The Gospel is The End of Racism

Romans 1:15-17

14For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. 15So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

16For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

 

Uncomfortable Things

e.g. Abolition, Prudence Crandall, the Amistad, Nat Turner, Indian Removal, Female Complaints: First Congregational Church, Lyme, Connecticut, ca. 1816

Even the pulpit Bible was consumed

In the fire that turned the meeting-house to ash.

An architect planned the new meeting-house,

A steeple equipped with a lightning rod,

A belfry, and golden weathervane;

Iconic columns supporting the architraves

Framing the entrance; and an oval arch

In the ceiling to life the eye and heart.

 

Having survived Jefferson’s embargo

With shipbuilding and shipping fortunes intact,

The community wanted to build a meeting-house

As elegant as any in the state.

They painted its clapboards yellow, with white trim,

And installed a high, mahogany pulpit.

The new gallery held pews for the choir.

They removed the stocks and the whipping-post.

They flocked to the reverend’s Bible study class.

The ladies formed a reading society

Whose meetings began with a Bible verse,

Segues into a chat about uplifting books,

Avoided discussions of uncomfortable things,

And collected an offering for missionary work.

 

Speak About The Gospel

Many churches avoided discomfort, and thereby avoided their cross.

Many churches didn’t want to talk about slavery. Not all. But many. So slavery continued for 350 yeas

Many churches didn’t want to talk about slavery, so they didn’t talk about the power of the gospel, only about how the gospel can comfort you.

Many churches want to uplift their congregations, like this church, so they refused to talk about the stocks and the whipping-post, how their pastors and parishioner owned slaves. They sought to uplift so they never discovered the power of the gospel that can undo the most intractable sin.

Many churches. Not all. But far too many, sought to talk about safe things, so they never got to talk about the gospel, the power of God that gives courage to face unsafe things.

Today I want to talk about racism because I want the Church to talk about the gospel!

Because we not ashamed of the gospel so we must talk about racism.

We must talk about racism not simply because racism is at the forefront of our attention, which it is.

We must talk about racism not simply because it is a horrible sin that wounds the soul of those who are oppressed and those who oppress which it is. 

We must talk about racism because the gospel talks about racism. And if we don’t know that the gospel has something to say about racism then we don’t know the gospel and its power.

This is exactly what Paul is saying in our passage.

If you grew up in the church, then you know this passage. You memorize Romans 1:16. You learn it as the call to evangelize. You are taught not to be ashamed of the message.

You are taught to imitate Paul, that he was not ashamed of the message so you should not be either. That yes the message about Jesus being the Son of God, dying and for our sins and rising, is going to sound funny to many people. That it sounded funny to the 1st century audience so it will sound funny to the scientific audience. Nevertheless, you are to preach the message.

But this is not what the text is saying. We are not listening to Paul in his full context. We are choosing to not hear Paul in his full context. The scandal of the gospel was not the message itself. The scandal of the gospel was the social implications of the message.

The power of the gospel is the scandal it causes to our neatly divided societies.

What exactly is the scandal? If you believe in Jesus then Jews and Gentiles who have hated each other for 300 years are now one family.

Paul was addressing the racism of his day, the issue that was dividing the society and thus dividing the church.

To Jews and Gentiles who had never bothered to get to know the names of the other but named called each other, fanatics, pigs, circumcised, uncircumcised, Shylock, oppressors, Paul says you are one family because the gospel is the power of God make enemies friends.

The hatred between Jews and Gentiles will be so intense that Jews will rebel against the oppression of Gentile Roman rule in 66 AD, and Nero will dispatch general Vespasian who will raze the walls of Jerusalem and destroy the Jewish Temple brick by brick, and will scattered the Jews into four winds to never recover again until 1948 when they as reorganized as the modern Jewish nation.

So when Paul says, the gospel is the power of God to save Jews and Gentiles, it is lot more controversial than anything we are going to say today.

And he is claiming this controversial social implication of the gospel in Rome, where the relationship between the two is most frayed.

Rome that will destroy Jerusalem because of the distrust and hatred that has been building up for decades. In 139 BC Romans kicked out Jews. In AD 19 they were kicked out . Then few years before this letter, in AD 49, Emperor Claudius kicked out the Jews.  They were kicked out for the same reason they were kicked out of Germany in W.W. II. They were just so different that it was easy to scapegoat them, make them the cause of Roman problem, direct the anger to them and not the leaders. Nothing unites people like creating a common enemy who is the cause of everything that is wrong in the country.

Jews hated the oppressive Gentiles. Gentiles hated the filthy Jews.

