Not that Kind of Baptist

New Creation: Reflections on Antisemitism and Racism

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We could speak of all the difficult texts of the Bible, of the expulsion of the Canaanites from the land and the slaying of the Amalekites.  We could speak of “texts of terror” as the biblical scholar Phyllis Trible has written.  And perhaps you and I will speak of these, one day.  But these days my thoughts go to new creation.  It is perhaps Paul’s most powerful theological insight: that in Jesus Christ a new creation transpired.  One in which there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).  In this new creation, there is no room for the ancient hatreds of racism and anti-Semitism.  We are all one

             Christians seeking to respond to hatred have rich resources in biblical theology.  To choose just a few among many, consider how the dramatic arc of Acts always pushes towards greater inclusion of the Gentiles.  The fiery tongues of Pentecost were nothing less than the outpouring of the Holy Spirit enabling all nations to hear the Gospel.  In Acts 10, Peter is led by a strange vision to the Gentile centurion Cornelius.  Peter’s vision revealed a sheet full of unclean animals.  A voice urged Peter to “kill and eat” the animals.  Peter protests: “By no means Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”   The voice responds: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” There was no more division between Jew and Gentile; God had settled that.  Peter remarks, incredibly, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”  And yet so many voices in our world cry out that their neighbor is “unclean”—unworthy of communion.    

            Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, tells these Gentile believers that there used to be a time when their status as uncircumcised people made them “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).  But a new time has come.  Paul, the violent and vociferous opponent of this fledgling Jesus movement, this man who was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:5)…this man Paul had himself experienced alienation from God.  He had a violent and earth-shattering experience in which he met the risen Christ.  And all of the old paradigms in which he lived were thrown out.  Of this Christ, Paul would write that “he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Gentiles and Jews] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”  (Eph. 2: 13-14). 

What a metaphor.  A wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile which has been “broken down.”  You can’t read that seriously and be an anti-Semite.  But there is a deeper truth afoot in these texts, namely, that in Jesus, God broke down all idolatrous barriers between people groups.  At Ahavath Achim Synagogue last Saturday, I taught this lesson at a table of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  A participant remarked that he had to admit that he associated Southern Baptists with the ugly hatred of Charlottesville.  I told him that we are in the South, and that we are Baptists, but that we aren’t that kind of Baptist.  Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 after Georgia Baptists unsuccessfully attempted to have a slaveholder approved as a missionary with the Home Mission Society of the Triennial Convention.  It makes a difference when Christians talk honestly about their faith with their neighbor.  When we can look each other in the eye and say “that’s not who I am, but I could see why you might suspect otherwise before you met me,” a relationship flourishes.  In those moments, we get a taste of new creation.     

              God was in Christ, Paul tells us in his second letter to the church at Corinth.  What do you think God was doing in Christ?  Dying for us so that we might proclaim enmity and hatred against our neighbor?  Suffering for us so that we might believe that only white nationalism is the answer to our economic and societal woes?  No.  God was in Christ “reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor. 5:19).  All of this comes about because God has made the world anew in some unfathomable way with what happened on the Cross. 

What’s that?  A message of reconciliation?  That sounds dangerous.  That sounds like it might cost us something.  That sounds…like Jesus. 

in Racism

Pastoral Reflections By James Lamkin “Symptoms, Systems, and Spirituality…a Reflection on Charlottesville”

          God!  I’m using the word God as a prayer, not an expletive.  In fact, God, is a complete sentence.  In saying God, I am confessing…as in, “God is God and I am not.” I am beseeching…as in, “God do something!”   And, I am questioning…as in, “God, are you paying attention?”

            These are all prayers; but none are original with me.  I plagiarized them…right out of The Psalms.   These ancient psalmists poetically wrestled God, worshipped God, walked with God, whined to God, and wondered about God. 

            Though Charlottesville is nowhere near Babylon…the biblical writers experienced the same kind of acute cruelty, chronic racism, and senseless death that visited that city last weekend.  The psalmists, too, were taunted. “Sing a song of Zion, sing a song of Zion,” they heard from their captors (Psalm 137).  It sounded like, “Jews will not replace us.”  And all hung their harps and wept. 

            Plenty has been said about the Charlottesville tragedy.  Need there be more, you ask? 

            For me, reaction is easy; and silence is even easier.  But spiritual reflection is hard.  Maybe it is more like refraction…like a prism separating light into its component pieces.       

            In my opinion, Charlottesville is a symptom.  It’s like walking into the doctor’s office saying, “Doc, I’m jaundiced!  Can you give me some lotion to rub on my skin?”  I may be wanting the doc to try a drugstore shelf full of ointments and creams.  But, this approach is only topical.  Any doc worth her or his salt, would also check my liver.  Without treating the liver’s systemic failure, no salve on my skin will save me. 

What I’m saying is: racism is more than skin deep.  It goes to the bone.  Our racial identity informs our relationships; and our culture informs our racial identity.  That is the system.  For me, this system requires confession, repentance, forgiveness, patience, and practice.  And love.  It takes a lot of loving and looking to acknowledge the glass walls and ceilings that centuries of sin have polished. 

  As long as there will be human beings, I believe there will be racism.  It seems to be a seminal piece of the human story.  But, not only that, it particularly is true of the American story.   The early Explorers’ ships brought back effusive tales of discovery.  And, sadly, slave ships quickly followed the same maps.   

I greatly grieve Charlottesville.  But, I try to think beyond this case study, symptom, and local outcropping of racism.   I want to keep working on the big picture.

  If you want to read further about this, here are two offerings from two authors I admire.  Jim Wallis wrote: America’s Original Sin.  And Robert Jones (a former NDBC member) wrote The End of White Christian America.

I suspect these books may be frightening; but they may also help us see the invisible glass.  And more than that, they may help us see the resourcefulness of our relentless God.  And after all, God! is a complete sentence.    

Posted by Rev. James Lamkin with

Lectionary Reflection on Matthew 14:13-21

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The Gospel reading this Sunday comes from Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. 

What did Jesus hear in verse 13? That John the Baptist had been brutally executed by Herod. The man who had baptized Jesus was languishing in prison because he had spoken a bit of truth to power. One can guess that John's critique of Herod's marital relationships was one of several topics that brought his name to Herod's attention. But Jesus' reaction to this news was to withdraw, to be by himself..."to a deserted place." Jesus had managed to get to the wilderness without any crowds in Matthew chapter 4, just after John the Baptist had baptized him. It seems the bookends of these sacred moments between Jesus and John involved the wilderness. That is, after all, the place where God shows up over and over again in the Bible. The burning bush, the Exodus, Mount Sinai, the thick "silence" of 1 Kings 19--all of it remote and deserted. Wilderness.

But here is the rub: Jesus no longer has the luxury of being by himself. The "crowds" follow him to his monastic hide-away. No doubt, he wanted to flee, to be alone with his grief over the death of John. But there they were, the "crowds." And the text says that Jesus "had compassion for them and cured their sick." I don't know what this means to you, but what I hear and "see" in the text is God showing up in and through God's own grief. Jesus' heart was broken, in my imaginative reading. We can't know precisely why he withdrew in the text. Broken at the violence of this strange world, broken at the death of a friend--no less the man who baptized him! And so, broken as he is, he breaks the bread for the thousands present. Compassion breaks through. Broken, and somehow, whole. May we be made whole again by God, in and through our brokenness.

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