What with all of the news of government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, and the even more distressing news of some groups identifying themselves as Christian who also express their prejudice against those of other cultures, … all requires that this be confronted and dealt with by those who have been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ, and then called to be ministers of reconciliation. Yesterday at the coffee shop in a nearby community I was in line with two young ladies in their hijabs, and wondered what it must feel like to have immigration officials looking for those in this country, perhaps illegally. The coffee shop is in a neighborhood with a major university that has declared itself a sanctuary campus, but even so, it must be un-nerving to have a sense of not being wanted, or being criminalized and deported. And, to get to that coffee shop from my home I must drive through Clarkston, Georgia, which is reputedly the most international city in North America.

Prejudice is not a new invention. It is as old as humankind. In my own life, I have had to encounter it in different chapters of my different ways. I grew up in a conservative Christian context in which our Southern racism was accepted as normal. We were also anti-Jewish, and anti-Roman Catholic, and on an us-and-them relationship with those neighbors from Cuba and the islands.

I can look back now, and almost laugh at how God made me confront these prejudices. I was ordained as a campus pastor in 1954, just after the supreme court’s Brown-vs-the Board of Education ruling, and the early days of the civil rights movement. I had never had an adult conversation with an adult African-American until that period, and being involved with university ministry and university students, I had to engage the issue and to put it together with my Christian identity as one who was to “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with my God.”  The more I had to be a faithful teacher in the church, the more clearly I was delivered from all of the errors of racial prejudice, and to become an advocate of racial equality (which lost me a lot of ostensibly ‘Christian’ friends).  That was deliverance #1.

Then moving to New Orleans, which is a city dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, and discovering that the liveliest Christian witness in that colorful and morally loose city … was the Catholic Charismatic Movement, which was engaging thousands of nominal Catholics with an encounter with scriptures and with new life in Christ. And, to add to God’s sense of humor, when I was facing a crisis with some fairly-destructive ‘charismatic’ members in my own congregation, my counselor and encourager turned out to be the Jesuit priest who led the Catholic movement, and then later I even became a resource to the archbishop. Deliverance #2.

In my later move to Hendersonville, North Carolina, and my seeking to understand the dynamics of that formerly remote mountain town, by then turning into a major retirement community, I came across a wonderful Jewish gentleman and local merchant, who was the president of the local synagogue and the de-facto rabbi since the synagogue was too small to afford a full-time rabbi. But Morris was also the object of a cruel anti-Semitism, even though he was a first citizen of the town. He and I became very good friends, and supportive of each other. He bore no bitterness and found ways to be a fruitful citizen that was most exemplary. I loved him. Deliverance #3.

God so loved the world—all of it: Gentiles, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, pagans of all stripes, all of it. And he has commanded us to engage all of it with love and good works, and to walk as the children of the Light, and to be vigorous proponent of justice—to be a blessing to the nations, and to be witnesses of the love of God in Christ.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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