Racism: The Christian Way

Racism, in my mind, is one of the most grotesque distortions of the Gospel that we can find in the modern church.

Ok, so that was a pretty strong statement to start a post for a Saturday afternoon, but this one’s been brewing for some time.  Racism in the church is something that must be denounced in the strongest terms because it not only contradicts the content of the Gospel, but also undermines the impact of the gospel in the areas where racism and the Gospel coexist.

Firstly, racism is a form of self-centredness.  

Racism speaks more about the racist person and their needs and desires rather than about the person or group being marginalised by the racist.  The concept of racism relies upon a basic principle that can be observed everyday in a school playground, which for our purposes we will call the I’m Normal Your Not principle

It goes like this: Johnny calls Timmy fat and Timmy cries.  The issue here is that Johnny has constructed a norm that of course he himself fits into and which Timmy does not (no pun intended).

Normality is the issue.  What is normal and who fits that definition?  And who decides what is normal and who fits into it?

The problem lies within the view that to be normal is to be normal, which is just not the case.  In other words, as soon as any given individual slips from the realm of normal-ness they become not normal, which is code for being deficient or sub-human in some measure.  The dynamic between Johnny and Timmy is clear.  Once Timmy slips from the realm of normal because of his weight problem Johnny continues to exist in his normal state.  Due to Timmy’s slip, Johnny by default becomes superior.

Johnny is normal and therefore superior.

The point however is not the normal vs not normal dynamic per se, but the deliberate orchestration of this dynamic in order to gain the superior (normal) status.  How can this be orchestrated?  Easy.  Observe those characteristics in another person that are different from you due to their race (or whatever!) and then isolate and articulate these as not normal.  The result is that you will be normal and superior to the person that is different to you.

Well, that’s how they think anyway.

We can stoop lower still.  It is not uncommon to hear professing Christians isolate a particular race with the social circumstances that the marginalised often find themselves in.  So, smelling badly, not being able to think as one educated (whatever that means) and dressing poorly is synonymous with – those that are not normal.  Not only are they a lower class of being because of their racial identity, but they feel the brunt of some Christians’ ire because they smell, speak poorly and/or dress shabbily.

This deliberate use of race and associated social characteristics are highlighted by racists out of self-interest, which flies in the face of the most basic Christian teaching.

I was told the other day by a fellow Christian friend that he was not obligated to love gypsies.  Hmmm… well, that news to me!  Was Jesus just joking around when he said, ‘Love you neighbour as yourself’?  Was Jesus just engaging in the optional extra duties when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well?  And what do we make of his eating with the tax collectors and other rabble?  What?  That was Jesus, but that is not our responsibility?

Of course not!

That Christians would treat other Christians of a different race in such a belittling manner because they look, smell, sound different is disgusting.  Such egoism and self-centredness is far removed from the kind of interaction that Jesus teaches his followers to engage in.

Secondly, racism demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Gospel.

Of late, me and my friend Vlado have been working our way through Ephesians 2 and 3.  One of the  distinct themes that you cannot miss (well, clearly you can!) is that Jesus has broken down the race barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles.   Reconciliation (among other things) with God is made available to all through Jesus Christ.  It’s pretty clear when we read this snazzy passage:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.  I (Paul) became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things (Ephesians 3:6-9).

Racism is the turning back of the clock.  Racism strips the Gospel of its sheer beauty.  Racism grabs what Jesus has done away with and shoves it back into the spotlight and proclaims, ‘This is important!’  Racism builds a dividing wall of hostility (see 2:14), and implements the law with its commands and regulations (see 2:15).  There is not one in Christ but many: me, the racially superior creation, and you, the sub-par version.

The spiritual poverty of this view of the Gospel is far worse than any material poverty that some Gypsy will ever live through!

Thirdly, racism misunderstands church and eschatology.

The final eschatological (end times) scene is one of corporate worship.  Have a look at Revelations 7:9-10 at the picture that the writer creates for us.  He makes specific reference to those praising the Lamb as consisting of all sorts.  And they are together:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice...

