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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Neither Jew nor Greek
February 4, 2016

One of the profoundly revolutionary discoveries of the early Christian church was that in the Spirit-filled community inaugurated by Jesus Christ “God makes no distinctions” between human beings on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. (Acts 15:6-9; Romans 10:12; James 2:1-4) The first four personal conversion stories in the book of Acts feature, in turn, a Samaritan magician, an Ethiopian court official, a crusading Pharisee, and an Italian military officer. From its inception, the church of Jesus has been called to be a visible demonstration that all persons are equal in gifts, dignity, and standing in God’s economy.

During the month of February, our presbytery prayer focus is “for Godly conviction of the sin of racism and healing from its scars in our church, community, and nation.” Scripture declares that in Christ there is no distinction between people of differing racial, ethnic, or socio-economic status, yet our church and culture run rife with such distinctions that resist every effort to break them down.

Racism is bad social and economic policy. The bitter fruits of racism are abundantly apparent in the gross disparities in economic prosperity, incarceration, life expectancy, and education that fall along racial fault lines in America today. Beneath that lies a deeper and even more troubling root – it is sin. Racism is a direct violation of God’s intent, yet the church not only remains silent, but actually embraces this sin shamelessly.

In a sermon delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington just days before his death in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. lamented, “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ There is no East or West’ we stand in the most segregated hour in America.” While there have been small pockets of progress toward Sunday morning racial integration over the ensuing forty-eight years, King’s observation, alas, still holds true.

Racism is first, foremost, and most tenaciously a spiritual problem. It continues to wrap our society in its icy grip because we have not dealt with its spiritual roots. In framing this as primarily a social or economic or criminal justice problem, we all too easily miss our core culpability that it is sin. Until we acknowledge and repent of racism as sin, we will be stymied in our efforts forward in social, economic, criminal, or education justice.

“The time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God.” (1 Peter 4:17) Are we willing to suffer for sake of righteousness, even if it means going against the grain of a society that does everything it can to keep intact the status quo of endemic racism? Do we have the spiritual acuity and fortitude to repent when repentance is hard?

The devastating effects of racism on our souls are beyond calculation or comprehension. We have become blinded and hardened as perpetrators, while those who have long suffered its blows continue to be pummeled in body and soul.

In his Foreword to Jim Wallis’s ground-breaking new book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, criminal justice activist Bryan Stevenson challenges us, “We expect too little of the church when we accept its silence” in the face of continued manifestations of racism in the world around us. I would add that we expect too little of the church when we accept its silence about ongoing institutional and personal racism within its own precincts. No less than the core integrity of our claim to be truly the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus is at stake.

And so I extend to us a three-fold call to prayer: 1. For a deeper spiritual discernment of the magnitude and power of the racism that besets us; 2. For grace and conviction to repent of that sin; and 3. For healing from the scars that our racism has inflicted on us all. How will we put our lips and our feet to these prayers?

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Yours in hope for a new world,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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