"God's Antidote for Racism"

Sermon spoken by Scott Temple, Director, Intercultural Ministries Department of U.S. Missions, Assemblies of God, Springfield, Mo. in Chapel on Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Including helpful resources on the topic of Reconciliation

Hear the audio version of this sermon.

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I'm so thankful for the invitation, Brother Klaus, and for this opportunity to come to AGTS and speak in this room.  Especially in this room.  Do you know what this room is called? Good thing this isn't a pop quiz! This is the William J. Seymour Chapel. This chapel is named in honor of the African-American leader of the revival that began in 1906 on Azusa Street in Los Angeles.  What is honored here? I suggest two things: 1) Our Pentecostal heritage, and 2) Our commitment to reconciliation. That's the topic of my message this morning.

What happened 2,000 miles west of here on April 9, 1906 is the opposite of what happened 2 miles west of here just 5 days later, on April 14, 1906. I'll tell you about that this morning.

I propose that the Church, especially the Pentecostal Church, is GOD'S ANTIDOTE FOR RACISM in America and in the world. There's an old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That's the question: Are race relations broken or fixed in America? Many people continue to think they are still broken. During the Atlanta Olympics, sports commentator Bob Costas said, "Racism is America's original sin, and current national dilemma." I never thought of Costas as a theologian, but that's biblically true: Racism is a sin and a current problem for our nation.

Racism is something the church has been slow to admit and slower to address. Evangelical leader Ralph Reed said, "It is a painful truth that the white Evangelical church was not only on the sidelines but in many cases on the wrong side of the most central struggle for social justice. We come today bearing the burden of that past, with broken hearts, a repentant spirit, and ready hands."

Resource for helpful quotes, "Recommended Initiatives for Reconciliation, NJ District of the AG"

Stephen F. Olford wrote: "Tragically, racial discrimination in the church is still one of the burning issues of our times. To ignore this problem is to fail in our witness, and to imply the impracticality and impotence of the gospel of Christ." I believe the Gospel is the power of God and has great practical value in meeting the most pressing needs of our communities.

Full text of Dr. Olford's article, "The Answer to Racial Reconciliation"

In 1988 I became pastor of Englewood Assembly of God, about ten miles from Times Square in that great New York metropolitan area. During the 10 years I was there the demographics of the church changed as the community changed. The demographics of all our communities are changing, and unless the demographics of your church changes with it, your church will decline.

When I began we were 50% Anglo-Saxon, 25% African-American, 22% Latino, and 3% Asian-American. Ten years later, we had more white members than at the beginning—but the demographics had changed. Today Englewood Assembly of God is about 50% African American, 25% Anglo Saxon, 22% Latino, and 3% Asian American. I like to say we had Great Black Growth, No White Flight, a Steady Latin Beat with an Oriental Flavor. Should be a rap song!

Five years ago I moved to Springfield, Missouri and became pastor of Park Crest Assembly of God. When we visited, my three teenagers said they didn't like it because, "It's too white!" Well, my kids' genes come from Scandinavia and Great Britain, so they're pretty white, too, but I knew what they meant. My first month here I learned why Springfield is so white by reading a book, Many a Thousand Gone: The Lost Black Heritage of Springfield, Missouri. The book was written by Southwest Missouri State University's Professor of English Dr. Katherine Lederer.

I learned about our city's past and its influence on our present. I learned that 100 years ago Springfield was a one of America's most diverse cities. Springfield's largest supermarket was run by two black businessmen. A black inventor was racing Henry Ford to produce the 1st automobile. 1/3rd of all registered voters were African-American. Yet, earlier this year Springfield was listed as one of America's ten "whitest" cities. What happened?

Five days after the Holy Spirit was poured out on flesh at Azusa Street, racial hatred was poured out on the streets of Springfield. On Easter weekend three innocent black men were lynched on city square, in sight of our own Assemblies of God headquarters. Two months ago I attended a ceremony at city square as our Mayor dedicated a plaque that reads,

"On April 14, 1906, three black men, Horace B. Duncan, Fred Coker, and Will Allen were lynched without a trial."

They were lynched on the outstretched arms of a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Then Horace, Fred and Will were cut down, their bodies burned and dismembered by a mob of about 5,000.

Within days the vast majority of African-Americans fled Springfield. Today less than 3% of the population is considered ethnic. That includes Hispanics and Asian-Americans in addition to African-Americans. Less than 3%. Just last week a 27 year old black man was found hanging two blocks from the city square. Apparently it was a suicide, but for many it added to the sense that the sin of racism is still alive. This community, and your community, desperately needs the ministry of reconciliation.

General Colin Powell, in addressing the Republican National Convention six years ago, said, "Where discrimination still exists, or where the scars of past discrimination still contaminate and disfigure the present, we must not close our eyes to it, declare a level playing field, and hope it will go away by itself. It did not in the past. It will not in the future."

I am under conviction that the church, and especially the Assemblies of God who calls this city home, must repent for being part of the problem and become part of the solution. God has given us the tool, "the word of reconciliation" and the power, "the ministry of reconciliation" so that we can be the antidote to racism in Springfield or anywhere else. (2 Corinthians 5)

Colossians 1:19-22—"For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight."

What is reconciliation? It's much bigger than racial issues. Creation is reconciled, people are reconciled. Noah Webster, a born again author, wrote a dictionary in 1828. Webster defined reconcile: "To call into union and friendship those who have been in opposition." After being reconciled with God, Webster wrote: "No cloud of anger shall remain, but peace assured."

Reconciliation is when two who were alienated are now associated. Reconciliation happens when a peaceful solution heals a broken relation. Jesus Christ came to earth and reconciled all creation to God. Sin separated all creation from God, but Christ's work on the cross is so powerful that it bridged that awful gulf and reconciled God with His creation. We don't pursue reconciliation so much as we proclaim the finished work of reconciliation. It's a done deal - Jesus has reconciled us to God. Now we must pursue opportunities to implement the reconciliation already fully provided for.

God has given us the word and the ministry of reconciliation so we can be His antidote for racism, for polarization and separation and segregation.

Article from Bergen Record about Englewood AG, "Local Church Model of Integration"


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