African Samaritans

“Anytime you can have the kind of hate-mongering that continues in the hallowed halls of talk radio it shows that Barack’s presidency has not solved the problem” – Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church

The president attended church this Easter Sunday with his family. Naturally, it took the media all of 10 seconds to pull out an older sermon from the church’s pastor (above) and see that he likened Rush Limbaugh to a Klansman. That the president should attend a service with a race-baiting pastor is no surprise. It does serve as an effective launch point for what is, hopefully, a useful discussion.

In Acts 1, just before ascending to heaven, the Lord was questioned by His disciples about whether He was going to start His reign now. The Lord’s response: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

It has been long noted by preachers that the reference to Samaria must have been quite intentional. The disciples would be witnesses in Jerusalem (they were already there, and it was the chief city in their religious and social order). They would be witnesses in all Judea (don’t get comfortable in Jerusalem and wait for people to come to you – go out and act as a witness for all your countrymen). Then there was Samaria. Why mention this? It would seem that “to the end of the earth” certainly covers Samaria – right?

Samaria was the difficult place. These guys, being traditional Jews, really didn’t like the Samaritans all that much. The Samaritans were mixed-race descendants of northern Israeli tribesman who had intermarried with Assyrians. They actively opposed repatriation of Jews from Babylon after the captivity, and were utterly despised. As one commentator notes: “The Samaritans often taunted the Jews. They rejected all of the Old Testament except the Pentateuch, and they claimed to have an older copy than the Jews and boast that they observe the precepts better.”

Here Jesus tells His disciples – you will go to these people and preach the gospel; you will reach out to the Samaritans with My message.

What does this have to do with Obama and an Easter Sunday message? Glad you asked. Though I spent a good 5 years as a member of a predominantly black church in college, I am white, and my experience is generally that of a caucasian. As such, I can probably speak much more intelligibly to the white side of the racial divide in this country – or, more specifically, the white side of the racial divide in churches in this country.

There is a very strong sense in conservative white congregations in this country (a group that doesn’t include my church – though I am both conservative and white), that the black church has gone off the deep end, becoming more interested in race-baiting, liberation theology (which is just communism wrapped in some feel-good gospel-esque messaging), and preaching victimhood. In some sense (so the narrative goes in the conservative churches), the African American church appears to be longing for “the good old days … when we really were oppressed” – unable to cope in a world that has largely moved on from this country’s sordid history of racial injustice.

[There is, naturally, a counter-argument that the country has not moved on, and that white people in this country fail to recognize or even admit that they have benefited from being white. None of this is really my point though.]

What this narrative has wrought is complacency. There is an attitude amongst the conservative churches that the die is caste. The historically black church has chosen this road of victimhood theology, focusing on “social justice” while seeming to ignore other pertinent moral issues. That the choice isn’t working out very well is to be expected, but what the heck they made the choices … right?

That complacency, that contempt, is quite reminiscent of the Jewish-Samaritan relationship. There seems to be some unwillingness to reach out, to bridge the divide, unless the other side finally admits how wrong they are and how right we have been all along. (Again, quite Jewish-Samaritan in nature.) And yet, so much more is demanded of us.

There are generations of inner-city African Americans who are being destroyed. First by abortion (rates are much higher than those for whites), then by failed school systems, drugs, gangs, and a system bent on crippling rather than helping them (while enriching a few at the top). No doubt we can debate or disagree over the causes of this destruction, but not its existence.

This devastation is plain to see, and is a call to action; and the gospel is the light that chases away the darkness.  What does action look like in this scenario? I’m sure we cannot grasp its entirety at this point. But surely prayer is the launch point. Praying for a generation of oppressed African Americans who want to break free … endowed by their Creator with life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, yet facing incredibly long odds … is not such a difficult step. Who knows what doors this will open next.

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