The picture is one of corporate worship of God; a gathering of many for one purpose, which is not a phenomenon that we see only in the eschaton.  The church partially realises this future reality in the present, which the New Testament is constantly talking about.  The variables that we read about are predictable: young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentiles.  This is the composition of the church in the eschaton and in the present.

For goodness sake, the heart of Paul’s letters were often addressing the discontent and doctrinal error that was found between the Jews and Gentiles.  And how quickly do we forget Paul’s courageous rebuke of Peter for separating himself from Gentiles when eating.  Multiculturalism is not a social engineering fad of the 90’s, but a Gospel reality in the future and present!

It is not enough to merely placate this idea, to agree, to nod.  After Paul’s rebuke, Peter needed to rearrange his theology, his life, and his actions.  He needed a new understanding of race in light of the Gospel.  In our churches today many pastors agree that racism is bad, yet their churches do not reflect this commitment.  I’ve been told that some pastors chase away those of different races because the other church members feel uncomfortable and have threatened to leave.

My response to these pastors is simple: let them leave!

Please God spare us the day that our pastors (myself included) care more about keeping people in pews rather than being faithful to the Gospel and the implications of it.  The church is not a place that should engage with or perpetuate racism in any shape or form because it undermines the very foundation of the church – the Gospel.

Racism is a blight on God’s church because, if understood rightly as self-centred elitism, it is the antithesis of Jesus’ message and cross-work.  We would do well to remember Paul’s proclamation of Jesus’ humility before God his father in Philippians 2:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mindDo nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselvesnot looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


I didn’t kill you it was the gun…

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Don’t be fooled.  It sounds clever and witty and even smart, but find a moment and think about it.  For those who use this line as a knock-down argument for opposing stricter gun control please humour me and read on.

Cigarettes kill.  Bombs kill.  Drugs kill.  Speeding kills.

No, cigarettes don’t kill, people kill themselves.  No, bombs don’t kill people, people kill people.  Drugs don’t kill people, people kill people.  Speeding doesn’t kill people, people kill people.  Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

You see, the not so witty play on words might fool some people into thinking that guns are not the issue here, only bad people, but for the rest of us we see past the pithy line. It’s a patronising catch cry, which is at best naive and at worst, well, look around.

Clever word plays aside we all know that cigarettes kill, and not only the one smoking the Winnie Blue but those who also inhale the toxic fumes that the smoker exhales.  Cigarettes kill the smoker (a person) and also the passive smoker (a person).  So we could say that cigarettes kill people (plural).

Now, even though the cigarette is not a sentient being that wills the death of the would be inhaler one is linguistically within their right to say that cigarettes killed the man.  He died from lung cancer aged 63.  Yes, it was the lung cancer that actually killed him, but we understand that the cigarettes that he smoked for 34 years are what caused the death.

[I can’t believe I am explaining this]

Similarly, even though the gun has not morphed into a sentient being that wilfully engages in the destruction of, say, 12 lives, on the semantic grounds given above, when someone uses a gun to kill a person or people, one is fair to say that guns kill people.  If you are struggling with this then a question might help: how did they die?  Answer: People.  Wrong!  A fatal gunshot wound.

Cigarettes kill, bombs kill, drugs kill, and guns kill.  So what do we do?

Well, one very basic thing to do is to look at the thing that is causing the deaths and weigh up whether the deaths are worth the value that the thing adds.  Generally, in the developed world we reject things that have the dubious distinction of bringing good and death simultaneously.  For example, when it comes to new drugs that come on the market, just because it might relieve some kind of ailment, if it has adverse affects, I don’t know, say it kills you, then the drug will no doubt be shelved.   It will be shelved for much less than killing someone too.

Let’s be less dramatic and look at cars.  Car deaths attributed to speed or whatever are a horrible thing.  But we don’t just say, ‘Carry on,’  we put measures after measures in place in an effort to stop silly people doing stupid things with their cars because speeding kills.  Do we care more for speed thrills and getting to a place fast or people living?  We choose lives!

