Racism and Old Southern Ideas
“I share your desire to spread the gospel. However, since you are new to our area, I feel that you should know a few things. I believe that all members of our congregation want everyone to learn the gospel. We also want our minister and his wife to be respected by all people of the community. We’re a small Southern town with some old Southern ideas. In our town it takes great effort not to offend people but there are ways of doing things without causing outrage. I speak for several members in saying that your intense work among the Blacks may have a reverse effect on the white people in our area. I would like for you to keep in mind that this is not heaven, we are not all alike, and we can see each other’s differences. None of us are perfect and it’s only in God’s eyes that we are all the same.”
I have been privy to many racially charged comments and jokes from the mouths of Christians. These comments have been from both blacks and whites. Yet, they rationalized and justified each until they safely removed the pangs of guilt.
In Galatians 2:9ff, we find Peter and Paul in an interesting situation. Peter was dining with Gentile Christians until Jewish Christians entered the room, and Peter got up to go and sit with “his people,” the Jews. Paul confronts Peter and gives us some indispensable insight when he writes that Peter and Barnabas were not being “straightforward about the truth of the gospel” when they gave deference to the people of their own heritage in 2:14.
The Gospel was for all and Peter had been the bearer of this good news. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord your God will call” (Acts 2:39; cf. Acts 10:34-35). Peter, though, reverted to the “old Hebrew” ideas of segregation and bigotry that he had heard all of his life.
The word, “straightforward” means “to walk in a straight path signifying a course of conduct by which one leaves a straight track for others to follow” (Vine 195). Peter was to set a “straight path” in declaring all men as equal. However he gave credence to bigotry by his example.
Are we as leaders going to try to maintain the traditional Southern ideas of racism or are we going to try to fight against the grain? Are we willing to do so against a storm of opposition?
In the epilogue to the Gospel of John we find an enlightening example of how Jesus feels about the dispersion of the Gospel. In John 21 we find several apostles fishing when Jesus comes by and tells them to cast their net on the right side of their boat. True to his word, the apostles retrieved 153 fish.
Two facts are forthcoming. First, the apostles had no say in what fish entered the net. They had to take whatever came along. They could not choose which ones they liked the most, whether of size, shape or coloration. They brought all into the boat. Secondly, the net never broke. The Lord’s kingdom is a big place, big enough for all of us. The issue of evangelization ought not to be “who” but “how many.” While we are delineating between this person and that person, we are missing two souls.