Galatians 2 and race
Friends are good to have. Not acquaintances, not Facebook friends, real friends. Honestly, I don’t have a ton of them, but I treasure the ones I do have. I am blessed to be married to my best friend. I have the pleasure of working with 3 people who are good friends of mine. Every Tuesday morning, I meet with two friends of mine to talk about life and pray for each other. My childhood best friend is serving our country as a Flight Surgeon in the Air Force in Seoul, South Korea. If you were here last semester on my birthday, you got to hear from one of my closest friends, Fred.
Fred is the reason that this talk is a manuscript and not my usual two-page outline. I don’t usually work from a manuscript. When I do, it’s because I’m so passionate about the topic that I know if I don’t give myself more structure than normal, we’ll all be here for a while.
So how did Fred make this talk require a manuscript? Well, when he was here for my birthday – for those of you that don’t know Fred is Lead Pastor of Williamsburg Christian Church in Virginia so we don’t see each other very often – when Fred was here we stayed up way too late talking about everything and eventually we got around to our theme of CONNECT, and he asked me if I had any specific plans for certain chapters. I told him that when we got to Galatians 2, tonight’s chapter, I was going to talk about how Christians should handle conflict because that’s a talk that is good for everyone to hear from time to time.
How Fred responded to that is why I am so thankful to have him as my friend. He challenges me. He said, “Donnie, you could talk about how the conflict was handled, or you could talk about what the conflict was.” I responded, “You mean talk about…” “Yep, you need to do that.”
So here we are and here goes….
Now unless you are very familiar with Galatians 2, you probably have no idea where we’re going, so let’s take a look at the passage and get this thing started.
Galatians 2: 11 – 14 reads as follows 11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (That’s where I wanted to stop. Do a talk about how Paul did the right thing when he had a problem with Peter. He talked with Peter not about him. But Fred pushed me to look further and deeper.) 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the Jewish religious leaders. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Well that’s a lot and you may be just as lost as you were before we read it, so let me splain, no there is too much let me sum up – any Princess Bride fans out there? Paul is a Jewish Christian, so is Peter. They are racially and ethnically Jewish men who have decided to follow this Jesus dude. Many of the first Christians were Jewish, but as this Christianity thing got rolling, many non-Jews (that what “Gentiles” means), lots of Gentiles began following Jesus. So apparently Peter was in the habit of hanging out with Gentile Christians until some Jewish Christians who had been sent by James, who was one of the early leaders of the church and oh yeah he was Jesus’ brother, paid him a visit. When these Jewish Christians showed up, Peter stopped hanging out with the Gentiles. And Paul just calls him out for it. And with good reason because it sure looks like Peter’s actions were racially motivated.
Dude, Donnie, are you saying Peter was a racist? No, I’m not, and I don’t think Paul was. But I do think that Peter’s actions were racist. And that should give all of us pause because if Peter, the man who walked on the water with Jesus, the man who gave the first ever sermon about Jesus, the man who died by being crucified upside down because he didn’t believe he was worthy of dying the same way Jesus did, if Peter can act in a way that is racist, if that can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.
Surely, this is an isolated incident. There can’t be anymore instances of racism like this in the Bible.
Well, let’s look at Paul. In Acts 21 and 22 we see a riot break out in the temple in Jerusalem. Paul is there and some of his opponents stir up a mob intent on killing him. A group of Roman soldiers come in to quell the riot, and when things have calmed down Paul is given the chance to speak for himself.
So he tells his story about how though he used to persecute the Christian church, Jesus appeared to him and called him to follow Him. Paul then ends his defense by saying this in Acts 22:21 And Jesus said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” So what happens next? Well, let’s keep reading Acts 22:22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”
Everything was fine until he mentioned Gentiles. Then, they decided he had to die. And this didn’t just happen to Paul. This happened to Jesus. In Luke 4 there’s a story of Jesus in a Jewish synagogue (like a church) reading aloud a passage of the Old Testament – the 1st part of the Bible. He reads, says a few words, sits down and in Luke 4:22 we read this And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. Six verses later we read this Luke 4:28 – 29 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.