AD 49 was a bit different because some Jews were Christians and some Gentiles were Christians. Now Jewish Christians were kicked out with Jews. Claudius didn’t distinguish Jewish Christians from Jewish Jews. All Jews, whether they believed in Christ or not were kicked out. Gentile Christians kept their homes. They were Christians in faith, but ethnically they were Gentiles. They did not practice Sabbath, they did not circumcise, they did not eat kosher. So Gentiles who were Christians were okay.

Some of them might even have been part of the mob that ran the Jewish Christians out, kind of like how white church elders donned KKK mask and burnt black churches and lead a mob to lynch a black Christian and the next day on  Sunday morning lead the corporate prayer of confession and declare pardon.

Yes, Paul was wading into that controversy which was worst in Rome. Now do you understand why Paul would say, “I am not ashamed.” It wasn’t that the content of the message was hard to believe. It was that Paul was boldly owning up to the full implication, thus the full power of the gospel.

That is why Paul concludes this letter of profound theological exposition with these words:

Romans 15.7-9

7Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. 8Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. 9He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote:

So Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 is akin to Paul going to a church for tobacco farmers in Virginia in the pre-civil war times and saying, “I believe the gospel is for both blacks and whites.” They would have mobbed him.

Actually they did, when he went back to Jerusalem. They did not mob him for saying Jesus is the messiah. They mobbed him because he was seen walking with Trophimus who was a Gentile. They mobbed him because he was living out the social implications of the Gospel.

So the Church is here to say with Paul:

We are not ashamed of the power of the Gospel to save all people black lives and white lives and yellow lives, for the Gospel is the power of God to end racism.

So for the sake of the Gospel, we are going to talk about racism. For 5 Sundays, we are going to learn the full extent of this Gospel and how we can live it out unashamedly like Paul so we can end racism in our generation.

Today we are going to focus on theology and racism.

First why theology matters in issue of racism

Secondly how theology was used to support racism

Thirdly how the Gospel theology undermines all racism theology

And then we will conclude on some practical actions we can take today to live by Gospel theology.

Two preliminary things.

Obviously I cannot go in-depth in many of these things. I don’t pretend to be an expert and I don’t have the time. I am a preacher. I can speak about theology. But theology intersects with history, so I will be speaking about the history of racism as best I can.

Secondly, a definition of racism.

Racism is not merely prejudices. We all have prejudices. We prejudge. We can often correct prejudices. Racism manipulates our natural prejudices. Racism hardens prejudices and furthers prejudices.

I define racism as the socially created and sanctioned, officially or unofficially, legally or illegally, devaluing people of darker color.

And each people group of racism has their own experiences of racism dependent on their particular histories. Asians have their own experience. Indians have their own. Blacks have their own. The black experience of racism has been the dominant one in American history. So we will focus on this, racism against blacks. Because I think this is the ugliest racism in American and in dealing with the ugliest of racism, we can, with wisdom and openness, end all racism.

First, Theology Matters

We humans need metaphysics to support our moral acts. We need justification for all we do, especially acts of evil. As philosopher Hannah Arendt once said, “No one gets up to do evil, they do evil because they convinced themselves it’s for good.”

Theology matters. There is theology behind every political action and policy.

The Declaration of Independence grounds its right to separate from Britain on theology.

Declaration

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Britain had the theology of divine appointment to support their monarchy, an old theology.  It goes back to Pharaoh and other Eastern kings. In one sense American Revolution was a battle of theologies. It was not just about theologies. There were many factors, but theology gave justification.

Because theology matters, the church, that’s us, have an important role to play to make sure we have a Gospel-theology. Silence is tacit agreement to theologies that is not gospel at all.

Secondly, Racist Theology

Racism has always had the support of theology. Racism needed theology. And the Church provided it.

Some history that shows the important role of theology and how racist theology developed.

When Europeans landed in the New World 1400s, they saw the Indians as easy preys. They took the land. What was the justification? Theology of mission based on Israel’s grab of Canaan. Jews had the truth of monotheism. They had to spread this truth. They look land from pagans and those who chose their life around monotheism could become one of them. If not, they had to be eliminated. Indians could become Christians or they had to be eliminated for their pagan ways. Colonialism had theological support.

But the New World needed cheap labor. They looked at the Indians as easy prey. Let’s enslave them. But if they become Christians they could not be enslaved. But people did not want to make Christians out of Indians. They wanted the freedom to do whatever they wanted with the Indians, grab their land, make them slaves.

But the only way they could reject the responsibility to baptize them was by a racist theological anthropology. Make the church say that they are not fully human but sub-human incapable of becoming Christian.

So there was a debate held in 1550 at Valladolid, Spain, two theologians, heavy weights. On the balance, Christian European treatment of the Indians. One corner, Juan Gines de Sepulveda, brilliant man, argued Indians were subhuman. The other corner, Bartolome de las Casas. Born rich. Had an estate. Owned slaves. But his heart opened to the suffering of the Indians. Went back to scripture. Left business, became a priest. He tried to baptize as many Indians as possible because Christians cannot enslave other Christians. He would rather be in America, protect the Indians, but this battle was important. He came back to Spain to argue that Indians were full human beings.

The old movie starring Robert Dinero called Mission portrays how this debate continued on in other times and places. In that movie, Jesuit priest Father Gabriel tries to protect the Guarani Indian tribe from being enslaved. He teaches Western Orchestra instruments, and have them play before the Cardinal and the Portuguese governor classical music, to show that Indians are full humans who have come to accept Christ.

After much debate, In 1551, the Catholic church concluded that Indians were full humans. So it was the responsibility of all Christians to baptize the Indians. But now who will fill up the labor pool?

La Casas argued that black Africans can be enslaved since they were sub-human.

He later recanted of this. Like with the Indians, he need to see the Africans with his own eyes and feel their humanity.

Having lost the Indians, Americans needed a guaranteed slave labor. The color contrast made it easier to make blacks sub-human. They knew they needed an ideology to keep the blacks enslaved for generations. Thus was born American racism. Today’s racism is a child of that racism that supported slavery.

At first, the Africans who were brought to America were treated as indenture slaves. Indentures slaves meant people who have to work themselves out of debt. Indentured slaves were common in many societies. It didn’t dehumanize the slave. The slave had rights. The slave could not be killed.

But America needed more control over the slave labor. So they created this theology of racism. This theology took natural prejudices to create an anthropology that denied full humanity of black bodies.

There was slavery before racism. In American, racism was turned into a deep ideology to support slavery that was more brutal for it saw the black body as chattel.

Black bodies were shoved into ships. Sick ones were thrown overboard like sacks. Black females were raped. When brought into ports in America, they were brought out with chains. They were prodded and looked upon like you might buy meat. You could beat the black body. You could kill the black body and the law didn’t consider that murder or abuse because the black body was not a person.

An indentured slave can go free one day. A black slave is not just slave for lifetime, but for perpetuity. The black body and the babies produced by the black body are properties of the master.

One of the most deceptive lies about racism is that racism has always been an issue. Racism was created in this American soil. We go back to St. Augustine and we see that he was North African. We see in book of Acts one of the first elder of Antioch church, one of the elder who will ordain Paul to be a missionary was black.

The racism of today should surprise us because though it’s a creation in history and not a human condition, it has lasted this long.

So what was the theology that supported this racism?

Enlightenment has its own theology. The irrational was less human. The blacks didn’t have full reasoning capability. This is why it was illegal to teach blacks. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy and system. Blacks are not rational beings. They are not fully human. They cannot learn so don’t teach. It is illegal to teach.

Theology was used to support this anthropology. They looked to Noah’s three sons. They looked at Shem who is judged by Noah to serve his older brothers. The blacks are descendants of Shem. It is an incredible stretch. But it is enough to buttress racism which buttresses slavery.

I also fault the theology of justification by faith. It reduced the gospel into doctrine assent. If you say you are saved by faith, then what you do on earth doesn’t matter. This allowed Christians to kill a slave, then kill his conscience about killing a slave and believe he is still a Christian because he believes he is saved by faith.

Third, Gospel Theology undermines racist theology

 

If you read Romans carefully, this is what Paul is doing. He makes his belief clear. Then he goes and brings out the theologies that support the separation of Jews and Gentiles, brings them under the light of the gospel theology revealed in Christ.

In the latter part of chapter 1, he basically writes what many Jews thought about Gentiles. Gentiles are pagans who should know better, but do not, who have no control over their bodies, highly sexualized, and thus damned. It is easier to hate people who are damned. Then Paul brings in the Gospel in chapter two and undermines their judgment.

Romans 2:1-4

1You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. 2And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. 3Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? 4Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

Now it would be wonderful if we can go through the whole of Romans to see how Paul builds up his argument. But because we don’t have time, we will just go through the gospel theology that undermines racist theology.

Firstly, all humans are the same in their brokenness.

The gospel anthropology is not based on perfection. Perfection is what allows for racist theology. A model is held up. Those closer to that model is more valuable. White, the color of purity. Reason, evidence of humanity. BTW reason was the Enlightenment way to support sexism. Jews had the law which was perfect, and the Jews had the law which made them perfect.

The brilliant stroke of Paul, which is to say, Paul’s willingness to simply see Christ on the cross is that all human are equal in their brokenness.

With that, there is absolutely no race, no group, no people who are simply more valuable.

“For all have fallen short of the glory of God.”

That is the most sure ground of human rights.

Blind, maimed, mentally challenged, straight, gay, black, white. Nothing about me makes me more right. Nothing about them makes them less right.

Secondly, the gospel theology is a theology of acceptance.

