The following message is based on Luke 14:1-27, and covers the topic of racism and immigration, to some degree. It was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on August 12, 2012
One week ago today, we heard of Wade Michael Page a forty-year-old white male who walked into a Milwaukee-area Sikh temple and opened fire, killing six before turning the gun on himself. One news website stated that “Page was a white supremacist and leader of a band that spewed hateful lyrics… . Wade Michael Page was a man who harbored contemptible racist beliefs. He wore a tattoo that referred to white supremacy. He played in a skinhead heavy metal band. He once reportedly possessed an application to join the Ku Klux Klan. Some have said that he was confused; that he actually mistook Sikhs for Muslims.
It is sad, to hear of these situations, in a country that prides itself on welcoming all kinds within our borders- regardless of skin color or creed. Such news stories remind us that hatred is alive and well. A 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Justice estimated there are about 191,000 hate crimes incidents per year. The death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin reopened painful wounds. It stands as the opposite to the life of love and tolerance that the gospel calls us to.
And there was Martin Luther King, Jr. who experienced repeated death threats he received. His strength to persevere under trial is inspirational. This need exists in a culture which can be hostile or apathetic to the Christian message. Many of us have not experienced racism. We might even struggle to define the term. Webster’s defines racism as: “… a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
We want to assume that we are welcoming people, that America is a welcoming place. But how do we look at foreigners? Can we appreciate different cultures? Can we share our privileges with others? Or better yet, how should we look at our lives? Are we grateful? What is the church supposed to look like? Being a follower of Jesus Christ includes renouncing of your place of privilege, as a white, as a Schwenkfelder, as a male, and the list goes on.
THE GOSPEL CHALLENGES US TO LOOK AT OURSELVES AND OTHERS FROM A PERSPECTIVE OF EQUALITY.
Luke 14 challenges us on a couple of different levels. It speaks to us of how we look at ourselves and how we look at others. The scene is where Jesus is called to eat at the house of one of the Pharisees. It is the Sabbath. They were all suspicious of Him and what He would do. The NKJV says they were “watching Him closely.” At the meal, Jesus is confronted with a man with dropsy. He had a fluid problem; where large pockets would gather at different places along his body. It was a humbling condition. Jesus heals him; not to break the Sabbath, but to show mercy. Acts of mercy were allowed on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees were predisposed against mercy.
He then spends time speaking on the subject of humility and how we ought to relate to others. Jesus then embarks into the Parable of the Great Supper. The man invited many to the supper, but there were those that gave different excuses. All excuses were legitimate to a degree. All had to be done. No one buys a field or oxen without inspecting them. Marriage is an obligation, which freed a man from military service for up to a year (Deuteronomy 24:5). But notice that these obligations did not have a time constraint on them. They had to do with priority. So the servant went to the streets and lanes of the city and brought in those that would have been considered nonpreferred to the Pharisees: the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. One commentator noted that such represent the despised Jews who were not able to observe the traditional laws of ritual purity. Then those outside the city, in the “highways and hedges,” would no doubt be the Gentiles.
The point is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone who will listen; who will forsake those things which he loves to love God and His Son Jesus Christ more. This is why Jesus states later in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” It is not that Jesus wants us to hate our kin, spouses, children or selves. He just wants us to put everything in its proper perspective. Jesus must be our first love. Even our own race, must not come before our love for God and our love for others. Self-abasement is key to being a follower of Christ. One scholar noted: “Discipleship means love the Master so much that all other loves are hatred by comparison.”
I was raised in a setting that was in some ways, void of diversity, but not void of racism. I grew up in a small town in Southwest Missouri. Out of the 9,736 people in Nevada, Missouri, there very few minorities. I did not realize how privileged I was to be born into a white, middle class family. I am educated. My name speaks of privilege. My skin color stands for privilege. I have no “cards” stacked against me. I am not wrestling with stereotypes, for the most part. The question is what do I do with that sense of privilege? Do I use it to leverage against those that are different than me? Or do I use it to bless others?
It was not until I went to college that my perspective changed. In 1991, I became good friends with James Fields, an African American man from Memphis, Tennessee. That same year, I met my wife, whose mother came to this country from Korea. When in seminary near Boston, my best friend was Juan, a Puerto Rican man from Camden, New Jersey. Since coming to Central, I have become friends with Revs. Ed Winslow and Alfred Duncan of the Schwenkfelder Missionary Church. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing these men. In our time together, I’d like to draw from that experience.
