Racism: The Elephant in the Room (Part 2 of 3)
This is the second of three articles on the issues of racism, discrimination, and prejudice in our country. I’m open for dialogue and discussion, but I really don’t want to engage in an angry debate with anyone. I don’t have time for that. I don’t want to stir the pot and make anyone mad. I don’t want to receive emails and texts from people who want to argue with me. So, let me make this clear, I’m not going to engage anyone in any angry debates.
Part 1 discussed how Jesus saw racism as an essential spiritual issue.
Part 3 discusses how what God really wants from us.
Everything was going great for the early church. The followers of Christ grew from 120 scared believers seeking God in prayer, to 3,120 overnight. The Gospel was spreading and people from every nation were coming to faith in Jesus. They saw God do powerful miracles in their midst.
Among those miracles was the formation of the Church, the family of God.
Acts 2:42-47 says,
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awed came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
But then, one thing came and threatened the young church like nothing they experienced before. This was a problem they couldn’t just pray away, or handle with an internal memo. Even the Spirit-filled apostles couldn’t handle this issue by themselves. This was an issue that needed the wisdom and unity of the whole church family to solve.
What was this issue? Racism.
In the early chapters of Acts, we see how the early movement of the Gospel faced it’s biggest threat. Division in the body due to racism.
So here’s the inciting incident. When the church was distributing food at their food pantry to widows and others in need, a specific group of people got left out. They were ignored, unseen, or maybe even discriminated against.
The real problem was that those who didn’t receive food were discriminated against due to their racial and ethnic background. The Jewish widows got served first, and when it was time to serve the Greek widows the food ran out. And it wasn’t just a one-time mistake. It happened day after day after day.
This is how the Bible records this incident. Acts 6:1 says,
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
The “Hellenists,” or the Greek widows felt neglected and discriminated against by the church. They brought this to the attention of the leaders. And the church handled this issue well. We can learn a lot from their example.
So here’s four lessons we can learn about how to address issues of racism and discrimination.
1) Listen to the problem (don’t ignore it).
Imagine this scenario. You’ve been working your butt off for years and your project finally gets some traction. Things start to get moving. The movement is growing. And you are helping a lot of people. You couldn’t have imagined the success you’re now experiencing.
But like always, someone has to rain on your parade. You got a small group of naysayers who want to cause problems and criticize all the good that is happening. So what do you do?
It’s easy to ignore problems that are right in front of us. This is especially true when you’ve been busy working hard and good things are finally happening. The church is growing faster than anyone ever predicted. Then one of your deacons gives you a message from unnamed sources that says that there’s a small group of people who don’t like how you’ve been running the show. What do you do? It’s so easy to ignore the complaints or explain it away.
I could imagine what the hothead Apostle Peter was thinking:
They are complaining about how we run the food pantry? Really? Who do these people think they are? There was no food pantry a few weeks ago.
Now they are accusing us of racism and giving preferential treatment to Jewish people. These people should be thankful that they’re getting any food at all.
Who do these ungrateful people think they are? And they even have the nerve of playing the race-card on this issue.
Their hashtag is even trending - #greeklivesmatter. Don’t all lives matter? Who do these Greeks think they are? Are they saying that Greek widows are more important than Jewish widows? This is ridiculous.
You can see that the above scenario isn’t ridiculous at all. It’s a scenario that has been playing out right in front of us. The Greek widows in the early church were hungry. They just wanted food. They just wanted to receive the same treatment as the Jewish widows. They weren’t trying to cut to the front of the line.
This was a real issue that threatened the credibility of the Gospel movement. Thankfully, the leaders of the early church didn’t ignore their problems. They actually listened to their complaints.
This is not what’s happened with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s ridiculous to hear people say that Black Lives Matters is a militant hate group, similar to the KKK but for black people. Seriously, if you think that, you have not been listening to the conversation at all. Black Lives Matter was a statement from the Black community about the systemic violence and mistreatment of African-Americans from police officers.
They’re not saying that Black lives matter more than white lives. This isn’t the Black Panthers of the 60s under Bobby Seale who famously said, “The only good cracker is a dead cracker.” If you associate Black Lives Matter with a hate group, it’s because you refuse to dig deeper.
Perhaps, an adding a word would help you understanding the heart of this message. It’s subtle, but perhaps those who criticize the Black Lives Matter statement would understand the message if the word “too” was added to that slogan. Let’s try it, shall we:
“Black lives matter too.”
Or how about adding the word “also.” Let’s try that:
“Black lives also matter.”
There. That’s what’s my African-American friends have been trying to say. They want to say that they matter too. That when one of their innocent young men gets gunned down by the police on camera, there should be the same outrage and cry for justice. But because white America doesn’t seem to care, they feel like their black lives don’t matter to you as much as your white lives do.
