There’s a concept in the New Testament that a lot of people don’t realize is there. It’s the idea of being “common.”
Most people know something about kosher food — a basic idea that there are clean and unclean things. Clean is good; unclean is bad. Most people don’t think it applies to Christians or today, and I’m not even going to get into that. This is about the third category of “common.”
Let’s say you’re eating a beautiful kosher steak in the market in the time of Jesus and you’re sitting at a public table. Along comes someone with a pulled pork sandwich and they sit down at the same table. As soon as they put their plate down on the table that your plate is on your food becomes common. You can’t eat it.
This is an idea we see in Peter’s dream. “Take and eat,” says God. “But, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean or common.” Ultimately God tells him that if God has declared it clean, nothing will make it common. In response, Peter gets up and takes the Gospel to the Gentiles.
What does this have to do with Charlottesville?
What God was telling Peter to do was remove the barrier. Remove what separates.
Think about it. If you can’t eat your steak because you’re sitting at a table with a Gentile who’s eating pulled pork then you can’t fellowship with them. God isn’t okay with manmade rules that divide. Yes, God gave instructions about what was intended to be food for people and what wasn’t, but it was about personal discipline and accountability and not something intended to segregate and separate.
In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek
The average person in America today isn’t separated by food.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t separated.
This weekend I watched the events in Charlottesville unfold via Twitter and live feeds and I experienced so many emotions. I was angry. I was broken. I sobbed and I yelled and, like the rest of the nation, I had to comes to terms with what was happening in my country in 2017. It was shocking.
Since then I have been reading reactions from people who were watching from home and from those who were there. I have been reading stories from the clergy who were there in Charlottesville — those who created safe spaces for first aid and prayer and those who marched arm in arm into the fray singing and praying and calling down peace in the midst of the storm.
Auburn Seminary carried a story by Brian McLaren, one of the clergy creating safe space for counter protestors in Charlottesville, that moved me deeply. In his reflections he comments on several aspects of the event from “On the White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and their allies” to “On the other Anti-Racism Protestors” to thoughts on the clergy present, the police present and what comes next.
In the article he makes this observation
We Christians, in particular, need to face the degree to which white Christianity has failed – grievously, tragically, unarguably failed – to teach its white adherents to love their non-white neighbors as themselves. Congregations of all denominations need to make this an urgent priority – to acknowledge the degree to which white American Christianity has been a chaplaincy to white supremacy for centuries, and in that way, has betrayed the gospel.
Our Christian leaders need to face the deep roots of white Christian supremacy that go back to 1452 and the Doctrine of Discovery, and before that, to the tragic deals made by 4th Century Bishops with Emperor Constantine, and before that, to the rise of Christian antisemitism mere decades after Jesus. This tense season of our history needs to be, quite literally, a come-to-Jesus moment for Christianity in America.
Christians are told by the one we claim to follow to love our neighbor as ourself, love the stranger, and even love our enemy! There is no exception made for those of us with white skin.
In Christ Jesus there is neither slave nor free
I read another first hand account from one of the clergy women, Lisa Sharon Harper who posted a guest post on her friend Ann Voskamp’s site. This is a woman who walked into the crowd arm in arm with other clergy, men and women, even knowing that she might lose her life.
Lisa speaks so powerfully about standing in that place of realizing you have to be willing to lay down your life to fully live. I was moved and I believe you will be too. Read her words. She calls out the spirit of Colonization and the impact it has had on the church. She questions whether those who witnessed what happened this weekend will be affected by it — will it change them as it changed her? Will it affect how they vote and who they defend?
She makes this powerful observation
Every word of every book in the Scripture was written by a person who was colonized or under threat of colonization by empire.
The good news of The Bible must be considered good news to the colonized!
Is the Gospel you’re sharing good news to the colonized? Or is it only good news to the colonizers? If you are one of the colonized, have you been presented the good news? Or just news?
In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female
This last weekend I also discovered Tori Douglass and her recent blog post on “The Day I Learned White Christians Hate Me.” I am declaring she is Another Voice You Need To Hear
She describes the events of August 9, 2014–the day “Darren Wilson executed the alleged petty thief Michael Brown.” The day that changed her forever.
But then I saw the white Christian responses.
The pastors, the Christians, the evangelicals, the Republicans, and the associated gawkers, turned their godly terror, their white makes right holy war, their righteous indignation, from questioning a pastor’s behavior to questioning the value of allowing black people to exist in America.
Of course he deserved it.
He was a thug.
I would have shot him too.
The wages of sin is death.
It was the conservative evangelical jihad against the evil of blackness — black people, poor people, black culture, black communities — in America. Literally ALL THEY KNEW ABOUT MICHAEL BROWN WAS HIS SKIN COLOR AND HIS ZIP CODE. And yet they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the country was better off without him.
Tori’s conclusion is powerful and convicting
Dear white evangelical Christians,
I sincerely believed you loved me because God loved me. Now I know for a fact that you do not.
Her story is real and raw and painful to read. I was moved with empathy and I was moved with conviction. I contacted her about including her blog in this article and I was blessed by our interaction.
I was stirred by her declaration
I tell you the truth, Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.
Can I let you in on a little secret? However you feel about Michael Brown, alleged thief, alleged thug, alleged “Black Life Doesn’t Matter”, that’s how you feel about Jesus.
You see, Dear White Christian, your love for the Lord is permanently capped at the amount of love you have for the people in society who you like the very least.
See, I remember that day too.
I didn’t have to process it from the same perspective that Tori did, but it made me question my own involvement with those who would declare such things. It was one of the moments along my journey that provoked me to make dramatic changes in my life so that I could declare as strongly as I needed to that I was not going to be part of the church that was failing to spread truly Good News. It was a stepping stone to being willing to declare that God IS love — and those who truly follow God will LOVE!–without fear of consequences. Love is the one piece of evidence that we are told is how the world will know we are God’s! Without it we are declared liars and told the love of God is not in us.
God agrees with Tori.
God is in the business of breaking down barriers and removing things that separate us.
Today we are all faced with the question of what we are going to do in the aftermath of Charlottesville. There will be more protests and more opportunities to declare where we stand on these very relevant issues. Soon. There will be talk about monuments and landmarks and reminders. There will be many things that divide.
The designation of “common” kept Jewish believers in Jesus in Peter’s day from taking the Gospel to non-Jews and God told Peter to get out there and fellowship with them anyway. You can’t love someone you don’t spend time with.
Today the things that divide us may be skin color, socioeconomic divisions, issues of gender or sex or sexual orientation but God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and God is still in the business of breaking down barriers. It’s up to us to really get that message and do what Peter did — go fellowship with someone different from us.
And it’s up to us to do what Paul did — look around us and learn enough about the people in our world to be “all things to all people.” That isn’t about being fake, or putting on a show, or defending ourselves, or pretending to be friends so we can try to convert someone. That isn’t real and everyone knows it.
It means we learn enough about them to see what we have in common and where we can connect — on a human level.
On a love level.
There is nothing common about that.