What do the deaths of Sanford, Fla., teenager Trayvon Martin, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi and former Marine Kenneth Chamberlain have in common? The fact that they are perceived as “the other” by mainstream society, due to the fact that they were not white (Martin and Chamberlain) or straight (Clementi). It is this “otherness” which compels people to dismiss their deaths as acts of racism and homophobia. Racism and other phobias have evolved into the demonization of “the other,” a reflection and byproduct of changing demographics, and the inability of those to adapt to these changes due to either fear or the wish to return to the “good old days.”These are not isolated incidents but a symptom of a new racism that is not perpetuated just by white but also by people of color, as in the case of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer who is of Hispanic descent. This new racism stems from the need to identify with the dominant ideal of being American, which in our society still means being heterosexual and white. These perpetrators have internalized the new racism (and homophobia) by seeking to be a member of the dominant society and targeting individuals whom they don’t consider their equals. Examples of this disturbing trend abound in the press and are highly influenced by socio-economic factors such as education and class. In the case of Clementi, it was a young man of Indian descent who felt it was right to harass his white roommate as he felt his alleged homosexuality was his “otherness,” an excuse to victimizing him. In the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it was the same “otherness” which compelled Zimmerman, a man of mixed heritage, to single out and target a young black boy perceived as “the other” assumes he was “up to no good.” Often people choose to believe hate crimes happen are isolated incidents and that they don’t reflect the feelings of the larger society. They prefer to define the criminal(s) as just “bad people” who are not necessarily racist or homophobic. But the reality is different and it reflects a still pervasive racism, or fear of “the other,” by mainstream, white and heterosexual society. These expressions of racism are not limited to actual killings. Every time a person thinks of the other as being less educated, or immigrants, or a from a different ethnicity, styles of dress or any reasons to justify the denomination of someone, this new racism is at work. Something we all should reflect as we see these hate crimes increasing in front of our eyes.
Racist polarization, promoted in theatrical fashion by the corporate media, distracts people from the real cause of class and racial division — an economic and social system designed for exploitation and predation by a hereditary elite. If we are feeding on each other, if we perpetually with the passing of each generation fall victim to class and racial warfare, we will never recognize the real criminal class victimizing us all.
What’s going on here? What are the figures in the picture of gummy bears thinking? [This guy’s different; why is he a different color? Why is she not the same as us; others seem to feel the same way; should we eat it?] What is the figure in the middle thinking? [Why are they surrounding me? I feel pretty uneasy here; why are they all pink? Where are my friends? Are they going to eat me? I wish I was at home in bed] Have you ever felt this way? Out of place. In the wrong place at the wrong time. In the minority? Surrounded by difference and the unfamiliar? Perhaps the object of derision? Perhaps a victim Today we’re going to be looking at three different things…three “ism’s”. Racism. Sexism. Classism. The reason for this is that, even though compared to our various class of people we may feel, as Americans, that we are pretty much ok regarding these three words…the reason is that these “ism’s” exist in our country, in our province, in our city, in our neighborhoods and, shockingly perhaps, even here…in us. Now we probably think of ourselves as a pretty tolerant people.
