In yesterday’s sermon I described how the absence of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness leads to events like the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. (Colossians 3:12-13)
I’ll open by acknowledging that there is no simple solution to the distrust, rage and bitterness that is evident in Ferguson. The underlying causes, attitudes, behaviours and systems are often systemic and have accumulated over years. I’ve written more about this complexity here, but I thought this op-ed piece in Time Magazine by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar provided a good starting point.
I should also highlight that I co-preached this sermon with one of my church’s college students. We had worked on this for a month. It was only in the last 48 hours that it became apparent how applicable the passage was to the headlines coming out of Ferguson.
Why apply Colossians 3 to race relations in the United States? It’s my understanding that the church in Colossae had a fair degree of ethnic diversity. O’Brian in the Word Biblical Commentary has this description, “So the Colossae of Paul’s day seems to have been a cosmopolitan city in which differing cultural and religious elements mingled.” Although the letter seems to indicate a predominantly Gentile church, it’s still reasonable to expect there to be a Jewish presence.
Then in chapter 3:11 we find this inspiring vision, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” The act of baptism and following Christ means that the converts identity in Christ supersedes identities based upon nationality, race, ethnicity, and social status.The call to unity here and again in v14 indicates that some division existed within the church, quite possibly founded within the racial and cultural diversity of the church.
How’s this for a tinderbox? We see an ethnically and culturally diverse church with a considerable number of people who struggle with anger, rage, malice and slander. It’s no surprise that the church is also experiencing division. The potential for hateful talk and actions seems only a breath away.
I suspect that many readers will quickly draw a comparison between the Colossian church and the current state of race relations in the United States. The US is a cosmopolitan society and even has a black president, but we all know that not far below the surface in many communities lies anger, rage, malice, slander and in some cases lying against racial groups other than our own.
Thankfully, Paul doesn’t just tell the Colossian Christians to stop the negative behaviour. He also gives them a positive prescription for them to work on. Paul wants followers of Christ, to cover themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. How would these virtues change the dynamics of the combustible Colossian church? How would these virtues change the dynamics of inflamed Ferguson?
I’m not suggesting anyone can walk into downtown Ferguson and simply say, “Hey everyone, lets all just have some humility and gentleness today” and that saying this would change everything. But I do believe that when Christians integrate these values into our lives, into our families and into our churches, God will transform communities.
When I picture how these virtues can impact racial tensions, I picture people humbly listening to each other and seeking to understand different cultural values. I picture people having compassion toward those caught in a cycle of poverty rather than demanding that they simply get a job. I picture people showing kindness and gentleness as they provide practical assistance to those in need without a sniff of condescension. I picture patience from minorities who come to understand that systematic change takes time and moves much more slowly than anyone wants. And perhaps most importantly, I picture people walking into disagreements and conflicts with a predisposition to forgive because Christ has forgiven them.
This is a long-term approach. It doesn’t bring Michael Brown back or solve the current crisis in Ferguson. But I believe that God can use His people to transform communities.
I also believe that multi-racial churches are a necessity if Christianity is to have any credibility in the area of racial tension. How can we teach God’s vision for a peaceful, unified society when we can’t worship Him in the same building? God’s people have a responsibility to live out the truth that “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, [black or white, rich or poor], but Christ is all, and is in all.“
- Sean Palmer – Speaking of Michael Brown
- Christena Cleveland – The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail
- The Root – How Ferguson has Exposed a Civil Rights Generational Divide