One of the more pernicious bigotries that occasionally rears its ugly head in our community is that of racial prejudice. Now I know that it is a built-in instinct in human nature to form groups to belong to and to which we show loyalty. There is nothing wrong in appreciating one’s history and lineage and taking strength and a sense of identity from that.
Where it does go wrong is when this belonging becomes competitive. To borrow from St James; competition, when it has conceived, gives birth to antagonism; and antagonism, when it is full-grown, brings forth enmity.
This has historically been one of the major obstacles to our Church evangelising those of other nations and bringing them to Christ. Back in the 1950’s when HG Bishop Antonios Markos, the modern pioneer of Coptic evangelism in Africa, would speak to others in Cairo about his dreams, he would mostly be met with scorn. “Why waste your time with black people?” the incredulous Egyptians would ask.
And yet, amazingly, here in Australia in 2009 it is possible to find Copts who, incredibly, have that same mindset! A small section of the community still asks why we should waste our time reaching out to our neighbours to share the love and peace of Christ with them. They continue to treat newcomers to our Church as second class citizens and to make them feel unwelcome. And all this simply on the basis of race!
Even more unchristian is the artificial division between Egyptian and Sudanese within our Church community. Forget that the Sudanese members of our community all originated in Upper Egypt, and that only a few generations ago at the most. Never mind that the two cultures are virtually identical in every way that matters, or that they have blended together in perfect harmony in Sydney Coptic Churches for the past 40 years. No, there are some who try to draw this line in the sand and say, “We on this side are different to you on that side. And we are better.”
Of course, such a judgement is ridiculous in every way that counts. Your racial background helps define who you are, but an honest observer will see that there are good and bad people in every race, nation, culture and racial group. Race is merely one small factor in the hand that is dealt to each of us. It is how we play that whole hand that makes us who we are, and that depends on the individual person, not the race from which they come.
This kind of divisive thinking is also clearly unbiblical too. How can it possibly be justified in the light of passages like this:
“… there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Can you imagine the Lord Jesus coming to one of our parishes and saying, “I’m not going to hang around with THAT group; I don’t like that race”? That would be so diametrically opposed to His gospel of unconditional love that I am amazed that anyone could ever think it was an acceptable way for a Christian to think! Does the “word of Christ” spread bigotry? Is it possible to incite racial hatred “in the name of the Lord Jesus”?
Perhaps the problem is that this kind of error often begins as a harmless joke. We all know many Irish jokes, Polish jokes, Upper Egyptian jokes. But what if a joke becomes a philosophy? That’s just not funny.
If we are to be authentic in our Christian walk then this is something we cannot ignore. It is compulsory, if you wish to truly follow Christ, to love your neighbour as yourself. When He was asked to define what He meant by “neighbour”, He told the story of the Good Samaritan, pointing out that Christian love crosses all boundaries of race. Even those who have traditionally been racial enemies, such as the Jews and the Samaritans, are brought together in Christ and united by His boundless love.
There is no nice way of putting this: racial prejudice is a sin. It needs to be repented of with sincerity, in thought, word and deed. Those who divide the Church along racial lines are dividing the very Body of Christ. That’s got to hurt Him…