Revelations: Christian message transcends color
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I read an article earlier today that forced my jaw open. A church in eastern Kentucky, Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, voted privately last week to exclude interracial couples from church membership and activities.
Huh? (Jaw open, head cocked to the right, eyebrows raised.)
Forget that racism of any stripe will forever impede our ability to truly understand God's agape love for his children. Or that interracial marriage has steadily increased in the United States since 1967, when the Supreme Court legalized the then-taboo unions. Or that in 2011 - 44 years after our government had to vote on whether skin color should be a factor in legal marriage - we still have people living and leading in this country maintaining twisted, antiquated ideologies of hate.
But let's forget all that for a second, and get to the part of the Bible that claims, encourages, suggests, commands people of different races shouldn't marry.
Oh wait, the Bible makes no such claim. And for those who may be thinking, "Equally yoked," the literal meaning refers to non-marital faith-relationships, not white power.
We often see Jesus portrayed on photos, paintings, Christmas cards and stained glass windows with blue eyes, blond-hair and white skin.
But Jesus was Middle Eastern - a Jew in Jerusalem. He likely had dark eyes, dark skin and dark hair.
Kind, well-read, well-spoken, a natural leader, gentle, patient, miraculous, divine? Sure. A handsome white man with blue eyes? No.
But that's the point. Those blue-eyed depictions of the Christ illustrate where our faith began centuries ago and how it has traveled through the nations, transcended language, culture, ethnicity and tradition, reaching people across the world - eventually ending up in Kentucky.
So, when I read about Pastor Melvin Thompson, of Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church, holding a meeting with 15 church members to discuss interracial membership, I wondered if Pastor Thompson knows that God has no gender, or nationality - that he loves and represents his Anglo-American children as much as he loves and represents his African children. I wondered if Thompson would be willing to welcome Jesus (were he alive today) inside his church at all. I wondered if Thompson knows Christ followers exist outside of Kentucky and represent the nations as abundantly as they represent ethnicity and language. I wondered if Thompson knows that Jesus, the Middle Eastern Semitic fellow that he was, intended his message of love, service, forgiveness and hospitality to be shared among the people of the Earth.
And if God intended for all to know him, why then would he care if an African man and Asian woman, or white man and black woman, or Middle Eastern man and Hispanic woman came together in marriage under God?
Oh wait, I don't think he would.
The all-white congregation at Thompson's church doesn't necessarily mean everyone inside the doors shares a racist attitude. And I'm sure the church's recent vote will inspire at least a few members to reassess their Sunday worship arrangement.
But there's a lesson here for all Christians, including me.
First, the purpose of the church leader is to advance an accurate, God-filled message of love, accountability and direction for those needing spiritual guidance. They are not hired to advance cultural Christian trends, or use the church building to promote personal and political agendas.
Second, it is the responsibility of every Christ follower to question their pastor (church elder, church member) when something doesn't jive with scripture. Holy leaders and Christians alike, are human and, therefore, not immune to screwing up.
Third, we must be able to tell the difference, or at least have the desire to tell the difference, between cultural Christianity and the desires of God.
Fourth, apologies are golden and should be offered when we screw up, especially when done in Christ's name.
Fifth, bigotry and prejudice has existed since the beginning of time. We are responsible for advancing it. We are responsible for teaching it. We are responsible for its consequences. We, as followers, are called to be different - just like he was.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.