The gun control issue is not about (not so) witty word games, but about three things, at least: lives (as in whether people live or die), recreation, and rights.  Guns kill people.  Guns are valued and are a treasured part of a given countries recreation culture.  Guns are an indelibly inked right.  These three things are fact.

One of the mistakes of this discussion is the blinkered attitude that many enter the discussion with, that is, that gun control is just about recreation and rights.  No, the recent and not so recent events are showing us that guns are affecting more than just a Saturday morning’s shooting trip – they are ruining families, futures and lives.

Is the right question then to ask what do we value the most: lives (as in whether people live or die), recreation or my rights?  Well, as a question it must be getting close.  If it doesn’t give the answer it surely exposes one’s real attitude towards the debate, like what I found on Twitter today.  It’s a doozy:

Original post: Of what use to private citizens are automatic/semi-automatic rifles? Hunting? Self-defense? Alpha male posturing? Mass murder? NRA says what?

  • Comment 1:  The Second Amendment. I don’t need a reason but what if I said I like them? I don’t need a reason.
  • Comment 2: for fun and sport u idiot (sic)

There you have it, all three in a nutshell.  The person railing against the high profile lobby group in favour (I imagine) of tighter guns laws; the person reverting to their inalienable rights; and the third person loving the lifestyle.  Each person shows their priorities in these statements.

So what gives?  Well, clearly nothing!  This, however, is not necessarily a bad thing if the state of play is ideal, however, I humbly put forward that two killing rampages in the last two weeks, and a track record to boot of such shootings is not ideal.

Where to start?  Thinking and talking about how evil people are and how much they need Jesus won’t help.  Further, the idea that (some?) people are evil should sound the alarm bells that action is desperately needed.  I agree the people are evil and need Jesus, but this view does not stop someone from finding what they need to kill the next 12 people.

I don’t know the answer, but a good place to start would be to value life (as in whether people live or die) over recreation activities, and one’s own individual rights.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but clearly there is a vast percentage of the population that don’t value life (as in whether people live or die) over their recreation and/or individual rights.

In the meantime, we weep and mourn and pray for the families that have lost loved ones, while clinging to our hunting trips and our God given right to bear arms.

Rowan Williams: In between two rocks and a theological place

I just read Ben Myers’ little piece called The Problem With Rowan Williams on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics page.  It is a pleasant summary, which picks up on Williams’ characteristic relentless desire for creating dialogue within a theologically polarised church communion.  Williams is represented as irenic, articulate and measured – who could disagree?

Surely, in this age of theological polarisation, this man should be held up as a model of excellence to whom the wider catholic church should seek to emulate.

He did not enter into the game of power-broking.  He placated no particular interest.  He entertained no back room deals.  In fact, he sat in the middle of the tug-o-war, adding the appropriate weight on either side to balance the fight, so that neither side would pull away, winning, allowing the rest to collapse in a heap on the ecclesial floor.

This picture, however, is somewhat distorted because it presents Williams as some kind of adjudicator, one free to think, removed from the theological morass playing out before him.  But that is not the case.

We can paint a more accurate picture by placing Williams jammed tight in between two rocks: the numerically superior theological conservatives on one side, and the loose libs on the other.  But why is Williams jammed in the middle?  Simply because that is his theological place as one who holds tightly to a theological imperative of church/unity.

This theological position was the glue that held the Anglican church together.  Williams was not adjudicating a tug-o-war, but rather holding together with his kung fu grip two giant rocks.  It was this kung fu grip, or theological imperative of unity, that kept the rocks somewhat together.

Is the result that Williams has presided over one to be cheered or criticised?


Perhaps both.  Look at what we have – one church.  Great, it is one!  Surely something to be cheered for.  But the proverbial elephant is as large as life, taking up a lion’s share of the room.  This one church is divided!

Communion and otherness… of a perverse kind.


Church: Megadeth and Me


1.  The quality or state of being homogeneous.

2.  The state of having identical cumulative distribution function or values.

Someone needs to tell Mirriam-Webster to not use cognates of the word being defined in the definition.  It kinda defeats the point of a definition!

What Mirriam-Webster is trying to say is that homogeneity is a state of likeness; where the component parts are similar.  Uniformity.

So for example, the crowd at a Megadeath concert would be somewhat homogenous.  Tight black jeans, t-shirts with skulls, daggers, and snakes.  There would be mullets aplenty.  You’d see plenty of ink, steel, and leather too.  This is a rather homogenous picture, one that I happily wouldn’t fit into:)

You might also say that two different companies are homogenous.  They have similar business structures, target consumers, and work practices.  You might also look at a local church, perhaps your own, and see that it consists of a similar kind of people.  The word used as an adjective in this instance would look like this:  I am a part of a homogenous church.


I was a part of a church plant not that long ago.  Before the church was off the ground one team member asked, ‘What kind of church is it going to be?’  When some clarifying questions were fired her way about what she meant by the word ‘kind’ she explained that we needed to focus on children, families, or young professionals or someone.  She was wanting to narrow the focus of the church plant to one group of people.


This focus is not an uncommon thing in church plants or even in existing churches.  Churches often target particular groups of people.  Individual services are also found to have a particularly narrow target group.  Let’s not be fooled, this is a growth strategy.  We employ all sorts of strategies to grow our churches and in this case the strategy is to target particular sections of society based upon age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or whatever you ‘like’.

Break it down.

We are talking here about an attractional model of church.  Basketballers will feel comfortable and will feel like they belong to a local church if there are basketballers already there.  If we have artists and musicians – we will attract the same.  Families with children will attract families with children.  It’s a great strategy because it panders to my overwhelming desire to belong to something that is like me.  It thinks, dresses, is in the same stage of life, enjoys the same things, and/or has the same theology, as me.

This strategy banks on the idea that like will attract like.  The result is – like.


The homogenous church can be achieved intentionally or naively.  We can target basketballers and in five years time have a raging sports ministry program and have basketballers coming out of our ears.  We can also live, talk and do church in such a way that we naively marginalise and push others who are not like ourselves to the side, while accepting those that are like ourselves.  We achieve the same outcome of homogeneity, but by different means: intentionally and naively.

If homogeneity is something that the Bible gives the green light to, then we should take an interest in how we get there.  It matters how we implement our strategy of homogeneity.  We need to do it intentionally so that we can lovingly and with care inform those who do not fit in that there are other churches that will accept them.  Perhaps, it might be appropriate to let them know that they can still be a part of what is going on at our church even if they will not entirely fit in and find a sense of belonging.  This is hard news to take and so we should be sensitive to their needs.

Please tell me you’ve picked up the tongue-in-cheek!

I think the reality of the situation is that the Bible does not give the green light to the concept of homogeneity in church as we see it around us.  Let me show you some evidence for what I think is a terribly skewed strategy and idea of what is means to do and be church.

Firstly, the primary way that Paul refers to church is as a gathering (see previous post) of unlike members.  For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 we get a very graphic image of what the Corinthian church is.  Paul is not offering the church that it can be something if the church so decides, not at all.  It is a body that has many parts.

In another church, this time the church in Ephesus, Paul describes the church as needing to build up the body in order to be more mature.  The purpose of this building up is so that the church would be prepared to do the work of believers, and also so that it would find maturity in unity, which is described later as growing into the head, which is Christ.  This body that grows and matures is reliant upon ‘each part do[ing] its work’ (4:16).

We should understand church as a group of parts.

There is however talk of likeness and homogeneity, but not in terms of what looks like: me, a musician, an artist, a young professional, someone who is single or a basketballer.  The homogenous character that everyone is to be like is Jesus.

We see this everywhere.  Take Philippians 2:1 for example.  Unity and oneness is achieved and realised by knowing what it is to be united to Christ.  Is this not the point of the much flaunted Galatians 3:28: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’.  Based on what?  We are all in (v26) and belong to (v29) Christ.

