A friend of mine was at a gas station when a young man came inside, loud and agitated. The cashier instantly told the man to settle down or get out, but when confronted, the young man (who happened to be Black) said that he was upset because when he was outside a tow truck driver started calling him racial slurs. The cashier apologized while my friend went out to stick up for the guy, including taking the tow truck driver’s picture so she could report him. The tow truck driver started arguing with HER, swearing and calling her racial slurs!
My friend didn’t back down. She called the tow truck company.hen they heard what had happened, they were pretty upset. Hopefully, the racist tow truck driver has long since been fired.
When my friend told me this story, naturally my first thought was: “she is awesome!” But my second thought was:
“Wait, was this in Tacoma?”
Oh yes, it was. And not 1956, Tacoma, last month Tacoma.
Maybe some of you reading this are not surprised.
Maybe some of you reading this are a little surprised, but not too concerned because you know you are not racist.
Paul, the Corinthian Church, and Being Together
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people, together with all those people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours: Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is that start of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. If you thought it was his second letter to the church in Corinth, or his letter to the Galatian, Ephesian, Philippian, or Colossian church, that would be understandable– they all start pretty much the exact same way.
Paul, when writing to a church he loves, usually uses some kind, loving words but, also accompanied by a teeny bit of forceful rebuke and admonishment. The letters were meant to apply to a whole congregation and the not-so-gentle scolding would like have been read to a large group of people. In fact, much of how we shape our church today is based on these letters to the early church, how Paul, and the congregations, dealt together with the problems they faced..
So, what, you may ask, does that have to do with racism? Well, nothing really–it mostly shows the corporate nature of the early church. They engaged with their issues as a whole body, not individuals. The actions of just a few could affect the culture of the whole. Together, they would experience the repercussions or the blessings that resulted from the actions of the people in the body of Christ.
Wait, what? Is this like when your brother goofed off but you both got in trouble? Or when a couple of your classmates decided to be jerks so you all had to miss recess?
I have vivid memories of sitting inside a warm stuffy classroom, the feel of a smooth desktop underneath my bored hands and my little feet swinging back and forth because they couldn’t reach the ground.
Yep, super unfair.
My parents used to tell me life was unfair all the time. It would make me so angry. I was determined to grow up and prove them wrong. Except now, I tell my kids life isn’t fair, mostly when I want them to stop whining (side note: that does not work), so if you’re ready to start whining now, just stick with me for a minute. The Western Church, mainly churches in the US, have raised the value of being individuals, we’ve adopted this idea that we are we are no longer a corporate entity.
But the thing is, we are.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
We’re back to Paul again, 1st Corinthians. He talks a lot about unity in this letter, the church of Christ working together, honoring each member. This passage, and like a similar passage in Romans, are used a lot in sermons, books, podcasts, all the things, to emphasize the role each person plays in our churches, often as ways we can serve each other and our community. Totally appropriate, but let’s take it a little more at its face value.
What does it mean to be a part of one church, one body?
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
You got it, here’s our friend Paul, back to help us out. When we only focus on ourselves, on our personal walk with Jesus (while important), we can miss the bigger picture of what it means to live in community. If I think the actions of somebody else in the church don’t affect me, or that my own actions don’t affect those around me, I am headed down a dangerous path. What I do as an individual, my own personal sin, has implications for the whole body of Christ.
What I do as an individual, my own personal sin, has implications for the whole body of Christ.That really sucks.
You see, sin never lives in a vacuum. It corrupts everything it touches, and it feeds on darkness.
What does this have to do with racism? It’s not enough to simply not be racist (that statement alone could lead us to whole different blog). I mean, that’s setting the bar kind of low, don’t you think? We can’t just not be racist, we must speak out against racism in our society and in our church. Like my friend did, like Jesus did. If we don’t speak up, that one part will affect all the parts, the whole. Our witness to the world, as Christ followers will be tainted. If brothers and sisters in Christ–People of Color in the body of Christ–are living with the daily realities of both institutional and individual racism, and we aren’t actively working to embrace them and lift up their lives as having precious value in the eyes of God their Father, then our body is wounded. And will remain wounded until we can be healed as one.
Jesus wasn’t just not racist, He challenged his disciples on their treatment of the Samaritans and he went out of his way to engage with the Samaritan community to remove any barriers they had to encountering the gospel.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
We are called to reach the whole world, not just a part of it. We cannot reach out to only those who make us feel good about ourselves. When one part of us fails to see the urgency of that call, it affects all of us. When one part of us fails to see the urgency in showing compassion to our brothers and sisters who are encountering oppression and hurt, it affects all of us. Racism does not live in a vacuum. It corrupts everything it touches, and it feeds on darkness.
God calls us to live in the light, as He is in the light. His word promises light will “break forth like the dawn” when we fight His fight against oppression. The pain of being corporate, part of the whole, is the repercussions of one ripple through us all.
But the beauty of being the body of Christ is that when one member humbles him or herself, when one member answers the call of God, when one member steps out in faith, we all experience the utter joy of seeing God at work: “if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
We can speak up when we encounter racism at a gas station.
We can stop worrying about what is political and simply care for people.
We can listen with a humble heart and an open spirit.
We can live and serve and love in proximity with people who look and act different than us.
We can form one body, each of us, though many, belonging to all the others.