What is happening in Charlottesville should remind us of what happened in the New Testament. And how one of the main issues the church has been dealing with since it started, is the lie that one race is superior to others.
It was a lie rooted inside the heart of even the first disciples.
And God was direct in dealing with it.
Now, I’m not trying to imply that some of the Apostles had issues of racism.
I’m not saying that Peter had prejudice.
Well, I am… but I’ll let the Apostle Paul do that himself.
And forever recorded in the Bible.
“But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him.” Galatians 2:11-13
Paul called Peter out for being a condemned-hypocritical-leader who would not relate to the gentiles (uncircumcised) in Antioch. Peter enjoyed the privilege of being Jewish but Paul challenged him to use that privilege for good.
Do you see racism in Peter’s actions? He obviously was not doing what the Alt-right is doing in Charlottesville… but maybe the official definition of the word will help explain what I’m trying to say.
“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
That was definitely Peter.
A man born and raised in the belief that the Jewish people were chosen, special, superior. Who had read the stories of Jehovah ordering the destruction of women and children who were not the seed of Abraham. Who had sung the psalms that celebrated Israel’s place of favor.
Then, he spent three years with the Jewish Messiah. Was chosen by that Messiah to be the leader of his group. Received the very Spirit that the Messiah sent.
Yes, Peter the Apostle had every reason to believe that his race was superior to the other races. He had read God’s word. He had met God’s word. He was full of God’s word.
And his interpretation of it was that Gentiles did not matter as much as he did.
Not the Samaritans.
Not the Greeks.
And definitely not the Romans.
I’m not judging Peter. God knows I have my own racism to deal with. There are lies on the inside that tell me that Christian is superior, US citizen is superior, Latino is superior, I am superior.
And just like Peter, I need a revamp of perspective.
The Rock had his worldview confronted in Acts 10: He falls into a trance. He sees the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes settles on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird was on it. Then a voice came and said, “Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.”
Peter replies, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
You see, this was God using Peter’s prejudice to speak to Peter’s heart. Because it was Peter who saw the Gentiles as a lesser animal race. But then the voice came a second time and said, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back.
This supernatural event occurred so that Peter would be open to the idea of going into a Gentile’s house; a roman centurion named Cornelius, who had been prepared by God to hear the Gospel.
I use to wondered, why did God not just tell the Good News directly to Cornelius?
Now, I have a holy suspicion.
God wanted to save Cornelius, but He also wanted to save Peter. He wanted to save the fisherman-preacher from a life lost in the Good News just for his people, just for his race, just for his selected-few.
God was confronting Peter’s hypocrisy and racism. Yes, God loved him as he was, but He loved him too much to leave him as he was.
Thankfully, Peter was obedient to the invitation from heaven. He did go to Cornelius house. And he began his sermon saying, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”
Truly I understand.
Although he forgot.
Because 30 something years later, Paul is correcting Peter for showing partiality.
In the late forties and fifties, Jewish Christians were facing bitter antagonism from Zealot-minded Jews for socializing with Gentiles. The fierce Jewish nationalism rampant at that time led to harsh treatment of any Jew who associated with Gentiles.
It is likely that the delegation from James simply reported to Peter that his open and unrestricted association with Gentiles in Antioch would cause (or had already caused) the church in Jerusalem to suffer greatly at the hands of the circumcision group, Jewish nationalists.
When non-Christian Jews in Jerusalem heard that Peter, was eating with Gentiles in Antioch, they would not only turn away from the church but also become actively hostile toward the church for tolerating such practices. Confronted by these concerns for his church and its mission to the Jews, Peter acted against his own better judgment.
He separated himself from the Gentiles so the Jewish believers in Antioch followed his example. As a result the church was split into racial factions.
It is important to emphasize that Paul accuses Peter and the rest of the Jewish believers in Antioch of hypocrisy, not heresy: the rest of the Jews joined him in his hypocrisy (v. 13). Their action was inconsistent with their own convictions about the truth of the gospel.
They were more influenced by their common racial identity as Jews than by their new experience of unity in Christ with all believers of every race.
We know that Peter was a champion of the faith who gave his life for Jesus. He was brave, humble, determined and radical. Church history tells us that he was crucified upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy of dying in the same manner his Savior died.
Jesus was right about Peter.
Nonetheless, he had a struggle.
Just like we do.
That struggle was confronted by Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. A man who had no fear to tell each race, in each town, in each gathering: Gentiles matter to God. Gentiles are now chosen and included.
And they are worth dying for.
Paul knew that all lives mattered. But God gave him a specific mission: #GentilesLivesMatter.
I’m glad Paul followed the leading of Jesus for his life.
If he hadn’t, not many of us would have heard the Good News.
You see, full of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, it was Peter who declared: “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
Peter knew that God’s plan was for everyone to receive the Spirit. However, that belief demanded intentional relating and connecting to Gentiles, in order for them to receive it.
It was more than just saying the words.
It was being in proximity with them.
And the requirements are still the same. We have to stand up for the oppressed instead of standing up for ourselves. We have to call out the sin of racism and resist the temptation of partiality.
We say No! to Charlottesville and Yes! to the brown man from Galilee who died for all to be welcomed.
Because the racism in Charlottesville is the church’s problem. And the church is its solution.
Let’s be like Paul.
And like Peter, when he wasn’t a hypocrite.