“I hope he doesn’t have an accent like the guy in the Chinese restaurant. I don’t understand his accent at all,” a lady commented in a noticeably southern accent before I got up to talk. Needless to say, the blissful ignorance of racism is an unspoken struggle in most rural churches. However, recently, avoiding conversations about race and racism has become rather difficult. Every news channel seems to be constantly mentioning some kind conflict based on the racial or ethnic differences.
In this current situation, how can pastors, in rural areas, begin a constructive discussion of racism? More specifically, how can we, the rural church, discuss the event of Ferguson, Missouri, without choosing sides?
In rural churches, conversations can begin by first acknowledging one truth: Jesus Christ has died for all of us, regardless of what they did or who they are. As a result of His death and resurrection, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. A Christian family that Jesus took priority over his own earthly mother and brothers.
Why can’t we first see and realize that everyone is our brother or our sister, regardless of color or social economic status? By being followers of Christ, we must see one another as a brother or as a sister, who are valued more than our earthly brother or sister.
God created us all, and God blessed us all. If God evaluated humankind as good, then why can’t we see each other as good? Why are we so quick to speak hate and evil to others who have different racial or ethnic backgrounds?
If we are able to see others, who are racially or ethnically different, as our brothers and sisters who are clothed in Christ, what can we then do to show that they are our brothers and sisters?
God created us to serve. In Genesis 2:15, God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till [‘ābad] it and keep [šāmar] it.
Ellen F. Davis notes that in Genesis 2:15, the words used to describe the work of humans in the garden are not words derived from the fields of horticulture and agriculture; in fact only rarely are they used to describe the cultivating of land. Instead, they are words that are primarily related to human activity in relationship with God: to serve or work on behalf of or worship (e.g., Exod 9:1, 13). Thus, to serve the land would imply “that we are to see ourselves in a relation of subordination to the land take clear precedence over our own immediate preference.” In addition, the verb šāmar [keep, observe] has a primary reference to keeping the Torah (e.g., Exod. 13:10; 20:6). It’s used in Genesis 2:15 to mean, “to keep the land”, or protect the land, as well as later being used to mean, “to keep the commandments”. Keeping the commandments namely promotes the well being of others and to restrain violence and the misuse of others.
Expanding on Dr. Ellen Davis’ point, when we were created, we can point out that we are to serve not just the land, but also the creatures created by God, including all human beings.
By serving, the Earth comes to order. By serving, the Earth finds peace.
Therefore, oppression is evil because we are misusing our brothers and sisters whom God has created. Also, equally important, oppression is unnatural because humanity is created to serve, not to rule.
Are we able to serve one another as a brother or a sister clothed in Christ? What is holding us back from seeing each other as children of God? Are we able to see one another as God’s creation first before we judge one another by height, weight, race, or clothes?
A constructive and honest discussion of racism has to start with the belief that God created humankind and that God saw it as good. A genuine conversation can begin when we grasp the truth that Jesus Christ suffered and died for all humanity – regardless of color, or their social economic status. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we all become brothers and sisters in Christ, not someone who is labeled by clothes, height, weight, or race.
By accepting that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps we are then able to serve all, regardless of what they have done or are doing. Perhaps then, by serving, rural church can start discussing, seeing, and realizing the unnoticeable evil of racism. Perhaps then, by serving, the rural church can see the same humanness that we all share, instead of race or social economic status.
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow
Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament commenting on Ellen F. Davis insight found in Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament