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Over the next several weeks, critically acclaimed author Connie Neal will be contributing to with an exclusive semi-weekly column devoted to the aftermath of and spiritual recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
More Articles from This Series

Jesus on a Roof Top

What Should I Do? Be a Neighbor

Other Books by Connie Neal
'Dancing in the Arms of God'
'Dancing in the Arms of God'
dealing with disaster

Jesus on a Roof Top: Love Beyond Racial Lines

By Connie Neal
Guest Contributor Within days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the focus of conversation turned to issues of race and class. In the major media, television news, and talk radio, questions and accusations arose. Pundits wondered aloud whether the delay in help arriving, particularly in New Orleans, was related to the race and financial standing of those hardest hit. Perhaps it also became a subject of conversation where you live. Let’s look at this question in light of what the Bible reveals.

From what we can see throughout the Bible, race is always an issue in human relations. Throughout the Old Testament various races and people groups are at war with one another. In the New Testament we see racism prevalent in the divisions between Jews, Gentiles (non-Jewish people), Samaritans (considered racial half-breeds and religious defectors by the Jews), and Greeks – also called Hellenists. We see conflict and division between rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. All these divisions set people apart from each other. Those who considered themselves “better than” looked down on those they deemed beneath them. Those who considered themselves discriminated against – which they were – despised those who set themselves above. This seems to be a tendency in human nature, and therefore a recurrent problem in society.

Racial and cultural tensions don’t disappear just because one becomes a Christian; they have to be dealt with within the church and in our society. The Bible gives us a way to resolve racial tensions, through teaching and example. Consider what happened in the first century church when people of a Hebrew background and those from a Greek background came together to receive provisions of food. Even as fellow Jews and fellow Christians they still had to deal with problems of racial discrimination and the suspicion it bred.

Acts chapter six records, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

“This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.”

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:1-7 NIV)

Accusations arose that some people were being taken care of better and more promptly than others because they were of the favored race. Sound familiar? The apostles did not create an investigative committee; they solved their problem of racial inequality by appointing worthy leaders within the complaining group to take on the responsibility of making sure their widows were fed fairly. Note that all the names of those chosen are of Greek origin. Those within the Greek community apparently felt more comfortable with those who shared their heritage and culture. That was respected, not looked down on as discrimination by the apostles who were of Hebrew heritage.

The apostles didn’t stop there; they stayed focused on their primary responsibility: prayer and the ministry of God’s Word. As they continued to preach and write the word of God as given them by the Holy Spirit, the following teachings emerged: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In another passage from Colossians, we read, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:11-14)

Race always has been an issue in human interaction, and probably always will be. Even though we know the teaching of the Bible, whatever our race, Sunday morning is still the most racially segregated hour of the week. The tradition of the apostles’ example allows for people to create a cultural comfort zone. But even so, with over 2,000 years of church history we have not eradicated racial discrimination, the hurt it causes, nor the challenges it presents. Such challenges, presented by Hurricane Katrina give us an opportunity as Christians, to see ourselves as one in Christ Jesus and to openly practice loving beyond the lines of race.

As we watch the news reports, listen to talk radio, read editorials or overhear conversations decrying perceived inequality in response to the hurricane’s devastation, let’s avoid getting drawn into an argument about who is or is not receiving the help they need and whether it is because of their poverty or their race. Instead, do something powerful:

• Pray in Jesus name that God would meet the needs of all the people who have been hurt in this national tragedy: people in all the Gulf States including the rich and poor, all races, all ages.
• Do something specifically to help in Christ’s name, regardless of the race or social standing of those who will receive the help. Give to Operation Blessing, urge your pastor to participate in Project Church Welcome, give to the Salvation Army, go with a group from your church to help rebuild without asking the race or social status of the devastated people you will be helping (since all races, rich and poor were wiped out).
• If your church is primarily of one racial or social group (which most are) God may lead you to partner with a church primarily of another racial or social group – without looking down on anyone or seeing anyone as beneath or above. Serve others in love, Christian to Christian, in defiance of the way the world seems to work.
• Pray that God will defeat any hateful spirit of racism that is at work and overcome it with the Holy Spirit of love, kindness, and compassion.

The Bible holds out hope for unity in Christ, regardless of race, financial standing, social status, or gender. God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we need to practice living out this love beyond lines of race, regardless of any divisions in society. The issues raised by the winds of Hurricane Katrina – both natural and political – present an opportunity for all Christians to reflect on and help overcome tensions that arise from divisions of race and class. Let us rise to that challenging opportunity! As we do, the watching world will see the love of God defying one of the most trying social conflicts of our times.

Connie NealConnie Neal is the author of dozens of Christian books and contributor to several Bible projects including the Kids’ Devotional Bible. Her book Dancing in the Arms of God includes the story of how her family lost almost everything over fifteen years ago and how the love of God demonstrated through caring individuals in the church helped miraculously turn their lives around. God has restored much more than was lost, and opened doors to see their God-given dreams come true.

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