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Focus Text: Acts 10:34-43
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Scriptural Commentary on Acts 10:34-43
Acts is a book which records the work and power of the Holy Spirit in the earliest days of the Church and the ministry of Jesus’s disciples. This work of the Spirit is strange and unexpected, often defying conventional wisdom and inverting social and even religious conventions. This passage is the culmination of one of the many surprising stories found in the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter and the Roman centurion Cornelius are drawn together when both receive messages from God. Earlier in Acts 10, Peter is given a vision of animals considered unclean by Jewish law and told to eat—something to which he is at first (understandably) resistant. God takes Peter’s desire for the familiar (his hunger for food) and reorients it toward that which is alien, unwanted, and unholy to him (Gentiles and the “unclean”). This is happening at the same time that God is moving Cornelius toward Peter.
One of the things which has troubled the church in certain times and places in her history is coming to terms with the Jewishness of Jesus. His life and mission was to Israel and every time we proclaim him as the Christ (Greek for Messiah), whether we realize it or not, we name this connection. Peter is clear about this when he says that Jesus’ message was “sent to the people of Israel.” This is a not so subtle reminder that most of us in the church are gentiles, outsiders to God’s covenant of promise to Israel and thus, in a way, to Jesus. Yet, we read in the gospels that Jesus ministered to Samaritans, Syrophoenicians, and Roman citizens, healing and saving them, even though he was Israel’s prophet and Messiah. Jesus’ ministry testifies at once to Israel’s election and to God’s universal salvation. From the beginning of Israel’s calling God names them as a chosen people, but chosen for a purpose—to be a conduit of God’s blessing to all the nations. In Jesus we see Israel’s election and mission, and like the Syrophoenician woman the church must recognize that we are outsiders (gentiles) at the same time that in faith we call on the name of Jesus to be saved.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” . . . remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:11-13).
Paul is clear: Gentiles (of which most of the church is comprised) were not a part of God’s covenant of promise, but in Jesus we are brought near. In Jesus, who is both the Messiah of Israel and the Head of the Church, we have been made a part of God’s people. This bringing together of Jew and Gentile means the transformation of humanity into something new, something which is to be realized in relationship, something social. The book of Acts chronicles the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to new places and peoples and the salvation which results.
This joining and reconciliation of people, Jews and gentiles, but also strangers and enemies of all kinds, has already begun with the work of Christ. In Christ, God invites us on the journey of reconciliation, the same journey of the church in Acts: a journey that includes the hard work of speaking someone else’s language (Pentecost), sharing food, resources, money, and space (Acts 2), transgressing social divides (Acts 10), dismantling discrimination (Acts 6:1-6), forming new intimacy and identity (Acts 11:19-26), and speaking out against injustice (Gal. 2:11-14). When we read the stories in Acts we can begin to imagine how we might make new connections between people and how as Peter says “God shows no partiality . . . everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The implication of Gentiles becoming Christian which we find in the New Testament is crucial to our understanding of what it means to be the church today. It means we must being to root our social imagination in the body of Jesus and his ability to gather together all peoples, even those formerly estranged. It means we must come to recognize that salvation is social, not just spiritual. To gather around Jesus’ body is to enter into a new space of joining, of new possibilities, and of reconciliation with our neighbors. In North Carolina and in the United States, race, gender, economic inequality, and immigration status all continue to divide people and close off opportunities for unity, wholeness, and justice. In light of this the church must call into question those systems, stories, and practices which cause division and violence, limit possibilities of joining and reconciliation, and elevate one race, culture, language, or nation over another. This reading appointed for the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, reminds us that in baptism we are made a part of a new family of God. Through baptism into the body of Jesus, strangers are made friends. Those who were once far off are brought near. For we know that God shows no partiality and that forgiveness of sins is available to everyone through Jesus name.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
Worship Aids about Racism and Reconciliation
Gracious God, we thank you for making one human family of all the peoples of the earth and for creating all the wonderful diversity of cultures.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship and show us your presence in those who differ most from us.
Forgive those of us who have been silent and apathetic in the face of racial intolerance and bigotry, both overt and subtle, public and private.
And take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts.
Break down the walls which separate us.
And help us to find that unity which is the fruit of righteousness and which will enable us to become your beloved community.
Empower us to speak boldly for justice and truth and help us to deal with one another without hatred or bitterness, working together with mutual forbearance and respect.
And work through our struggles and confusion to accomplish your purposes. Amen.