One of the things that they pointed out was that an excessive amount of segregation contributes to racism, because you never get to know someone who is different than yourself. Human beings are relational. When you are not around a group, by default, you tend to be slanted in your opinion of that group. Racism is really a matter of the heart and must be dealt with via the spirit. It is important to get outside of our setting to dispel feelings of bigotry.
Another interesting point is that a low self esteem can contribute to a racist mentality. If you do not believe that you’re worth much, you may transfer those feelings or feel resentment towards others who are better off than you or different than you.
Systemic racism is found in unsuspecting places. Alfred has a family member who is a motivational speaker for inner city youth. He knows of many a job application that got pushed aside because of an African name, or because of a persona presented. Preconceptions of who people are. None of us have had to deal with changing our name in order to find a job.
Both men said that thoughts affect attitudes; and attitudes lead to actions. The goal is education. We cannot be afraid to teach the next generation how to treat others. In MLK’s Strength to Love, there’s the story of a black basketball team whose bus accident left many injured. Three young men needed immediate attention. The ambulance came and said that they did not serve blacks. Then when an alternate driver was found, the first hospital rejected them because their policy stated that it did not serve blacks. Then by the time they reached the second hospital, all three young men had died.  With proper medical treatment in a timely fashion, all three would have lived. You and I have never been subjected to such things.
Another friend of mine told me of his Irish relatives who came to this country after the potato famine in the 1850’s. When they were scratching to survive, looking for work at the loading docks of Philadelphia, they would encounter the signs that read, “Irish Need Not Apply.”
One story is when my mother-in-law was working at a manufacturing job in Kansas City. She was a divorced woman, raising her two daughters alone. She spoke broken English. It was a challenge to live in an English-speaking country. Her coworkers once drew a cartoon character with squinty eyes and insulting captions. She recently told me that no matter how hard it got, she would not go back to Korea.
Very few of us know what it is like to have to survive in a strange place. Here in America, we are accepted, welcomed, entitled. What are we proud of? What do we have that we’ve not been given?
Other examples of racism around us are like those found in the movie, “The Help.” Where young black women in the 1950’s cleaned homes for a living. They had to use outdoor restrooms rather than those in the home. This is an example of systemic racism. Then there are examples of personal racism, when those who are of minority status are called slang terms, just because they are of a particular race. That leads us to another question…
WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO RACISM?
There is a Biblical response to racism. From the Old Testament in Genesis 1:26, we know that man is created in the image of God; every human life is worth more than we can imagine, regardless of outward appearance. God made the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “…in you all the families of the earth would be blessed.” The good news of Jesus is for all, regardless of their skin color or background.
Or Ephesians 2:14 where Paul tells this racially divided congregation that
God has broken down the wall of separation and hatred between Jew and Gentile. Or in Galatians 3:28 that those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Therefore, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this means that we are to love others regardless of their race, their socio-economic class, their home/family situation. The gospel is good news to all. And membership has its obligations!
Christianity is a faith that brings all peoples of the world together. Revelation 5:9 gives the song that will be sung in heaven: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”With that in mind what is your view of minorities? How do you look at people who come to make their home here in the USA?
Jesus calls us to be the light of the world. Racism is part of the spiritual darkness around us. It starts with a thought, then an attitude, which leads to a behavior. Margaret Mitchell, President & CEO, YWCA Greater Cleveland, offers ten practical ways to stop racism. Consider each of these:
- Learn about other people and their culture but go beyond foods and festivals.
- Explore the unfamiliar. Put yourself in situations where you are in the visible minority.
- Be a proactive parent. Talk to your children candidly about race.
- Don’t tell or laugh at stereotypical jokes.
- Think before you speak. Words can hurt whether you mean them to or not.
- Be a role model and help educate others regarding your own experiences.
- Don’t make assumptions because they are usually wrong and stereotypes are destructive.
- Consider how race and racism impact your life and those around you.
- Don’t let others get away with biased language or behavior- speak up and out.
- Take a position against hate and take a Stand Against Racism.
If you happen to be of a race that is privileged, use your privilege to bless others. Realize that you and I have nothing that we have not been given. We who are blessed need to be a blessing to others. What would it be like to be a Middle Easterner living next door to you? What would the experience be if I were from Iran or Iraq and living in your block? Schwenkfelders, of all people, should appreciate those suffering displacement for the sake of emotional or physical well being. This country was founded on such things. Would you use your blessings to bless others? Would you see yourself as a missionary to whoever comes your way?
Maybe you have heard of the statement: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote comes from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. The poem did not receive much recognition and was quite forgotten after the auction. It wasn’t until her death that it became synonymous with the Statue of Liberty.
 MLK, Strength to Love, 24.