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  • Steve Le Page

Racial equality

These are notes from this morning's service, Sunday 14th June 2020, 'Rooted to Thrive - racial equality (1)'

A video of the sermon should be on our Vimeo page shortly


When God created human beings, he created them in his image – all human beings.


Genesis 1:26,27 NLT

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. So, God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.”


He didn’t create this sort of human being and that sort of human being. He didn’t create some that were more like him than others. He created all human beings in his image – black, white, Asian, and the rich variety in-between!


In the breadth of his creativity, he created us all differently – with different colour skin, with different coloured eyes and hair. Each one with a uniquely patterned iris, a unique set of markings on fingers and throughout the body.

Just as we look around us at creation and see a myriad of different greens, so in his creativity, God made us as human beings with a myriad of different shades and colours and skin tones – all uniquely made in his image, in his likeness!

All created uniquely in his image, in his likeness and of equal value.


There is no place in God or in his church for any discrimination on grounds of race or physical appearance in any way. All uniquely made in the image of God.


Shaking

We live in a time when society is being shaken; when the world is being shaken. God is shaking us up!

Coronavirus arrived and has shaken the world to the core. Societies, nations, changing the way in which they function and operate. Us, as God’s people being shaken to the core over how we live and worship.


And as God brings about the shaking, he stirs his people to pray, to hunger after him, rather than hungering after the latest designer outfit, or beer down the pub.


He stirs us to look out for one another – to love one another. He has stirred a new spirit of community so that people who have hardly ever talked to one another despite living next to one another, possibly for years, are now engaging with one another and serving one another.


He is doing it within his church. More folk in the life of the church are engaged with one another regularly now than were before the arrival of the virus and it’s shaking.


Not that we have arrived. There is still so much more to do to get to the place that the early church in Acts were in, in their sacrificial out giving and out living of love towards one another.


But then God comes and shakes us again.

All of a sudden, over our TV screens are the awful images of a black man, George Floyd, having the life suffocated out of him, by a white police officer, whilst other look on – and no-one responds to his cries, ‘I can’t breathe.’


And God uses that to shake the earth up again, this time to the incredible racial injustice, blatant racism, and racial prejudice that it becomes apparent is systemic in society, and social structures, sadly, even within the church.

We need to stand up with our black brothers and sisters, and those who are yet to be our brothers and sisters and say, this is not acceptable.


We do not treat those who are uniquely created, equally created in the image of God in this way – whatever the colour of their skin.


We need to say #blacklivesmatter because at this time what is coming out from the black community is hurt from decades and centuries of racism and unjust and ill treatment of members of the black community because of racial prejudice or downright racism.


God has repeatedly raised up men and women to fight against injustice. This is at the heart of much of the preaching of the Old Testament prophets – summed up succinctly in the oft quoted verse from Micah 6:8:

‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’


Acting justly was something that George Floyd did not experience; neither did he experience someone, or others who loved mercy, or any at that time who walked humbly with their God.


William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect were raised up by God at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century to bring to an end the legal slave trade in 1807 and then the abolition of slavery act in 1833. Wilberforce sadly died before the Act became law.


But of course, whilst the Act brought to an end the legal engagement in slavery, it didn’t automatically change the hearts and lives and attitudes of everyone in society…..


The problem is it is so easy to look out and condemn others, and to fail to look in, and see the tragedy of our own lives.

Many years ago, in another church setting, we had an elderly West Indian man who came to faith in Jesus through the Alpha course.


He started coming to church and on the first Sunday in church he sat down on a chair at the end of a row, next to a lady, who promptly turned her shoulder to him and crossed her legs away from him – rejection.


I failed. I should have had words with that lady and challenged her racist attitude. To this day, I grieve over that, and ask the forgiveness of the black community for my failure to stand for them as I should have on that occasion.


Racism and racial prejudice has been inherent in our society.

I remember having a bit of a barny with an older man whom I loved dearly who said, ‘I’m not racist, I just don’t like blackies.’


I am sure that some of the black community in our church will have experienced racial prejudice, if not full on racist comments and actions – probably both within and outside the church.

We must stand against this because #blacklivesmatter


Good, morally upright, even Christian black men and women still live with fear, still live with their lives being held back because of the racist and racial prejudice which is inherent in our society – and we need to work to see that changed.


I want to share with you two stories of black men and the prejudice they have had to live with and how it has affected their lives – one from the UK, and one from the States.


So, the first one, the story of a black UK lawyer, shared by his white wife Katie Lynch. There is a hint at this couple being Christians in the story, but read her Facebook page and you’ll see in the opening comments about her, it says, ‘Loves Jesus’.

Leon is a barrister by day. His journey to the bar was a long and gruelling one. It took him 12 years to finally become a tenant at his chambers. He studied law at uni where he was told he wasn’t good enough to be a barrister. He left and worked for a year round the clock to raise enough money to pay for his law school.

