“I’m not a racist, I just don’t want a black President…”

Posted by in Church & Missions, News & Culture

I actually heard someone say that while I was on a business trip right before the election.  The young man who was driving me to various rigs said that he was registering to vote for the first time specifically so he could stop Obama from winning.  That was when he said it.  Somehow, there was a disconnect between holding racist opinion and actually being a racist.

It is hard to believe that racism is alive and well in our “progressive” era.  Not only is it alive in our culture, it is alive in our denomination.  Recently, Lamar Cooper, the interim president for Criswell College, used a racial slur in one of FBC Dallas’ Sunday school class which aired via radio during the most listened to hour of the week on KCBI.  Every Sunday school has “that guy,” the one wants to talk about politics, organize to support referendums and boycott offenders in the cultural war.  Perhaps you are that guy (if so, on behalf of the rest of us: just quit it).  This man made a statement supporting the Arizona law about illegal immigrants.  That is when Dr. Cooper erred and aired his slur for 300,000 plus listeners.  In response, FBC Dallas has issued an apology and has pulled the show from the air.  Dr. Cooper has also issued what appears to be a pre-written apology.

It is not my desire to throw Dr. Cooper under the bus.  He only represents the tip of the ice berg.  The immigration issue has been smoldering at a low boil for quite some time.  The issue has reached the flash point on a number of occasions.  One such point was when the Hispanics lined streets of Dallas waving Mexican flags in protest of impending legislation.  This angered many white people.  Their anger is evident in the TEA party gatherings.  I do not have a problem with people wanting to enforce the rule of law.  If we are going to have laws, we should enforce them.  My problem is that the church is linked too closely with the politics of immigration.  When you let people know you are headed to the middle east, you get all sorts of invites to hear people speak who are from that part of the world, regardless of their agenda.  Some friends invited me to go hear Brigitte Gabriel.  I had never heard of her before that night; she was a fear-mongering ethnocentrist at best.  Some of her “throw-away” comments at the end were about how she was not an Arab-American or Lebanese-American or any other kind of Hyphenated-American, but just an American, and how we should build a wall across the border to keep people out.  Both of these statements garnered standing ovations.  Clearly she verbalized what the crowd was thinking and feeling.  The main problem I had was that this gathering was held at a church in a community which is almost 40% Hispanic.  The very next day, they hosted TEA party.  Can this church have any credibility in the community after such rhetoric?  They need missiology driven by the scriptures not politics and their cultural frustrations.  I don’t want to single this church out.  One is merely a few clicks away from discovering churches all over the country who sponsor TEA party events.

In response to the globalization happening in our country and the many racist tendencies we have, I want to look at immigration from three perspectives.

Immigration as Divine

Immigrants occupy much of God’s attention.  God continually chided his people for oppressing the immigrants.  Conversely, as controversial as the story of Lot is, the Rabbis were willing to call him righteous (even with out Peter informing them) simply based on his great hospitality to the two visitors who came to Sodom.  David Rogers has written a good post concerning the instructions to take care of the immigrants, so I will not belabor that point now.  I want to focus on the question of who brings the immigrants here?  Read what Psalms 107 has to say:

4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.

Is God the one responsible for bringing immigrants to places where they can receive rest?  Verses 8-20 describes with accuracy the nature of the globally displaced.  They are longing and hungry souls, in darkness and the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, lacking the council of God, under a heavy burden of hard labor.  But when they cried to the Lord:

13…he delivered them from their distress.
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron

Do you think that the 20 million people worldwide who are in slavery today would take solace in such verses?

God desires to restore the earth to take care of the people whom he loves:

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish a city to live in;
37 they sow fields and plant vineyards
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their livestock diminish.

Psalm 107 establishes what Ray Bakke calls a “theology of place.”  We often forget that the earth is the Lord’s and we design laws to keep others off of “our” part of the earth.  How often we forget that not all law is rooted in absolutes.  Acts 17:26 indicates that God determines borders and rulers.   The purpose of this is that they should “they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.”  Which leads to the next point.

Immigration as Strategy

Many people who experience globalization firsthand feel as if they have lost their cultural equilibrium.  I once lived in an apartment complex where my family was one of the only English speaking families.  I counted more than twenty languages!  While this is very perplexing indeed, it serves a great missiological purpose.  Who has heard about the problems in Sudan and wanted to help Sudanese people?  Now, who wants to live there?  Probably most of you don’t, or perhaps you do but health reasons or other obligations prohibit you from doing so.  Globalization, the great ethnic mix-up, allows you to reach just about any people group in the world without ever leaving the states.  In fact, many of these peoples are more unreached here than they were in their home country.  This happens because in their home country we were at least focused on sending people to them to reach them with the gospel.  Back here, however, since they live in a different part of town from us and don’t speak our language, we typically ignore them if we see them at all.  Through globalization, some of the least reached people are placed right in the backyards of one of the most churched countries.  There are more Jews in NYC than in Jerusalem.  Houston is the 4th largest hispanic city in the world and has the most Nigerians living outside of Nigeria.  Miami is either the first or second largest Cuban city in the world.  Chicago and Detroit have one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in the country.  Southern California has the highest concentration of Vietnamese, with Houston and Arlington following close behind.  Globalization presents great opportunities to those who are kingdom focused.

Immigration as Devastation

Historically, our typical response is not missiological but is ethnocentric.  The very presence of suburbs and ghettos demonstrate how well we have received immigrants into our country.  The presence of ghettos demonstrates who well received they feel.  When they are not received well, immigrants choose to wall themselves off with people who are like them.  The presence of suburbs has historically signaled the unfortunate phenomenon of white flight.  White flight has had a devastating effect on inner city churches, social structures, and the economy.  I recently wrote an article discussing some of the changes that have occurred in Detroit just as a test case.  How can we say we have a heart to fulfill the great commission in our city when we have to commute to do the job?  How can we say we want to reach the world with the Gospel when we simply move every time they get too close?  In my city, I have noticed that where they white folks originally moved to is now undergoing transition again.  Many international folks are moving into these once white suburbs.  What are the white Christians doing in response?  Not reaching them with the Gospel, unfortunately.  Sadly, they are repeating the mistakes of their parents.  They are building new suburbs even further out.  How far will God have to send these people before we wake up and just do our job?

Psalm 107 closes with a scary reversal of roles.  Usually immigrants are the “poor folk.”  When this happens through oppression, God turns the economic scales on their heads:

39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

By contrast, in their place:

41 but he raises up the needy out of affliction
and makes their families like flocks.

What should be our response to God’s sense of “place” and justice?

42 The upright see it and are glad,
and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

I fear our response is not gladness but redoubling our efforts and digging in.  How soon we have forgotten the steadfast love of the Lord.