(Adapted from “Sabbath of Support in Opposition to Racism,”www.religioustolerance.org)
Prayer of Confession
For the racism which denies dignity to those who are different, Lord, forgive us:
Lord, have mercy.
For the racism which recognizes prejudice in others and never in ourselves, Christ, forgive us:
Christ, have mercy.
For the racism which will not recognize the work of your Spirit in other cultures, Lord, forgive us:
Lord, have mercy.
(from the United Church of Canada, www.united-church.ca/bfw/resources.shtm)
Quotes about Racism and Reconciliation
“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”
~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Contacts & Resources for Racism and Reconciliation
Because of the unique challenges that racism and racial disparities pose to Christian unity, we have chosen to extend this list of contacts and resources. Here you’ll find a listing of active organizations across North Carolina as well as numerous religious and denominational resource pages for addressing these issues.
The Elephant in the Courtroom: Racism and Criminal Justice in North Carolina
An adult education curriculum resource provided by the North Carolina Council of Churches which explores themes of community, forgiveness, racism, and restorative justice.
YWCA Triangle Racial Justice Initiative seeks to increase the interaction and dialogue among individuals of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and to address underlying assumptions and attitudes about race and ethnicity. It hosts Study Circles, Action Task Forces and Action Agendas.
FaithAction International House, based in Greensboro, aims to form a united community of many cultures. This is a dynamic center for cross-cultural learning and service.
VISIONS, Inc. is a nonprofit training and consulting organization that provides a variety of services which support organizations, communities, and individuals as they engage in the process of multicultural development.
The North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, a statewide nonprofit organization representing the interest of underdeveloped and underutilized sectors of the state’s economic base. The Institute’s working philosophy is that information and business development are critical to wealth creation and to building the asset base among low-wealth sectors of the population.
The NAACP NC Weblog Network, based in the Guilford County (Greensboro) branch. The website announces current events of the NAACP, and contains articles covering the NAACP’s work in North Carolina.
Center for Anti-Oppressive Education. The Center for Anti-Oppressive Education (CAOE) recognizes that the quality of education cannot improve unless we commit to challenging the racism, classism, sexism, and other oppressions which permeate our schools and societies. Through its projects on research, curriculum, professional development, and local advocacy, CAOE develops and provides innovative resources for educators, leaders, students, and advocates throughout the United States and the world who are interested in creating and engaging in anti-oppressive forms of education.
Southern Poverty Law Center, located in Montgomery, AL, the SPLC was founded in 1971 as a small civil rights firm. Today it receives international acclaim for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacist groups, and it’s tracking of hate groups.
Created by the Southern Poverty law Center, Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.
Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School is rooted in a Christian vision of God’s mission works to inspire, form, and support leaders, communities, and congregations to live as ambassadors of reconciliation.
The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation shall foster reconciliation and civic renewal wherever people suffer as a result of racial discrimination or alienation, and promote scholarly research, study and teaching on race and the impact of race and racism.
Ethnic Harvest seeks to serve and equip the Church in North America for ministry in our multi-ethnic society, by providing resources, stories and practical information on our web site and by helping build partnerships between ethnic and anglo churches, between ethnic churches in North America with those overseas, and among individuals and churches ministering to specific people groups.
The Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation (ATRR) promotes truth-seeking and reconciliation on issues of racial violence by deepening our understanding of history and its continuing effects and by working for justice. As an alliance of concerned individuals and committed local organizations, we seek to address the concerns of healing, accountability, reparations, restorative justice, and coalition-building. By working collaboratively, we support and promote efforts by individuals and local groups to build bridges and create community, through hearings, conferences, community-based initiatives, dialogue-building sessions, forums, and projects, as well as supporting national legislation and initiatives consistent with these efforts to strengthen the social, economic, political, and environmental fabric of the United States.
A web site designed to support people and groups who are working for inclusion, racial equity and social justice. The site includes ideas, strategies and tips, as well as a clearinghouse of resources and links from many sources.
Diversity Matters is a national nonprofit organization that aims to make diversity and inclusion foundational assets of environmental and social change. They are dedicated to making justice and equity core to the internal policies and practices and external programming of progressive work. The DM team brings decades of collective experience on social justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, cultural competence, organizational development, and leadership.
Denominational Related Websites Relating to Racial Justice and Ethnic Ministry
Christian Reformed Church – The Ministry of Race Relations is mandated by synod to design, organize, and implement programs that will assist the denomination, churches, and members in eliminating the causes and effects of racism within the body of believers and throughout the world. Race Relations initiates and provides training and programs to mobilize Christian Reformed agencies, educational institutions, and congregations to recognize, expose, and dismantle all forms of racism and to experience true biblical reconciliation as a diverse and unified people of God.
The National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an expression of the church that is positioned to promote racial harmony. The National Convocation was to be responsible for pointing “the emerging Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) toward racial inclusiveness and unity across racial lines.”
North American Pacific/Asian Disciples of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, affirm cultures and heritages of Asian peoples within the historic and living Christian faith. We recognize and promote the gifts and presence of North American Pacific/Asian Disciples in the life and work of the Church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – Through programs, ministries, and in our daily lives, we are dedicated to understanding God’s work for justice in the world. We advocate dignity and justice for all people and stand with people in poverty and who are powerless. We lift our voice with forces for good and participate in activities that relieve misery and result in peace and reconciliation in local communities and among nations.
North Carolina Synod of ELCA, Multicultural Ministries – This organization is designed to be a vehicle for unifying and conveying the needs and concerns of African American members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) through all existing ELCA structures, especially through the Commission for Multicultural Ministries. (http://www.nclutheran.org/ministries/documents/Outreach-Latino-Strategy.pdf) (http://www.nc-aala.org/NC%20African%20Descent%20Strategy.pdf)
North Carolina Chapter of the African American Lutheran Association – is dedicated to the task of strengthening the Christian bonds of the African American community of believers, developing a full sense of partnership between the ELCA and the whole African American community through evangelism, education, stewardship, worship and social ministry.
The Peace and Justice Ministries Office of the Episcopal Church equips Episcopalians to carry out the promise made in their Baptismal Covenant to “strive for peace and justice and respect the dignity of every human being.” The programs seek to support justice ministries at the local level by supporting networks – domestic and international, by providing resources, by sustaining committees and networks, and by advocating the social policies of the church to government.
The mission of the Latino/Hispanic Ministry of The Episcopal Church is to form hospitable communities of faith that nourish, strengthen, and develop disciples of Christ in the Anglican tradition.
The history of contributions to the Episcopal Church by its black clergy and black congregations is long and inspiring. The church pays tribute to this legacy by supporting and fostering the growth of black congregations through partnerships that reach across ethnic and racial boundaries, from the Episcopal provinces, dioceses, and deaneries to local parishes.
Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, Anti-Racism Commission – information regarding workshops and resources.
Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, The Commission to Dismantle Racism has the vision of a church and community where…white privilege is openly acknowledged; an anti-racist identity is intentionally adopted; racial and cultural inclusiveness is actively pursued; so that congregations and church institutions continually challenged to become the beloved communities of mutuality, justice and Compassion which we are called to be in Christ Jesus.
Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, Spanish Speaking Ministries
Presbyterian Church (USA), Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries & Presbyterian Women works to equip, empower and inspire individuals, congregations and the whole church to develop Presbyterian communities of faith that reflect our multicultural society, build leaders of every race and gender and work for racial and gender justice.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Racial Justice & Advocacy professes that racism, in all its forms, is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In faithful witness to the love of Christ, the church is committed to confronting the ideology of racism and racial oppression, working to overcome racism with prayer, discernment and worship-based action.
The Presbyterian Multicultural Congregational Support assists the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s efforts in becoming the church intended to be as a multiracial, multilingual and multicultural community of faith and empower congregations and governing bodies as they seek to claim, live, and celebrate the vision expressed in the above Biblical mandate.
Presbytery of Charlotte, Mission and Justice with sub-groups in Advocacy & Justice for New Immigrants, Justice Work Group (justice and social issues) and One in Christ (race relations)
Presbytery of Charlotte, Hispanic/Latino Ministries – A multicultural Presbytery where Latinos have an active part in worship, diakonia and government, expressing in this way the mission of the Church to and with the International Communities. The mission is to work with the Anglo, African American, Asian, and Latino communities, churches, and organizations in the Presbytery of Charlotte, looking to improve the quality of the spiritual, social, and educational life of Latinos on the personal and social level.
The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina has certainly had a major influx of Hispanic people into our cities, towns and rural areas. As you are aware, Presbytery has a staff member, Rev. Edwardo Moreno, working full time on this mission work. What is needed is that all our churches start an active mission program to reach out to the Hispanic community.