“Greek widows matter too.”
The Greeks felt like second class citizens in the church. All the Jewish widows went home with full bellies, but the Greek widows went home hungry. Day after day. It wasn’t some innocent mistake that happened once. It was a systemic issue.
Now the leaders of the early church could have ignored this problem. Or they could have become defensive. They could have said:
What do you mean, “Greek lives matter”?
Don’t Jewish lives matter just as much as Greek lives? Don’t all lives matter?”
No, they didn’t ignore the problem or get defensive. They listened. They investigated the problem until they understood it. No, it wasn’t that the Greeks were saying that anyone is better than the other. They are just hungry. They just wanted to get the same food as the Jewish widows.
These leaders handled this situation very well. They started by listening, really listening. We should do the same.
2) Recognize the pervasiveness of this problem.
In Acts 6:2 says that they Apostles responded to this complaint from the Greek widows by summoning “the full number of the disciples” to figure out a way to solve this issue. It was such a big issue that they called an all-hands-on-deck meeting.
The Apostles knew that this was a big issue and it had the potential of destroying the unity of their fragile infant church. And without unity, you can throw your witness out the window too. No, it wasn’t a small thing that they could ignore. They would have to deal with it directly.
They proceeded to call together a meeting to discuss this problem to find possible solutions. And this wasn’t a back-room private discussion among the Jewish-male-dominated leadership. No, they invited EVERYONE to the table. Even the immigrant, the new convert, and especially the Greek widows. Unlike Congress, they “crossed the aisle” and worked together to solve a problem that effected them all.
From that meeting, they elected seven godly men to fix this problem. These men represented a diverse cross-section of the church. They recognized that this wasn’t a small incident, but a pervasive systemic issue. They made solving this issue of systemic racial discrimination a priority and gave their best resources to fixing this problem, which leads us to the next lesson.
3) Make solving this problem a priority.
The congregation felt that this problem needed to be solved immediately. They chose seven godly men and assigned them to fix this problem of racial discrimination.
The Apostles couldn’t attend to this problem themselves. They couldn’t stop preaching because they were the only ones that could do that. This was before the New Testament was written down. The Apostles were the only ones to have actually heard Jesus’ teachings first hand. So they had to keep preaching.
So, the Apostles’ chose the best and most godly leaders from the congregation and assigned them to the task. These seven men were no lightweights. This crew of deacons had beastly Spirit-filled, Gospel-saturated, bold and faithful dudes like Stephen and Philip. That’s a good team.
This was a priority. They couldn’t have a house divided against itself. They knew that maintaining the unity of the church was essential the establishing the witness of the church. Which leads us to lesson #4.
4) Realize that unity is a witness to the power of the Gospel.
So the early church faced a divisive issue that could have ripped the fragile infant church apart. But they listened, called everyone together, and made it a priority to fix the problem. Do you know what happened after?
God opened up the floodgates of heaven and blessed them, that’s what. Here’s how Acts 6:7 described the result:
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
What was the result of addressing the problem of racial discrimination in the church? The Gospel kept on spreading. People were getting saved like it was a Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade every single day. This Gospel movement became so influential that it even reached the inner circle of the Jewish seat of power and authority as “a great many of the priests” changed teams and put on the Jesus Jersey.
This is what Dan Darling of the Southern Baptist Convention says:
Imagine if local churches could be safe places for people from different walks of life could work through their differences, incubators of racial reconciliation. Imagine if the Church became the one place where what is envisioned in Revelation 5 and 9 actually started happening and burst through the doors and into the community?
Racial reconciliation is not an idealistic notion; it’s a gospel imperative. It is difficult, slow, risky work whose full fruits will not be seen this side of Heaven. But those who bear the name of Christ are compelled by His love to pursue it, not only as a fresh gospel witness, but also to make glad the heart of the Father.
What a powerful testimony. I want to be a part of a movement like that today. Don’t you?
So where to we start?
That’s always the hardest question, right? It’s easy to identify the problem. But sometimes the problem is so big you don’t know where to start.
Where do we start in trying to address this problem of racism, bigotry, and discrimination? Well, it’s like the answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?”
You eat an elephant “one bite at a time.” And you solve the problem of racism by loving one person at a time.
1 John 4:20 says,
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
If you cannot love your brother who is right in front of you, you don’t love God. That verse cannot be more simple and direct. It says that if you do not love your brother, it shows that you haven’t experienced God’s love.
Learn to love people. Start with the ones right in front of you. Even those that are different than you. Especially those that are different than you.
Start there. Love the brother or sister right in front of you. If you don’t love your brother, you don’t love God.
But, you may ask: “But who is my brother?” I answer address that in Part 1. Go back and read my first post about the Good Samaritan.