November 13, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#3—How to be a Gracist
Introduction and offering:
This is the third and final talk in this short series, Gracism: the Art of Inclusion, based on the book by the same title by Dr. David A. Anderson. Dr. Anderson defines the terms:
Racism: speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on that person’s color, class or culture.
Gracism: the positive extension of favor on other humans based on color, class or culture.
From Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, by David A. Anderson
Last week, I laid the theological foundations—we looked at Jesus, who in His life consistently resisted all forms of exclusivism—all forms of us/them thinking:
- Tribalism: you aren’t one of us.
- Moralism: you aren’t as good as us.
- Ageism: you aren’t the same age as us.
- Racism: you aren’t the same race as us.
- Sexism: you aren’t the same gender as us.
Jesus resisted all of this, rejecting us/them thinking at every turn.
We also read Ephesians 2, where the apostle Paul explains that Jesus, by His death and resurrection, not only reconciled us to God, but to each other. The gospel is social as well as spiritual. In Christ, the old divisions are overcome, and there is no longer Jew or Gentile (race), slave or free (class), or male or female (gender), but we are all one in Christ.
God in His grace moved toward those who were different than Him. Christians are called to do the same. Rather than avoiding those who are different, we move toward them. Rather than treating those who are different negatively, we show them favor, just as God did with us.
So how do we do that? How do we live as gracists? How do we end racism and usher in gracism? I’m going to briefly talk about two simple steps, and then introduce two friends of mine who are going to help us think about this together.
Regular offering here.
- Be friends: move toward the other.
Here the first thing we must do: be friends. Move toward the other. Prejudice is “pre-judging”—making a judgment beforehand. I judge you before I even know you—that’s prejudice. The best cure for prejudice is simply to get to know someone. Be friends.
ILL: I told you last week that I’ve been working on this for about 20 years. Back then, I was at a meeting and heard Rodney McAuley speak about racial reconciliation—a passion of his, and I realized that I didn’t have any black friends. So I approached Rodney after the meeting and asked if I could buy him lunch. At lunch, I confessed to Rodney that I was ignorant about what life was like for him and other blacks in our community. Would he help me? He agreed to be my friend and start my education—we’ve been friends ever since. Since then, I’ve been steadily reaching out to people of color in our community, and simply asking them, “Tell me your story.” I listen and I learn. And the more I listen, the more I realize that I’ve got a lot to learn.
There’s no better way to learn and bridge the gap than just being friends.
Do you know how God got the gospel into the Gentile world, how He bridged the huge racial divide between Jews and Gentiles? By being friends. The story is found in Acts 10. Cornelius is a Gentile, a Roman centurion, who has a vision. God speaks to him and tells him to invite a man named Peter to his home. So Cornelius sends three men to Joppa to fetch Peter. Meanwhile, at noon the following day as these 3 men were approaching Joppa, Peter goes up on the roof to pray. He has a vision as well. He sees a sheet being lowered from heaven and it contained all kinds of animals that were not kosher, that he as a Jew couldn’t eat. He heard a voice command him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
“Never, Lord,” he said. (It’s generally not a good idea to tell God “never.”) “I’ve never eaten anything unclean.”
“Don’t call anything unclean that God has made clean.”
This vision was repeated three times. While Peter was wondering what it meant, Cornelius’ 3 men arrived, asking for Peter. The Spirit told Peter, “Three men are downstairs looking for you. I sent them. Go with them.” Peter went down, heard their story and invited them in for the night.
The next day, they set out for Cornelius’ house. Cornelius had gathered his friends and family and welcomed Peter exuberantly.
Acts 10:28–29 Peter said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius told his story, Peter shared the good news of Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and the rest is history. The gospel is for everyone—Jew and Gentile alike!
But did you notice how this huge racial gap was bridged? Cornelius invited Peter to his home. I’m sure he offered him coffee! And Peter welcomed Cornelius’ men—Gentiles—into his home, and no doubt offered them coffee. They heard each other’s stories. They became friends. How was the racial divide bridged? By coffee! By inviting each other in and becoming friends.