Tough crowd. What could have happened in those 6 verses to completely flip the crowd? Jesus told two stories – stories that are in the OT, stories that everyone there knew were true. He said that during the days of Elijah, one of the Old Testament prophets, there were a lot of widows, but God sent him to only one, and she was a Gentile. Then he reminds them that in Elisha’s day – Elisha is another Old Testament prophet – a bunch of people had leprosy, but the only one that God told Elisha to heal was a Gentile man. They were ready to kill Jesus because he had the audacity to remind them of stories that they knew in which God took care of people that weren’t like them.
Ok, yeah, but those are stories of mobs basically acting in racist ways. It’s not like any of God’s or Jesus’ followers ever did that sort of thing. Au contraire. Speaking of prophets, remember Jonah? Swallowed by a fish. He was another Old Testament prophet. God told him to go to the city of Nineveh and speak to them about God. He didn’t go. Know why? They weren’t like him. He was a Jew; they were Gentiles. He wasn’t having it.
Ok, but that was Old Testament. I mean it’s not like any of Jesus’ closest followers acted that way. Well, remember we started all of this talking about Peter. Yeah, but he was the exception, right? Nope. Check this out from Luke 9:51 – 54 51 When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
That escalated quickly! Jesus got rejected plenty of times in plenty of places, so what is it about this one that causes James (not Jesus’ brother) and John to say let’s smoke ‘em? This village wasn’t a Jewish one; it was a Samaritan village. Maybe you’ve heard that word Samaritan before in the context of the story of the good Samaritan but you’re not sure who they are. Well, the Samaritans were a race of people that lived in an area north of where most Jews lived. Originally Jews had lived there but when the Assyrians came into that area and took over, they brought some of their own people and these Gentile Assyrians intermarried with the Jewish people living there. So Jews from south Israel, if you will, viewed the Samaritans as different from them and wanted nothing to do with them. To give you an idea of how bad Jew/Samaritan relations were consider this. Jews were not allowed to withhold the wages of fellow Jews or charge Jews interest on loans; however, Jews could do both of those to Samaritans. Worse yet, if a Jew killed another Jew, he could face the death penalty, but he would not have to worry about being killed if he killed a Samaritan. John 4:9 even tells us that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
In that Good Samaritan story, when Jesus asks the Jewish religious law expert who did the right thing in the story – a story in which Jesus has made the Samaritan the hero – the man can’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” Instead he says, “the one who showed mercy.”
Aren’t you glad that we’re past that now? That’s there no racial tension anymore and that Christians are leading the way in any racial reconciliation that might need to occur.
Now before we go any further, I want to point out the craziness of me talking about racial issues. I mean, let’s be honest they don’t come much more privileged than me. I’m a white male. Put a couple more zeroes at the end of my salary and I’m as privileged as you get. I went to a private school from kindergarten through 12th grade. A private school that like many private schools started about 50 years ago. Hmm, what was going on 50 years ago? Oh that’s right, the Civil Rights movement. Woah, Donnie are you saying the people that founded these schools were racist? No, I’m not saying that, but I am saying that race figured into the founding of these schools. I mean, there were 54 people in my graduating class, and 49 of us were white.
I may have lost some of you when I used the word “privilege,” because this is a word that provokes strong reactions. When talking about buzzwords like this, it is important that all people involved in the discussion know how everyone else is defining this term, so here’s my definition that I stole from Kristen because it’s the best definition of privilege I have ever heard. Privilege: not having to think about things that others have to think about on a regular if not constant basis.
Let me give you an example. One Thursday last semester, I had parked across the street behind the building that some of us park behind for each Dinner and a Message. As I approached the street, I notice to my shock that Milledge was clear in both directions, so I just went ahead and started jogging across the street. About half way across I realized that I was going to end up being about 20 feet behind a young lady who was walking by herself. Between where I crossed the street and the CCF driveway, this young lady looked back over her shoulder to see if I was gaining on her multiple times. Somebody crosses the street and is behind me, I’m not going to give them a single look much less multiple. That’s just not something I think about.
So how can I possibly speak to the topic of race in any meaningful way if I’m so privileged. I mean there’s so much I don’t, can’t, maybe won’t ever be able to understand. This not understanding can be a daunting thing. What do we do when we don’t understand? That’s a BIG question.
