I’m sure, like me, that you are watching the unfolding events in the US with sadness and concern. Hearing some of the stories people have shared has taken me back into my years growing up in South Africa, where the ugly spectre of racism cast it’s dark shadow over our lives.
Apartheid was coming to an end as I was coming to the end of my student years, but our nation was broken by racism. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission unearthed stories of brutality and hatred that sometimes seemed inconceivable in our day and age. I experienced the grim reality of racism personally a number of times, and one particular story has returned to my mind this week.
I was leading the youth in our church, one of the early multi-racial churches in South Africa. One Saturday afternoon, after kicking a ball around in a park, I took a few of our young lads back to my place to make some food, hang out and pray together. Two of those lads were black, of Zulu ethnicity. I lived in a small garden apartment – a converted garage. Later that evening, as the boys left, the homeowner spotted us and confronted me.
He was outraged that I had brought the two lads onto his property. I remember the sick dawning realization of what was going on. Though I had seen racism and its effect in many ways over the years of growing up (and was surely influenced myself by the culture I was steeped in) I had never been directly in the firing line before. I realized that he couldn’t see my friends as human. He saw them as something less than that. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I wouldn’t guarantee never to do it again I could pack my bags there and then and get off his property.
As I left I realized that, though I was feeling the sting of his hatred, I was only an indirect object. My skin was white. It wouldn’t too difficult to find somewhere to stay. I was privileged.
During those years I was part of a church family which has shaped what I believe God has designed His church to be. There was something very radical about these people: as apartheid was being dismantled there was much fear of other races, and a tendency to hunker down. This church, however – Afrikaans, Zulu and English – were intentional about working out what it meant to be a Kingdom people in which every ethnicity was loved and embraced in community. It was breathtaking – and yet, oh so challenging to work out!
As a young 20-something I was seeing a vision of God’s church, in which black and white, rich and poor, literate and illiterate were joined together by being included in Jesus. Years later, as we moved to this great city of Vancouver we believed God that He would build a church of many nations and ethnicities. We believed for an expression of Gospel unity in diversity.
The early church was no stranger to racism. Peter thought of Gentiles as unclean and inferior to Jews, until God showed him a vision and led him to Cornelius’ home. The mainly Gentile churches that Paul planted and served grappled with the Judaisers, who wanted to impose their law and customs on the Gentile believers. They had to be rigorously challenged.
I often feel lacking when it comes to my understanding of the complex issues of racism in our North American Context. It’s not what I grew up with. What I do know is that God has given us an opportunity to be something that demonstrates His way of love and reconciliation. Jesus said that the church would be a city on a hill – a city that cannot be hidden. As a church we can be God’s city within our city, a city that shows a new way of being together as different ethnicities.
I pray that God will give us grace in the years to come not only to speak clearly about issues of justice, but to grow together as a multi-ethnic community which reflects the glory of Jesus’ unified bride to our city. In the midst of all we see God has put a love in our hearts – a powerful love that is by the Holy Spirit. May we be a demonstration of justice, mercy and love.
Let’s search our hearts and invite God to root out any attitude toward another human being which dishonours them.
Jesus was the only One who was genuinely superior to anyone else – He was Creator God. He was truly ‘other than’ us. YetHe emptied Himself and came to serve us, His created ones. He experienced both the rejection of His own people and the scorn of the occupying Romans who crucified Him. He allowed Himself to be murdered by those created in His own image.
But God has raised Him up. And God will raise us up as we stand in Him and for Him. Let’s take courage. Let’s speak. Let’s love one another and show the world something powerfully different!