Caucasian, or Hispanic, etc)?
- What experiences have you had that had the greatest impact on your present feelings toward (African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Native Indian, Caucasian, or Hispanic, etc)?
- If you have not had much contact with (African-American, Chinese, Japanese, Native Indian, Caucasian, or Hispanic, etc), what prevents this from happening?
- When you have a prejudicial thought or hear a prejudicial remark, how do you handle it?
2. Submit to God and to each other (Ephesians 5: 19,20):
- Seek opportunities to know and learn from a person of a different race, especially Christians. Intentionally establish relationships with them.
- In workplace
- In school
- In community
- In other churches
- In missions
- Have your parish sponsor general workshops for the whole congregations awareness with participants from the cell groups, which presents racism in all its complexity and evaluate it morally.
- Extended Discipleship classes for the entire body
3. Commit to love unconditionally and make the sacrifice to God and to each other by being intentional, relentless, and forceful:
- Identify racist behavior in our community, speak with others and make plans to oppose it.
- “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Refuse to use biased language and to tell jokes tinged with racist attitudes.
- Understand the you have the power of life and death by you’re your tongue speaks (Proverbs 18:21)
- Teach adults and children to move beyond mere toleration and to accept open-heartedly people of all races.
- Extended Discipleship classes
- Avoid investing in companies which supports or practices racist policies and tell the company why you are withdrawing your money.
- Learn what you can about the businesses
- Elect public officials who work for racial justice
- It would be naive to think that racism will disappear overnight, it is too deeply embedded in the American experience. But change will come if we remain constant and never lose sight of the goal…
Parents are to teach their children and preachers are to teach everyone (youth and adult) that our duty as Christians is to love everyone, white or black. Love God and love neighbor or others. Christian Blacks in the workplace or community should intentionally befriend a white Christian in the workplace and vice versa. Luke 10:27 records, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
With this attitude and understanding, seek opportunities to know and learn from a person of a different race, especially Christians. Intentionally seek opportunities to establish relationships with them (being relational in the workplace, school, community, other churches, missions, etc. Therefore, when they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:25-17).
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (peoples), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).
- Migration World Magazine, Moving Beyond Racism, March 2000, v28, i3, p5
- Perkins, Spencer and Rice, Chris, More Than Equals, InterVarsity Press, 1993, pages 244.
- The African Methodist Episcopal Church website, The Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Nashville TN: AMEC Sunday School Union, 2001.
Sandra G. Whitley
© 2017 CYS