America prides itself on its diversity. Since the days of Immigrants migrating to America we have valued the fact that we’re a multicultural society. We’re multi-ethnic, multi-language, multi-faith, multi-everything people. There was an ad recently in the newspaper of a middle-eastern country that had encouraged radical fundamentalists to kill a Canadian. An Australian dentist, in response wrote the following to help define what a Canadian is, so they would know one when they found one. A Canadian can be English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Jamaican, Romanian or Greek. A Canadian can be Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, from the Islands, Korean, Guinean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, Arab, Pakistani or Afghan. A Canadian may also be a Cree, Metis, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Sioux, or one of the many other tribes known as native Canadians. A Canadian’s religious beliefs range from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or none. So, apparently, Canada is a pretty diverse country. Yet in all of its diversity I want to suggest that we are not immune from these three “ism’s”, among others. Let me ask you: What is racism? [The belief that differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.] What is sexism? [Discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp., such discrimination directed against women]. What is classism? [a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes.] So these are biases. Prejudices. Boxes that we put people in. Decisions that we make about people before we know them…based on what they wear, what kind of money they have, or based on the color of their skin and based on being male or female. So…so what? Isn’t that just part of life? Isn’t it best just to accept this stuff and get on with the difficult business of living? And if these kind of attitudes show up in the church…well…what do you expect?…the church is made up of people just like everybody else…nobody’s perfect, right? Hmm. I wonder. Well…the church belongs to God, right? What does God have to say about all this? First, let’s look at a passage from James that pretty much hits the nail on the head regarding social equality. James 1:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the one who is poor, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. James, the brother of Jesus, is addressing a problem that was both a common practice in general and something that was going on in the early church in Jerusalem. And it’s something that happens today. The first thing James does is identify the problem: Favoritism. And then he explains what he means. An interesting little tidbit of information…this verse, or the issue that this verse addresses, is part of the reason CATM exists. You see, back before Church at the Mission emerged out of a merger between Alamo Community Church and Battle Street Mission’s Church on the Street at Lincoln Ave, and before Church on the Street existed, we had a problem. A great many youth and older folks who were coming to the mission on Battle Street became Christians. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was, we didn’t see ourselves as a church. So when people became Christians we would send them off to churches around the city. They would go, and they would feel extremely out of place. Extremely uncomfortable, kind of like our friends here. Maybe it was due to their clothing. Maybe it was due to the formality they found. Maybe it was their aroma. Whatever the reason, they would go to these churches and then they would come back to us, by the dozens, and say to us: “We are comfortable at the mission. We don’t fit anywhere else”. So we would go with them and try to coach them through connecting with a local congregation. They would come back to us by the dozen and tell us: “The mission is where we learned about Jesus. This is where we accepted Christ. This is where we are being discipled. This is where we are accepted for being who we are. This is where we were baptized. So…you…be…our…church”. We heard that about a hundred times and then we started to wonder: “Do you think God is saying something to us?” So, because our friends who were coming to Jesus were not welcomed and not made to feel accepted or comfortable at other churches, we started Church on the Street, which eventually merged with Alamo Community Church and became “us” today. That’s a little history for you. It’s important to know where we came from. So…back to James. The first thing James does is identify the problem: Favoritism. And then he explains what he means. James 1:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the one who is poor, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Notice here the way James sets this up. He’s observing a distinction between the way believers and non-believers act. The distinction, and why it matters, is based in Jesus. Those without a connection to Jesus, those who do not know Jesus as Lord, may act in an opposite manner as it suites them. But for us…for those who recognize the beauty and glory and majesty and Lordship of Jesus, there is a different standard. That standard is rooted in God’s attitude, most notably expressed in Romans 2:11 “For God does not show favouritism”. That seems pretty clear. James talks here about the way a person presents. Do we have nice jewellery? Fine clothes? Things that I want, that I have? “Hmm, you’re one of us…Oooo…please, please sit here and enjoy the best seat in the house. Let me tuck in your bib”. Why might that approach be less than desirable to God for His people? [Superficial preference; it’s about our comfort with familiarity over being welcoming to others] Or, “Do your clothes need a wash? Are they worn? Do you mind standing, it seems we’re short of chairs. Or better yet, sit on the floor by my feet and I’ll toss you some bread”. What’s going on there? [Superficial preference; viewing people’s worth through their clothing, status] Unspoken Scripture on PPT: “1 Sam 16:7b The LORD does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Now we might think that we’re just accustomed to feeling comfortable with people who dress like us, who have what we have. We might be inclined to say: “It’s only natural”. But James, in his rather blunt way, says: “No. That’s not it. Don’t be deceived. “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” Ouch. So what I consider “natural” social difference, “normal” distinctions, perhaps I would even like to frame it as a type of positive ‘discrimination’, James is saying; God is saying: These are evil thoughts. Thoughts that are not of God. Social class distinctions are counter to the Kingdom of God. They separate us when God is about unity. They divide along superficial lines when God’s intention is to unite all people in Jesus. James goes on: 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. James