If you’re part of Gaston’s mob in Beauty and the Beast, you don’t like it and are afraid. Maybe you remember The Mob Song. Just going to show part of it. Listen to the line that the mob sings. The line was “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact, it scares us.”
That is remarkably profound. “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact, it scares us.” Nobody likes being scared, so according to this how can we not be scared? If we understand. But how can we understand? Well, let’s go to another Disney movie. Rachel, you are welcome. No it’s not Frozen, but Rachel loves Disney for those of you that don’t know.
Color of the Wind video
The lyrics are "You think the only people who are people Are the people who look and think like you But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew."
And y’all over the course of the last few months, I learned things I never knew I never knew. I’ve talked with folks that don’t look like me. I’ve read books written by people that don’t look like me. And it has caused all the feels – frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, you name it.
I read Benjamin Watson’s book Under Our Skin. I would encourage everyone to because it’s fantastic. Watson is a black UGA alum. At one point he says, “White people have no idea of the fear that black people feel toward the police.” And I believe he’s right. I’ve been pulled over a few times, but with one exception I had done something wrong every single time. That exception was crazy because I was certain I had done nothing wrong. I had been sitting at a red light when the cop passed me going the opposite direction and when it turned green, I started going. Then there were blue lights behind you. Beth asked me, “What’d you do?” I had no idea. I pulled over. The cop walked up to my window and before he even got all the way to it he said, “Your car matches the description of one we’re looking for, but y’all obviously aren’t the right folks. Sorry for the inconvenience. Have a good night.” I was confused, but I was never afraid. Ben Watson’s right; I have no idea what it feels like to fear the police.
A friend of my father-in-law’s shared with me a story about being pulled over multiple times as a black teenager growing up in Indiana in the late 60’s. He lived in a predominantly black neighborhood, but his high school basketball team which had black and white players was often invited to a predominantly white neighborhood by a man who was a big supporter of the basketball team for team dinners. Every time Rick drove to that man’s house for a team event he got pulled over. Every time. One time the cop actually said to him, “Rick, I know it’s you, but I’ve got orders to pull over every car in this area driven by a black person.” I literally cannot imagine that happening to me. I read Rick’s autobiography over the break, and that story is just one example of things that Rick has to think about that I don’t.
Interestingly, of the books I read, the one I had the hardest time with was the one written by two white men. The book is called Divided by Faith, and in it the two white authors interview people who identify themselves as evangelicals about their thoughts on race. If I had been reacting on Facebook to some of the quotes they got from people they interviewed, I would have had to decide whether to react angry or sad.
I mean, how do you respond when a Christian responds to a question about economic inequality by saying, “I know myself that when people find God, one of the first things they do is clean up and get a job.”?
The two authors surveyed better than 2000 people and only a very few, a barely statistically significant amount, were in any way troubled, moved, or animated about inequality.
What do you do when the area director of a group of campus ministries in the south says, “White evangelicals are more willing to pursue a white conservative political agenda than to be reconciled with their African-American brothers and sisters.” In fact according to their data, more than 60 percent of the white evangelicals interviewed had not heard of racial reconciliation or did not know what it meant.
Why do we need to be reconciled you may be asking? Well, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the most segregated hour in America was 11:00 Sunday morning – when many churches have worship service. In fact these interviewers found that white and black people who described themselves as strong evangelicals appear even more racially divided than other Americans.
Strong Christians are more racially divided than average Americans? WHAT? We need racial reconciliation, but here’s the thing about reconciliation. It’s a two-way street. Reconciliation requires confession and forgiveness. Somebody needs to say “I’m sorry,” and the other person has to respond with “I forgive you.” That’s reconciliation.
And God is in the business of reconciliation. In a letter to another church Paul wrote this about reconciliation 2 Cor 5:18 – 21 Through Christ God reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God has given Christians the ministry and message of reconciliation to share with the world, and we have blown it. Rather than being reconciled to one another, we are letting melanin keep us apart. Melanin – that’s what gives our skin its color. We’ve let a chemical that affects a part of our bodies divide us.