Homogeneity is biblical, but not as we might expect.  Oneness or unity is not a result of clothing preference, musical ability or your age, but whether or not we are found in Christ.

Now there’s a church strategy worth pursuing.

It is worth considering what effect the presence of homogeneity (gender, age, ethnicity, walk of life, employment and socio-economic strata, education, theological, etc) in our churches has on the realisation of the biblical mandate of Christlike homogeneity.

Freedom and Unity: It was Robin Hood’s problem too

Are unity and freedom mutually exclusive concepts?

In my last post I cited a Russian Orthodox theologian called Aleksey Stepanovich Khomyakov who said something along the lines that for protestants freedom comes at the expense of unity, whereas for the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, unity comes at the expense of freedom.

It’s an alarming thought!

What is he getting at with regard to the protestants?  Is the freedom that we have to read the Bible and the disunity that follows a given?  Is the freedom that we have to read and interpret the Bible and the disunity that follows a Biblically outlined outcome?  What is the proper relationship between the two?

We can observe that disunity is a given, sadly.  Regardless of the protestants’ goal of excellence, truth or what have you, we can see that  humans have a propensity to see things differently.   Robin Hood saw his plundering of the common wealth as a social service, whereas the Sheriff of Nottingham saw Robin’s benevolence as a crime against the state.  As a teacher I know this all too well.  A large part of any teacher’s job is to discern what really happened in the playground where 7 kids all saw the same incident differently.

Blind, stupid, naive, deceived, ignorant… there are many reasons for concluding what we do.  One thing is for sure, if we were to take away the opportunity to be blind, stupid, naive, deceivable, and ignorant there would be no place for division – this is Khomyakov’s point.  But that has not been for us to decide.  We protestants have in our kung-fu grip the notion of freedom, understood as being able to read the Bible in our own language and engage with it for ourselves.  Unity or disunity is the subsequent result.

But that is surely wrong.

If there are two ideas that Paul is constantly banging on about it is freedom and unity.

This coupling is captured throughout Ephesians, but most strikingly and paradoxically in 4:1-6.  Let’s have a quick squizzie at what has to say.

1.  Christian freedom does not look like earthly freedom

Paul begins chapter 4 in verse 1 by describing his freedom.  Firstly, he is literally chained up.  Christian freedom is not something that can be described as physical space to run around in, opportunities to engage with, or personal rights to be exercised.  Paul is free in a first century dungeon.

2.  Christian freedom is spiritual slavery

Christian freedom means that one is chained to Jesus.   That is, Christians are the possession of God (1:14), members of God’s household (2:19), slaves to a new master (6:6).  Paul helps us to grasp this idea by describing himself as a prisoner three times.  He is a ‘prisoner of Christ Jesus’ (3:1), ‘a prisoner of the Lord’ (4:1), and ‘an ambassador in chains’ (6:20).  Paul is free because his life is bound to Christ’s.

3.  Christian freedom and unity – In Christ

Christian freedom is by virtue of being in Christ.  We see this freedom spelt out explicitly in 3:12, but the out working of this is that ‘There is one body and one Spirit’ and not many (v4a).  Freedom does not result in a diverse group of individuals, nor in groups that flock together.  Paul calls the Ephesian church to ‘Make every effort to keep the unity’ (v3a).  Sounds like a good idea to me.

The ‘in Christ’ theme saturates the book of Ephesians and this is the key to understanding what it means to be truly free and truly united.  When we are found in Christ we receive every spiritual blessings (1:3); we gain legal standing as God’s own children – we are adopted (v1:5), we are made alive (2:1), and the icing on the cake is that we are saved (2:8).  These concepts and more smack of freedom!

This freedom is found only in Christ – one man – hence our unity.

It is clear that when we say that freedom comes at the expense of unity we are speaking of not Biblical concepts but those of the world.  When we have a look at how Paul deals with them we see that they are not mutually exclusive, but necessarily mutually inclusive.  Unity or disunity is not the subsequent result of how we express our freedom.

In Christ we are free and are a unity!  Why don’t we act like it?