By now most people have heard that the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church, a small church in rural Kentucky, voted to ban interracially married couples from being a member of their church (you can read about it on this Washington Post article). It seems almost incomprehensible that this could happen in the year of 2011. However, I am not so surprised.
So here me out for a moment. I absolutely disagree with the decision this church has made and without hesitation, I condemn it. We only need to put our finger on a few passages in scripture to see how wrong such a decision is (i.e., Rom 1.16-17; Gal 3.26-28; Eph 2.14-16). In fact, I will go so far as to say that their decision is actually a denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They have no more accepted the gospel than someone who claims to believe in Jesus but refuses to love his or her neighbor or fellow Christian.
Yet before we point finger in haste, we need to take a glance in the mirror. While many most Christians would not be so brazen as to cast a vote banning interracial couples from their church, in my experience Christianity in North America still struggles mightily to fully embrace the social implications of the Gospel.
I know this from both first hand experience as a preacher/pastor as well as from stories I have heard from trusted friends. Right now, as I write this and as you read this, there are Christians who are subtly shooing away the homeless and other people whose outward appearance smacks of poverty and all of it’s associated problems. I have a Christian friend, he’s black and he remembers visiting a church where someone approached him and asked him if he was aware that their was an “African-American congregation” in town (my friend got the hint). Sadly, it is quite common to hear American Christians looking upon their Hispanic and (dare I say) Muslim neighbors through the lens of “I am an American and you need to go back to the country you came from.” In many churches there is still a hierarchal view at work when it comes to gender so that we won’t be hearing a woman pray or share a word of encouragement.
What does this have to do with what this church in Kentucky has done? Much! So long as the above is true of Christians then we still have yet to embrace the social claims of the gospel. Such failures on our part may not be rooted in a malicious hatred like those Christians who simultaneously belonged to the KKK. Nor may such failures be as outwardly intentional as this Kentucky church has been but our actions are still socially in denial of the gospel. That is right. The social claim of the gospel is that we are one in Christ and as Christians, we are to live that claim out to its fullest. Any failure to embrace this oneness is a social denial of the gospel.
Though we may be recognized as citizens of a particular country, we belong to God (not God first but God alone…if you’re not sure, reread 1 Peter 2.1-17 again and do so nice and slowly). As people who belong to God alone, we ought to live as his redeemed people and not as our culture or country would have us to live. Though we may live in a more affluent neighborhood than others, we don’t inconspicuously pass judgment and show contempt for those suffering in poverty. We welcomes them with loving hospitality just as Jesus did. Why? Because we belong to God and are to live as God’s redeemed people, painting a picture to the word of what God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ looks like…not just theologically but sociologically and ethically as well.
In the book The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson remind us that “Scripture gives us two terms by which to think of people: baptism and image of God” (p. 191). The image of God is the image all people are created in. Baptism into Christ is that which God wishes to give every person. Viewing all people through these two images allows us to see God in everyone as well as the image of Christ, which God seeks to transform everyone into, in every person. While that book was written for those preparing to serve as preachers and ministers in the church, it is the social demand of the Gospel that all Christians view all people, Christian or not, through these two images.
Most Christians I know are not racists, they don’t hate the poor, they don’t wish ill for their Hispanic and Muslim neighbors, and they are open-minded enough to reconsider some of the gender practices that still exist among Christianity. Some, on the other hand, still struggle with one or more of these issues. They need to be treated with grace as much as we all do. Their struggle is not a callous and apathetic struggle. Rather, they are just like all of us…that is, they still endure struggles of the flesh and so they need our love and prayers just as much as we all need love and prayers.
I sat down and wrote this not to vent about the social challenges that still face us who claim to be believer’s in Jesus and participants of the Gospel he proclaimed. I’m writing this in hopes that the news of the decision made by the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church will cause all of us Christians to pause and reflect on how we may also be socially denying the gospel, albeit often in a much more tenuous manner.
So if you’ve read this far then thank-you for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts too, if you care to leave a comment.
May the grace of God the Father, Son, and Spirit, be upon us all, giving us the courage to continually seek repentance and faithfully live the Gospel in a robust presence among the world!