God told Cornelius to move towards Peter: “Invite Peter to your home.” And God told Peter to move towards Cornelius: “Go with these men; I sent them.” And I believe that God is telling us to move towards people on the other side of the racial gap. Move toward the other, the ones who are different than you. Move towards them: invite them into your home, share a meal or coffee, and ask, “Tell me your story.” Be a friend.
ILL: I was at the Black Lives Matter rally in July. There was a tense moment when a young man walking by heard what was going on and reacted. He started yelling loudly and arguing with black supporters. At first, I was afraid a fight was going to break out, but it was handled beautifully by the black leaders there, including Pastor Shon Davis, and NAACP president, Phillip Tyler, whom you are going to meet in a moment. Phil invited the young man to the mike to share his grievance. It completely defused a tense situation. Phil and the other leaders didn’t fight back, nor did they ignore or avoid the man. They moved toward him. They invited him in. And they heard him out. That young man ended up sitting down and listening quietly to the rest of the rally. Phil simply treated him like a friend: tell me your story. Tell me what’s on your mind.
By the way, Phillip and the other leaders at that rally did an excellent job of honoring police officers while standing for justice for people of color. They made it clear that it is not us/them—it’s just us. You don’t have to be against the police to be for black Americans, or for the police and against blacks. We must be for both. It’s just us.
But all this starts by being friends. Some of you may be underwhelmed by this—“Really? That’s your big deal? Be friends?”—but I believe the first and most important step we can take toward racial reconciliation is just being friends. Move towards the other. Get to know each other. Invite someone to coffee or to your home, and hear each other’s stories. This week, go make a new friend, black or white or Latino or Russian. Move towards the other.
First, be friends: move towards the other.
- Be engaged: stand for justice.
Do you care about justice? Do you believe in “justice for all?” God does. God cares deeply about justice—it’s all over the Bible.
God stands for justice, and Scripture calls us to stand for justice and against injustice wherever we see it. In this passage from Isaiah, God speaks to Israel and says He is not interested in their worship as long as they promote injustice.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
Wow! God tells Israel—and us—that He will ignore our worship and our prayers if we’re ignoring injustice. “Stop doing wrong! Learn to do right! Seek justice! Defend the oppressed!” This is repeated by all the prophets, and by Jesus. Followers of Jesus should always seek justice for all. God mentions the most vulnerable: the oppressed, the orphan and widow, the marginalized and weak.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
When it comes to justice, we can’t be neutral. We have to stand for justice and against injustice. And when it comes to racial justice, we still have a long ways to go. Do you believe that America has made progress racially? Of course! Do you believe that we still have a long way to go? Absolutely! Our black friends and neighbors still face considerable disadvantages.
- There are economic disadvantages. Did you know that in 2010 Black Americans made up 13% of the population but had only 2.7% of the country’s wealth? That the median net worth for a white family was $134,000, but the median net worth for a Hispanic family was $14,000, and for a Black family it was $11,000? That the median wealth for a single white woman has been measured at $41,000, while for Hispanic women it was $140, and for Black women, $120?
- There are employment disadvantages. Did you know that no matter what else is going on in America, year in and year out for the last 60 years, Black unemployment is always about twice as high as white unemployment? And this is true for Black college graduates, they’re still almost twice as likely to be unemployed as white college graduates.
- There are educational disadvantages. Did you know that black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students, even when their infractions are similar? Overall, black students represent 16% of student enrollment, but represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement. And once black children are in the criminal justice system, they are 18 times more likely than white children to be sentenced as adults. Caucasians graduate from high school at a rate of 86 percent, compared to 73 percent for Hispanics and 69 percent for African Americans.
Have we made progress? Yes. Do we have a long ways to go? Yes. Our long history of racism is embedded in our structures and institutions, in the fabric of our culture, and we have a long way to go to root it out.