Last Sunday Dr. Rodney Sadler made me squirm. I don’t like being made to squirm or feel uncomfortable, but that’s exactly what he did.
Speaking to a group of members from First Presbyterian and First United Presbyterian churches, Dr. Rodney Sadler described how the church has actually contributed to the perpetuation of racism.
This is the seventh year that Christian brothers and sisters from our two churches have engaged in joint conversations. Over the years we’ve discussed Bible passages, social issues, and a variety of subjects. But it has taken us seven years to name the elephant in the room: racism. This year’s theme, United by Faith, Divided by Race, faces it head on. While we share a common belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we have allowed racial differences to create and maintain divisions among us.
Dr. Sadler began by looking at various Bible passages that have been used in times past—even by prominent theologians and seminary presidents and Presbyterian pastors—to justify racial division. That’s when I started squirming, not because I think he’s wrong, but because I know he’s right.
There was more squirming to come. Next Dr. Sadler went to one of my core beliefs: salvation by grace. He said that this cornerstone doctrine of our Presbyterian tradition has often given people—especially people in positions of privilege and power—permission to protect the status quo and do nothing. Dr. Sadler asked us to listen to the words of Jesus. Jesus told the rich young ruler “sell all you have and give to the poor” (Luke 18:22). In Matthew 25, after telling his followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, visit those in prison, Jesus says, “Whenever you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me.” Jesus pushes his followers to let their faith be not only than words, but also actions.
Rev. Tony Campolo has formed an organization called “Red Letter Christians.” Perhaps the Bible you have on your nightstand has the words of Jesus written in red letters. Tony Campolo calls us to focus especially on those red-letter words of Christ. And when we do that, we hear Jesus calling us to action—to care for the poor, to reach out to those who are not like us, to move outside our comfort zones. Yes, to squirm.
Maybe squirming a little bit is what it’s going to take for us to start tearing down the walls of division that separate us and build a community that is truly united in faith.
– Chuck Williamson
(The final session of United by Faith, Divided by Race, will be on Sunday, June at 12:15 p.m. at First United Presbyterian Church, 201 E. Seventh Street, when Dr. Sadler speaks on Dream the Impossible Dream. Details here.)