No human has any claim to God. But God sent Christ to die for us while we were still enemies. It was pure grace. The gospel is that Christ accepted us as we are. This means then we cannot reject anyone. Because we live by God’s acceptance, then now the only way we can abide in that acceptance is to live accepting.

Again, brilliant. But this brilliance comes from the courage to see the full implication of the death and resurrection of Christ.

We don’t deny racism on the grounds that everyone is the same. Not everyone is the same. Every person is different. Every culture is different. Every culture emphasizes certain values and skills. To say Koreans are better in math in itself is not a racist remark. It is not that Korean brain is naturally better in math. It is the way the education system is set up.

If we recognize that this is true, then we can talk about differences. We can talk about how different cultures lead to certain things.

I know what people mean when they say race card again. It seems to stop all conversation about the details and factors. But of course there are details and factors. And we should talk about it. But we don’t’ talk about them to differentiate and distinguish. We talk about them because we have accepted them as they are.

It is this acceptance that is hard. But if we firmly root our acceptance in Christ than we can truly practice accepting everyone.

 

"Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

 

 

End Racism

-Be committed friends with people of other color. Yes, make it a commitment. Relationships don’t happen naturally. Marriage is not natural. It is commitment. Couple stick together. So it is with blacks and whites. When you disagree, it’s okay. Don’t try to convince the other person to your point. Share your thoughts. Then hear their thoughts. But make a commitment from the start, I am going to be your friend no matter what. And you will be my friend. It has to be an unconditional commitment.

Is it strange to go out and make a black friend or a white friend. No. Pray. Jobs For Life was started by Andrea’s dad, Chris Mangum.

But this goes for the black person, to be committed to your white friend even if he or she doesn’t see it. It is part of you being a Christian.

John Newton

John Newton was a nominal Christian until he almost drowned in the ocean. He prayed to God and he was miraculously saved. He set to change his ways. He read the Bible. He prayed. He went to church. But he still captained a slave ship. Three more time before he gave that up. But he did not immediately renounce his old work as a slave ship captain or speak against slavery.

Hollywood drama makes John Newtown repent immediately and then pen the famous words of Amazing Grace. But not true. He wrote Amazing Grace but he still did not say anything against slavery. It was not until 1788, 34 years It was not until 1788, 34 years after leaving it that he renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a blazing pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” The tract described the horrific conditions on slave ships and Newton apologized for making a public statement so many years after participating in the trade: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

Ruby Sales

 is one of just 50 people spotlighted in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. She lives in Atlanta, where she runs the non-profit Spirit House Project.

And this goes beyond the question of race. What is it that public theology can say to the white person in Massachusetts who’s heroin-addicted because they feel that their lives have no meaning, because of the trickle-down impact of whiteness in the world today? What do you say to someone who has been told that their whole essence is whiteness and power and domination? And when that no longer exists, then they feel as if they are dying or they get caught up in the throes of death, whether it’s heroin addiction.

I don’t hear any theologies speaking to the vast amount — that’s why Donald Trump is essential, because although we don’t agree with him, people think he’s speaking to that pain that they’re feeling. So what is the theologies? I don’t hear anyone speaking to the 45-year-old person in Appalachia, who is dying of a young age, who feels like they’ve been eradicated because whiteness is so much smaller today than it was yesterday. Where is the theology that redefines to them what it means to be fully human? I don’t hear any of that coming out of anyplace today.

-Don’t judge, be judged. Accept judgment knowing that accepting judgment is the first step of experiencing acceptance. We become defensive when we still have a need to justify ourselves. But what if we just heart it out. Let them speak.

This might be difficult especially when you hear a black person railing about racism and you feel like it is an attack against you as a white person.

First thing is this. Imagine if you were born black in America. Would you feel the same way.

Secondly, you won’t bear that judgment alone. If you are ready to accept it, Christ will carry that judgment for you. Then you will be led to the joy of repentance. For the sake of the gospel be ready to carry that judgment.

There is a story about Ruby Sales I want to close with. She was part of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 17, she marched with King from Selma to Mongomery in 1965. That year in August she picketed a white-only store in Fort Deposit in Lowndes County. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited such segregation. Still they were jailed for six days. After being released, she and few others went to purchase sodas at a nearby store. She was threatened by Tom Coleman with a shotgun who was also a special county deputy. When she fearlessly stood her ground, Tom took aim and one of Sales fellow marchers, Jonathan Daniels, a while Episopal seminarian, pushed her out of the way and took the shot meant for her. He died instantly. Daniels was a 1961 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and Valedictorian of his class.

That right there, for those people, in that place, racism ended.

 

 

 

 

 

Readings

Romans 1:15-17

14For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. 15So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

16For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

 

Romans 15.7-9

7Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. 8Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. 9He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote:

 

Declaration

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed