Romans 15: 1 – 2, 7 (KJV)
1We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification . . . 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
Colossians 3: 12 – 15 (NKJV)
12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
I grew up in a conservative household – conservative theologically and politically, but a household guided nonetheless by a Biblical foundation and worldview, steeped in the Calvinist tradition and reformed doctrine. Early on, I learned the Westminster Catechism and was knowledgeable, from a young age, about what constituted sin and repentance, forgiveness and grace, redemption and restoration. One aspect of the Catechism that made a great impression on me and stayed with me was the definition of sin: “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”
Growing up in the 60s, I witnessed a world of turmoil and inequity, but even more so when I moved to Memphis. The disparities and inequities I saw informed my view of the world – theologically and politically. And those inequities, at least for me, were powerfully and fully realized in and through the education system. And what I saw was evidence of man’s sinful nature.
In 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech at Cornell noted, “. . . if there are any lagging standards, they are here because of discrimination, because of economic deprivation, and social isolation,” and that was the world I began to see.
Paul Tillich said that “sin is separation,” and MLK, Jr. went so far as to take that definition and extrapolate the very notion that segregation (i.e., separation) was sin. One cannot help but recognize that Christ’s ministry on earth began with a reading from Isaiah 61: “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers.” (Luke 4: 18 CEV)
Christ’s gospel message, then and now, is a ministry of love and freedom. Dr. Kevin Cosby, the keynote speaker at the Tennessee CBF Assembly in late April, expounded on those very principles with his reading and interpretation of Romans 15 while noting the tension and inequality that exist between the strong and the weak. That inequality results in those with strength exploiting those without. I couldn’t help but think of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic classic, The Violent Bear It Away, with its Catholic themes and dark images, and whose title comes from Scripture.
Matthew 11:12 (DRA)
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.
Luke 16:16 (DRA)
16 The law and the prophets were until John; from that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every one useth violence towards it.
If we are to build community (“beloved community”), especially by fostering engagement and collaboration and by building relationships and partnerships, then we are called to “love thy neighbor.” John Donne’s “Meditation XVII” comes to mind: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee . . .”
Rick Bennett, TN CBF Field Coordinator, posed the question as to what were the barriers that separate us racially and how might we break down those barriers. My immediate thought was what separates us is sin, and growing from that sin is selfishness, fear, laziness, weariness, and a lack of will – the will to do what we are called to do: “Love thy neighbor.”
But the responses I heard failed to truly express that kind of courageous honesty. Let’s call it what it is: sin! And, let’s recognize that we lack the discipline and the will to do and say what needs to be done.
Stokely Carmichael said that “the job of the conscious is to make the unconscious conscious.” Are we not as Christians aware? Are we not conscious of what takes place, or of what doesn’t take place? Carmichael went on to note, “There is a higher law than the law of government. That’s the law of conscience.”
If there is to be racial reconciliation, if we are to break down those barriers, we must begin, as Dr. Cosby stated, with recognition, but if we can’t be truthful and recognize this as sin, we are far from ready for repentance and repair.
“They say only three things can’t be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Hate makes you blind; love sets you free, and hope breaks your heart. Love never dies . . .”
from “Monsoon Mambo,” Hap and Leonard [Sundance TV]