You may or may not know that at the Bar it's a very privileged white middle class profession. After he qualified as a barrister he worked for 5 years doing low paid legal jobs to gain experience to get a foot in the door.

He was rejected from many jobs and pupilage opportunities and watched as white counterparts with less experience and skill were offered those very same jobs. But he didn't give up. Eventually he was finally offered a pupilage (an essential training process which you have to have in order to become a barrister) and worked around the clock to prove himself more than capable.

People often assume that he is the defendant (despite being in a suit) purely because he is a young black man and this mistake is even made by counsel.

He has had to defend clients who are on charged with racial aggravated assault offences and does so with grace, humility and integrity. Regardless of the offence, he does his best to represent all his clients to the best of his ability.

He is 31 and has been stopped and searched 7 times and unlawfully arrested once. On all these occasions there were no real grounds for stopping him and his arrest was degrading. On the day of his arrest, it was valentine's Day 2014. He was on his way to see me. In his bag he had a personalized plaque made for me for valentine's day with a hammer and nails to put it up for me. He was stopped by the police on the grounds that they believed he had a firearm. It was raining and cold, they twisted his arms and put him in handcuffs and pushed his face into a park railings. For 30 mins he stood there whilst an armed officer pointed a gun at him. His nose was running because of the cold and despite his requests, they wouldn't even let him wipe the snot running down his face. The all happened near to his home and his neighbours watched and walked past. He was utterly humiliated. On arrest they searched him and didn't find a firearm, but did find the hammer, so they changed the reason for his arrest to suspected robbery as he 'fitted a description'?! He explained the hammer was to put up a plaque for his fiancé, which was also in the bag. They found it but still wouldn't let him go. Thankfully, his mum and brother passed by in the car and saw the commotion. His mum jumped out to find out what was going on. He went to the police station. Eventually he was released. With no apology.

Every single time he has been stopped and searched (sometimes in his suit and tie on his way to work) he has been singled out and people walk pass him believing he is a criminal. Can you imagine the embarrassment?

One time during a stop and search the police officers allowed their dog to put his dirty paws all over his suit and he arrived at work late with dog paw marks on him.

These are just a few examples of some of the injustices he has faced. And he is just one black man, who works to fight for justice, one man who has such a heart for compassion, one man who works harder than anyone I've ever known to provide for us as a family, one man who loves the Lord, one man seeking to break the stereotypes, one man seeking to inspire other young people to believe they can be more than what the world says they can be. He has never taken drugs, he has never hurt anyone, he has never stolen, the list goes one. He is just one black man.

This makes me cry. I cried several times preparing this message, because for people to be discriminated against in this way is morally wrong.


How do you react as you go down the street and see a back person? How would you respond if a black man approached you in the street?


If there is any question that you might respond in any other way than that which you would respond to me, I would suggest that you are carrying racial prejudice and maybe you need to get down on your knees, confess your sin to God and ask his forgiveness… and maybe go and ask the forgiveness of black people you know.


So, I now want to share with you part of a Blog on the Gospel Coalition website, written by Shai Linne, a Christian hip-hop artist. He writes as follows:

“As a Christian hip-hop artist, I’ve had the privilege of proclaiming Christ in my music for many years now. One of the encouraging and surprising aspects of that journey has been seeing how the Lord has used music to make connections across ethnic lines. Before the recent pandemic, a Christian hip-hop concert was often a beautiful picture of the diversity of the new earth, with people from many walks of life united around the message of Christ and him crucified. On many occasions, I’ve marveled at the reality of me, a black man from Philly who grew up steeped in hip-hop culture, united with brothers and sisters of different ethnicities, ages, and cultures as we fix our eyes on Jesus together.


Over the years, I’ve heard from many people that they were affected by the truth contained in my music, even though hip-hop wasn’t their natural cultural preference. Whenever I heard this, I was struck by the power and beauty of likemindedness. It was clear to me that we were likeminded concerning particular emphases in the music—the glory of God, the supremacy of Christ, the centrality of the cross, and the importance of biblical theology. By God’s grace, I will fight for all of those things until the Lord takes me home.

But one of the painful things I’ve discovered over the last eight years or so since Trayvon Martin’s killing is that it’s possible to agree on those things and yet be in a completely different place when it comes to the issue of racial injustice. Just because I’ve made an intentional decision to focus on that which is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things that need to be addressed in the church. It also doesn’t mean that being a Christian has exempted me from the reality of being a black man in America and all the stigma that comes with it.

Empathy, Understanding, Unity

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, my wife and I received an email from a white sister in Christ. I was hesitant to let her know how I was feeling, for fear of being misunderstood and, frankly, because of emotional exhaustion. But as I began to write, I poured out my heart in a way I’ve never really articulated all at once. I’ve been encouraged by some around me to share this publicly.

