It was the early sixties. The preacher’s eight-year-old daughter was out playing kickball in front of her house. Her brother kicked the ball too far and it went into the street. With childish indiscretion, the child ran into the street after the ball and was killed instantly by an oncoming car. The driver, an African-American woman was neither speeding nor at fault for what had happened. But here in the deep South, in the midst of the civil rights movement, there was no tolerance for a black woman who killed a white child, even if it was not her fault. She got out of her car, saw the child was in serious trouble, saw the child’s parents were tending to her, and out of fear fled the scene.
It was a small town. Word spread fast. Before the pastor knew what was happening, the elders of his church had formed a lynch mob to find the woman and string her up. Suddenly, instead of grieving his daughter’s death, he was demanding the men stop. But they were intent on defying his wishes. For them, the child’s death was the excuse they had been waiting for. They could use this situation to murder the woman and send terror into the African-American community, which had started speaking out for their civil liberties.
These men, who had gone to the pastor’s house to get a description of the woman and her car, quoted scripture to the pastor that proved (only by twisted insane reasoning) that racism and even slavery was a legitimate Christian belief. The pastor, knowing some of his congregants were racist had been trying not to stir his congregation up by addressing racism. He thought he had been keeping the peace. He had never spoken or preached about race issues. But there in his living room he spoke against racism for the first time. His words were, “Racism is NOT a legitimate Christian belief. If you harm this woman in any way, you will never be allowed back in my church.”
Racism is NOT a legitimate Christian belief! And should not be tolerated as such!
Does anyone disagree with that statement? James, a leader in the 1st century church, questioned if those who practice discrimination were even really followers of Jesus:
My brothers and sisters,
do you with your acts of discrimination
really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? (Jam 2:1 NRS)
He didn’t think those who discriminated understood what Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection meant. I am probably preaching to the choir, because I don’t hang out with any people who want to be racist. Most of us would not endorse a racist minister or church or ministry no matter what! We get that racism is not a legitimate Christian belief. And though we are ashamed that we haven’t done as much as we should, we are on board to help end it once and for all.
BUT now let’s take this idea to a different type of discrimination — discrimination against women. Most denominations in the US still claim that discrimination against women is a legitimate Christian belief. Women can’t be ministers, elders, or deacons in most churches. In many churches they can’t teach men or take part in leading worship. Yet, we have come to accept this as a legitimate way to be a follower of Jesus. We’ve been taught that racism is wrong and hurtful, but that sexism really doesn’t hurt society that much. In fact, we have been taught that sexism is just an alternative way to “love” women – a way to take care of them. And we look the other way. We go along with it. We fail to ask the question that James asked: “Do you really even know the depth and breath of Jesus’s love?”
Sexism is not a legitimate religious belief! And it hurts all of society just like racism. We need to treat it like the atrocity it is.
If you would like to learn more about the harm of holding sexism as an acceptable religious belief, give President Carter’s Ted Talk a listen. He presents the facts of how it hurts society far better than I could.
April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.