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Pushed over the Edge

We’re all watching the protests around the nation these days. Some may be participating. Like you, I’ve watched painfully as African Americans have described their lived experience of facing daily discrimination. Some express that they are unable to move about freely in their communities, get medical care, find healthy food. The list of names of slain victims of police violence seems to never end…or was I just unaware of them while black and brown families across the country live with their memories every day?

I’m guessing that some who read this might be taking a new look at groups like Black Lives Matter or Color of Change or the NAACP. You might feel like your standing on the edge of a precipice, looking across to the other side, wondering if you should leap. Can you, should you express solidarity with these groups that you know so little about and, let’s face it, you’ve read some negative press about?

Can you march with a protest group in your city led by BLM? Can you be seen expressing outrage against oppressive police practices? That’s tough because you’ve always held the police in high regard as public servants, people who put their lives on the line for the good of the public. Since that’s true, what does it mean to join a protest against police brutality? Are you slipping? Is it anarchy or justice? Which side do I take?

If you identify with these questions and feelings, don’t brush them aside. Take some time to let them sink in. Ruminate. Do the background reading. Listen to people who have a different perspective. Change is not instant. It usually happens in small degrees and we need not fear it.

We need moorings when we experience change. We need something to hold us firm even as storm waves of change are beating against us relentlessly. Where do we find our mooring?

Many of us return to “the way I was raised,” but that’s inadequate. It’s not a good basis for decisions. In effect, it’s saying “no” to change.

I suggest a different mooring…one that will hold us in place and yet give us a wide berth to explore the changes that are taking place in our society. That mooring is the historic faith in Jesus related in the Bible.

Rather than try to apply the whole horizon of the historic faith to today’s challenges, I’d like to look at one story and consider its implications.

Peter went up to Antioch from Jerusalem. It was a church of multiple ethnicities, led by a multi-ethnic leadership team, including Paul and Barnabas. It was predominantly a non-Jewish church whereas the church Peter served in Jerusalem was largely Jewish.

Everything was fine initially. Peter integrated into the new mix without a problem until…some visitors came from Jerusalem. These visitors were the staunch conservatives of Jerusalem. They wanted the church to keep its Jewish feel. They were a powerful lot. Peter knew the power they wielded down in Jerusalem. Their presence destabilized him. He wanted to appease the Jerusalem delegation but the new multi-ethnic realities of Antioch made that impossible. Pressure’s on. Peter may have been feeling a little like we are right now as we watch these protests.

What did you decide, Peter? How did it work for you?

We get the story from Paul in Galatians 2. Peter drew back from eating with the non-Jews of Antioch. So Paul goes on the rampage because he sees Peter’s action as a betrayal of the gospel. Imagine that! The keeper of the keys of the Kingdom betraying the gospel!!

To his credit, Peter appears to accept Paul’s rebuke. At least, there’s no division in the early church forming a Paul denomination and a Peter denomination (we could learn something from that!). Later Peter speaks positively about Paul (see 2 Peter 3:15-16) So it seems Peter humbly accepted the correction and continued to hold Paul in high esteem.

So here’s how this applies today.

Peter had a blind spot. If anyone should have known better, it was Peter. He had seen the Spirit’s unmistakable work among the Samaritans and the Romans at Cornelius’ house. So he knew the non-Jews were fully accepted into the body of Christ without applying the Jewish Kosher laws and circumcision. And yet, Peter didn’t live out what he knew to be true. When push came to shove, the “way he was raised” rose to the surface. Peter had a racist strain that influenced his actions.

Now, this should not surprise us overly. If we understand what sin does to us, we know it skews our vision. We act selfishly without fully realizing the implications of our actions. We are blinkered or blinded to injustice. We cavalierly dismiss our fellow human beings, created in the image of God. We seek our benefit at the expense of others.

Peter’s story reveals that we do those things after we’re born again and after we receive the Holy Spirit. Even great spiritual people struggle to get rid of their blind spots! Sin hangs on and shaking free of it simply does not happen until we see Jesus face to face. Then, at long last, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.

Now back to George Floyd. Peter shows us that we need people who oppose us (like Paul) and disturbing events (like Peter’s visit to Antioch or George Floyd’s death) to wake us up to the residual effects of sin still lurking in corners and crevices of our souls.

So what should a Jesus-follower do in the midst of these protests. We should humble ourselves. That’s what Peter did. We should listen very carefully and empathetically, actively seeking justice for the oppressed and liberation for the captive. We should accept nothing less than a church and society that is antiracist. We should eagerly and willingly place ourselves under black and brown spiritual leadership. We should be willing to accept our own diminishment (economically and culturally) to elevate others.

That’s what we should do, and feel free to add you thoughts to the comments below.

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