In doing so, I understand that I don’t speak for all black people on this issue, though many can resonate with my experience. I also recognize the risk that comes with putting yourself out there and being vulnerable in the age of social media, online trolls, and keyboard vigilantes. But if this can help promote any empathy, understanding, and unity in the body of Christ, it’s more than worth it. Here is what I shared with her.

Sister, I’m going to tell you how I’m doing. And as I tell you, please understand that I’m incapable of completing this message without weeping. There’s a part of me that’s saying, “Spare yourself the pain, Shai. It’s not worth it.” But I’m choosing not to listen to that part of me because I would be robbing you of an opportunity to “bear one another’s burdens” and “mourn with those who mourn”—and I’m sure, as a sister in Christ, you want to do just that.

Sister, I am heartbroken and devastated. I feel gutted. I haven’t been able to focus on much at all since I saw the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder. The image of that officer with hand in pocket as he calmly and callously squeezed the life out of that man while he begged for his life is an image that will haunt me until the day I die. But it’s not just the video of this one incident. For many black people, it’s never about just one incident. Just as it wasn’t just about the videos of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Rodney King, etc., etc., etc., etc.

This is about how being a black man in America has shaped both the way I see myself and the way others have seen me my whole life. It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something.

It’s about being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car while walking down the street during college, and then waiting for a white couple to come identify whether or not I was the one who’d committed a crime against them, knowing that if they said I was the one, I would be immediately taken to jail, no questions asked.

It’s about walking down the street as a young man and beginning to notice that white people, women especially, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me—and me beginning to preemptively cross to the other side myself to save them the trouble of being afraid and to save me the humiliation of that silent transaction.

It’s about taking a road trip with my sons to visit Blair’s family in Michigan—and my greatest fear being getting pulled over for no reason other than driving while black, told to get out of the car, cuffed, and sat down on the side of the road, utterly emasculated and humiliated with my young boys looking out the window, terrified, which is exactly what happened to a good friend of mine when he took his family on a road trip.

It’s about the exhaustion of constantly feeling I have to assert my humanity in front of some white people I’m meeting for the first time, to let them know, “Hey! I’m not a threat! You don’t need to be afraid. If you got to know me, I’m sure we have things in common!”

It’s about me sometimes asking my wife to do things in certain customer-service situations, since I know she’ll likely get treated better than I will.

It’s about borrowing a baby swing from a white friend in our mostly white suburb of D.C. and her telling me, “Sure you can borrow it. I have to step out, but I’ll leave it on the porch for you. Just go grab it”—and then feeling heart palpitations as my car approached her home, debating whether or not to get the swing and being terrified as I walked up the steps that someone would think I was stealing it and call the cops on me.

It’s about intentionally making sure the carseats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if”—it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the carseats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to—and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.

It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”

It’s about having what feels like genuine fellowship with my white brothers and sisters who share the same Reformed theology—until I mention racism, injustice, or police brutality, at which point I’m looked at skeptically as if I embrace a “social gospel” or am some kind of “liberal” or “social justice warrior.”

And it’s about sometimes feeling like some of my white friends aren’t that particularly interested in truly knowing me—at least not in any meaningful way that might actually challenge their preconceptions. Rather, it feels like they use me to feel better about themselves because I check off the “black friend” box. Much more could be mentioned. These were the first things that came to mind.

So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, “All lives matter.” Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.

So, whenever someone asks how I’m doing with everything going on, this is some of what I bring to the table. And it’s a big part of the picture of who Shai Linne is.

The stories of those 2 men, one in the States, one here in the UK, show something of the horror of what our black brothers and sisters, and those who are yet, to be our brothers and sisters face. And so it is right that we say as a Leadership #blacklivesmatter

Black lives matter, because every black human being, like every other human being, is uniquely made in the image of God and intrinsically valuable – valuable enough that God would give his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for sin on the cross, so that they, and you and I can be saved through repenting of our sin and putting our faith and trust in Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross.

God promised to Abraham, some 4000 years ago, that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through his line – and that blessing comes through Jesus to all people who will receive it.

Right through the Prophets in the Old Testament, God speaks of how he wants all peoples, all nations to come into the richness of what he has done for them. Isaiah declares in Isaiah 12:4,5:

‘Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.’

And the Lord still wants this glorious gospel of the Kingdom to be made known to all peoples.

I want to unpack more of this and how we can address, respond to and overcome our racial prejudice, but our time has gone now, so we are going to conclude now, and continue next week.

Conclusion

Let us examine ourselves. Ask Holy Spirit to come and examine us. If there is any prejudice let us come and confess it. If there is any failure to stand against when we should have stood against, then let us confess it. Let us pray for a true loving of one another across racial, ethnic and cultural barriers and let us pray and work for a changing in our society.

Shake us Lord where we need shaking.

Prayer.

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