In the 60’s a teacher named Jane Elliott did an experiment with her elementary school classroom to teach them about racism. She told them that blue-eyed people were better than brown-eyed people. She even rewarded the blue-eyed students with extra recess time. The brown-eyed students had to wear a scarf to distinguish them from the blue-eye students. Google “Jane Elliott blue/brown eyes” for more on this, but I want to share one thing. Late in the first day after she had divided them by eye color, she told them all to turn to a certain page. She then made a point that everyone was ready except for one student. “We’re waiting on you,” she said singling out the student who was wearing a scarf because she had brown eyes. Then a blue-eyed student said, “Brown eyes.” I remember the first time I saw that being blown away at how quickly the blue-eyed students had become so hateful toward their brown eye counterparts. I mean, isn’t that ridiculous? These kids were looking down on their fellow students because of the color of their eyes. How ridiculous is that? About as ridiculous as looking down on someone for the color of their skin.
Incidentally, she turned the tables on the brown-eyed kids at one point in the experiment, so they could all know what it felt like to be discriminated against based on the color of a part of their bodies.
Let’s go back to that 2 Corinthians passage again. There’s a lot going on here, but I want to point out a word that we like to avoid. 2 Cor 5:21 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Sin is not one of those words that we like to talk about, but it’s a hugely important word. In his book Watson writes that “the soil that racism grows from is sin.” We often think about sin as doing something we’re not supposed to do, and that’s part of it. But it’s also not doing something we’re supposed to do. The authors of the book about the surveys of evangelicals went a step further by saying that “racial division, hostility, and inequality are the result of sin. Christians’ work is to show God’s power by reconciling divided people.”
But how do we do that?
First, we have to remember that as Paul told the Corinthians God is all about reconciliation. Ben Watson has this to say regarding how if we’re not letting God work through us whatever work we do is useless. “We won’t change the world around us unless God has changed the world within us.”
And I’m certainly not saying I’ve got it all figured out but God has absolutely changed the world within me through the conversations and reading I have had and done with people who don’t look like me.
I know it’s getting long, and we’re just about done, but there’s one more video that would be good for us to watch. How many of y’all have seen the Joyner Lucas video with these two folks in it? If you have, you’re probably stunned that I said it would be good for us to watch. We’re not watching it now because there are more n-words and f-bombs in this song than commas and periods. Here’s an online synopsis of the video.
“The two men, both of them lip syncing to Lucas' words, sit across from each other at a table.
First, the white man unloads his frustrations and his views on Black Lives Matter, the NFL anthem protests. There are even potshots taken against 2Pac and Eminem.
Then the black man reacts. He takes on white privilege, cultural appropriation, and attacks against former President Barack Obama.”
What I found most profound was how the white man ends his part. His final line is “There’s two sides to every story. I wish I knew yours.” And near the end of the black man’s part he says, “There’s two sides to every story and now you know mine.”
Now one music video is not going to solve the race problem – neither is one Dinner and a Message talk for that matter – but the idea of wanting to know someone’s story is powerful because that means you’re willing to listen. Willing to be challenged. Willing to think about things that you’ve never thought about before. Willing to ask yourself, “Why do I think what I think?
I had a conversation over the break with a black man who lived with about 9 white men in a campus ministry house when they were all going through college. He said one night they were talking and the conversation went to race. He shared with them his college decision process. He had been accepted to UGA and 3 historically black colleges. He had a choice to make: go where he would be the overwhelming majority or where he would be the overwhelming minority. He chose to attend UGA where almost no one looked like him. His question to his roommates was, “If you’d gotten into the same 4 schools I’d gotten into, where would you have gone?” That’ll slap you in the back of the head and make you think, won’t it?
But there has to be more than thinking, right? Reconciliation doesn’t happen just by thinking. Action is required. So what can we do?
Dallas Willard, a theology expert who taught at some of the world’s best seminaries, was once asked what Christians could do to identify with people who are poor. His answer was profound in its simplicity. He said, “Have friends who are poor.”
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if he were asked what Christians could do to counter the racial divide not just in our country but in Christianity he would say, “Have friends that don’t look like you.”
Not facebook friends, not acquaintances. Friends. People that will challenge you, stretch you, and help you know the things you never knew you never knew. So make friends with people that don’t look like you and when you do, listen to them.
Then and only then can we truly live out what Paul is going to tell the Galatians a little bit later in this letter. Gal 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all as we show that we love God by the way we love people whether they look like us or not.