New Hope Presbytery, Multicultural Committee
The Division for Outreach Ministries calls the presbytery to look beyond itself, and outwards to meet the varying needs of people in all kinds of settings and life situations. The division’s efforts are directed in the areas of hunger social justice/peacemaking, global missions, campus ministries and church development/redevelopment. The committee addresses Campus Ministry; Church Development and Evangelism (includes Latino and Korean congregations); Ministries of Mission (addresses ministries of peacemaking, social justice, and the alleviation of hunger in personal and corporate lives); and Self-Development of People (is designed to enter into partnerships with poor and oppressed people, who organize sufficiently to do things to help themselves).
Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, Diocesan Statistics – bottom left of home page, click to get reports and figures of Western NC showing racial/ethnic distribution across the western half of the state by tract and by parish. Populations include African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic and Native American.
Offices, Agencies and Ministries Directory
African American Affairs Ministry’s mission, among other things, includes articulating the needs of the African American community to diocesan agencies, schools and organizations and assisting them in the planning, coordination and implementation of programs and activities that involve the African American community.
The Diocese of Charlotte, Multicultural Ministry, Hispanic Ministry, resources for ministry in Spanish.
African Ancestry Ministry seeks to create an atmosphere in which individuals of African descent can maintain their identity, heighten their visibility, and enhance their lives as Catholics.
Hispanic Ministry extends a warm invitation to women and men to walk their faith journey with us, for it is in the unity of faith and the diversity of culture that we form the Body of Christ. Our ministry not only reaches out to the Hispanic faithful but also strives to provide the Anglo community with an introduction to multi-cultural issues.
The Catholic Charities Office of Peace and Justice is a resource within the agency and for others in the Diocese of Raleigh, providing information, support, and motivation to act in the community and parishes on behalf of social justice for all in God’s family.
The United Church of Christ has a long history of working towards Racial Justice. The UCC have made a priority commitment to supporting policies and structures that make real our Christian commitment to racial justice. All Conferences and Associations and local churches of the UCC are encouraged to adopt anti-racism mandates, including policy that encourages anti-racism programs for all UCC staff and volunteers.
Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM) includes the following councils:
Council for Hispanic Ministries (CHM) seeks to promote its work among Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas in the United States of America, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and other nations of the Caribbean, Central and South America. Among other things, it assists in the spiritual, theological and worship experience that honors the context and culture of its members and congregations.
The mission of the United Black Christians (UBC) includes seeking to provide voice for the African American members of the United Church of Christ; to strengthen Black churches in the UCC; to train and nurture leaders of our churches for Gospel; and to be active advocates for liberation and racial justice at home and abroad.
Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM) maintains our Indian traditions by employing our Native values and cultures to witness in our communities through authentic and postcolonial Indian expressions of the Christian faith. We are a gathering “place” for all UCC Indian people who seek such a place. Act as a change agent within and outside of the United Church of Christ by giving voice to and for Indian people. The mission includes throwing off the tradition of colonialism and seeking to educate, support, and inspire our own people to participate in church life.
Ministers for Social, Racial and Economic Justice (MRSEJ) – are an association of Christian ministers that actively pursues political resolution of Racial, Social and Economic Justice issues. It seeks to address racial justice, within the structure of the church and within the world, to focus on economic justice, noting that economic denial is one facet of racism, and to give voice and power to the many social issues where people are denied justice.
The mission of the UCC Refugee & Immigration Ministries office is to involve, encourage, and accompany local churches and their members in the life transforming ministry of refugee resettlement as they journey toward an understanding of the plight of refugees and a compassionate response.
The United Methodist Church, General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) guides and supports United Methodists at all levels of the church in their quest to achieve racial justice, inclusiveness and reconciliation. The GCORR was established in 1968 to challenge and help the denomination’s agencies, institutions, annual (regional) conferences and congregations to achieve full, equal participation of its racial and ethnic minority constituencies in the total life and mission of the Church. The Commission strives to accomplish this task through education and advocacy and by reviewing, monitoring and supporting The United Methodist Church’s efforts to ensure racial inclusiveness and foster racial justice and reconciliation.
The Multicultural Office is an expression of the North Carolina Conference’s commitment to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ that transcends cultural and ethnic, national and racial barriers. It involves taking seriously the Good News that Jesus Christ has made peace between people of every ethnicity, culture and class as we live together, love each other and respect one another.
The mission of the Ethnic-Justice Ministries is to provide resources to empower, equip, and facilitate capacity building of ethnic congregations within the Western North Carolina Conference to reach out locally and globally to make disciples of Jesus Christ through leadership development, evangelistic witness and community outreach.