hits on a profound truth that’s been true for a very long time. Wealth…where we live and how much padding is in our bank account…insulates us from suffering but also from each other. And the privileges of wealth tend to hide from people their neediness. If we’re not aware of physical hunger, we may not be able to identify spiritual hunger. If we’re not tuned into the neediness in the depths of our stomachs we may have a great deal of difficulty tuning into the neediness in the depths of our souls. Of course it’s natural to want to be safe. To have enough. To have what is necessary to live. To avoid suffering at all costs. There’s a built in problem here though. I sometimes hear people responding in shock to the experience of suffering, when it happens to them. When a loved one dies or a child develops diabetes or we find ourselves less-able that we use to be in some fashion. We can quickly question God. Where were You when my child died, God? Where were you when my brother died? When that child was abducted? When I was suffering and going through hell? And I have to ask something…why wasn’t I asking that same question when a hundred other children were suffering? When someone else’s brother or sister or mother or father was dying? Why wasn’t I upset enough to question God then…Why did it take my own suffering to make me wonder, to make me ask my questions? Wealth insulates you from my suffering, if you’re wealthy. My wealth prevents me from entering your pain…enough to really care for you, enough to be enraged at the injustice of life. Enough to be close to the suffering of others, in part so that when I suffer personally…when my child is in hospital or my brother is dying…I have a connected perspective. Suffering is not new to me, because I have dared to be close to others who are suffering. The Bible’s condemnation of classism is nothing more or less than a rejection of the notion of people separating themselves along lines that DO NOT matter. God’s intention is that the church be a place where all people come as equals under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There are other lines that DO NOT matter. There are other ways that people distinguish themselves from each other which are counter-Kingdom. Paul talks about some of these lines. Galatians 3:26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. TNIV An American couple adopted a son from Korea and named him Eric. Several years went by. Eric was now five years old. The family was having lunch in a restaurant, and Eric made conversation with a boy at the next table. The boy asked Eric, “Why don’t you look like your mom?” Eric replied, “Cause she’s a girl.” This passage of Scripture from Galatians is about what family Christians belong to, and what Christians look like. We look like our father. Galatians 3:26 says, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” Briefly, Paul’s main concern as he wrote to the Galatians was the fact that there were some within the ranks of the Galatian church who said that the ritual of circumcision had to happen before a person received Christ. They were locked into the notion of fulfilling this requirement of the Old Testament law. If you didn’t agree, you were second-class at best. This of course was a serious threat to the gospel. Paul counters this argument effectively in many ways earlier on in the letter to the Galatians, but here…here he gets at the heart of the matter. Differences between people that used to matter…racial differences– being a Jew or a Gentile (a non-Jew)…does it matter any more in Christ? No! Are there differences? Of course! Do they matter enough to separate us? Of course not! Class differences-Paul uses the biggest class difference of his day and a terrible, unavoidable reality of his day-Paul use the biggest class difference he could think of to illustrate his point– If you were a slave or a free person…does it elevate or diminish you in God’s Kingdom, in the church of Jesus Christ? Of course not! And what about gender differences? Are there differences between the sexes? Of course! Do they matter so that those differences should impact our communal life together? Of course not. But why? Why don’t obvious differences make any difference to God? V.26 “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…” We have “clothed ourselves with Christ”. And this most important thing that we have in common…we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone…this similarity dwarfs and actually eradicates any other difference. And this does not just apply to salvation. Some would say that Christ unites us across racial lines and class lines and gender lines for salvation only, but that for things like leadership in the church and elsewhere, those lines still have relevance. The only problem with that is Paul is not separating salvation and function in his statement. Slaves in the church were precise equals with free-people. A slave was as likely to be an elder in a church as someone who was not a slave. People of different classes were to be precise equals with each other. A poor person was just as likely as someone wealthy to be a deacon or elder. And men were to be precise equals with women. That’s why we have examples in the Scriptures of women who were in key leadership roles like Priscilla, Dorcas…and one of them – Junias sometimes translated Julia – was, as Paul said in Romans 16: “Outstanding among the apostles”. A female apostle!?! Hmm! That’s why in a society in which women were not counted as full members of a Jewish congregation and were discouraged from studying the law, Jesus taught women along side men. Christ is the One who breaks down barriers and blurs distinctions. There are no such lines of discrimination in Christ. The reason the Word of God speaks out against racism and classism and sexism is those things are all AGAINST LOVE. And it is love to which we are called…to live lives of love among one another and in our community and more profoundly toward God. And as profound as love for God can be and should be, God truly, truly cares about how we treat one another. And God has made it very, very clear that we are to treat one another as equals, as fellow children of God. We talk about these things because we believe in the value of understanding the Word of God and one another. We believe in regularly challenging our attitudes to make sure they line up with the Word of God. So when the world comes to the door of this mission…when every tribe and every tongue shows up here at CATM, we can welcome one and all with open arms. When leaders in the church emerge from every grouping, we can celebrate our unity in Christ in the midst of our racial and ethnic and economic diversity. When you see pastors standing before you, male or female…you have the liberty to celebrate that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Amen? Amen!!!
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