Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11

One afternoon about a month ago packets of hate literature started appearing in driveways all over south Bowie.  Not all of the south Bowie residents saw them because City Councilman Bill Aleshire took matters into his own hands.  He was so outraged that someone would try to pollute our community with hatred that he started collecting the propaganda from as many driveways as he could before residents could see them.  He told me he collected about 200 altogether.  I don’t want to give any more attention to this trash than is necessary, but here is one example of what was disseminated.  


    Description:  Blond, red, or brown hair, fair skin; innocent, inquisitive, intelligent,
    trusting personality.  Corrupt politicians and minority special-interest groups
    have abducted her future.  There will be no future for her in the Third World
    America that our nation’s enemies are planning.  Let us take back our country
and make it great, clean, decent, and beautiful once again.  For our children’s sake.  The men and women of the National Alliance want you to join in this
great, patriotic effort.

That’s not the worst of it.  There was also a flyer aimed at “Jewish pressure groups” and another flyer that takes potshots at “multiculturalism.”  I’m not going to dignify them by reading them.  I don’t know who this “National Alliance” group is, and I really don’t want to know.  They have a web site that I have not visited, but I learned enough from what they distributed to know what they stand for.  White Supremacist groups are nothing new, but I find it disheartening that they would think they could find a receptive or sympathetic audience in this community.  Of all the counties in the country, Prince George’s County is one of the most progressive when it comes to multiculturalism and diversity and racial integration, and Bowie is one of the most progressive communities.  We’ve come a long way in race relations in this country, but obviously we have a long way yet to go.

Tomorrow, May 17, is the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.  That was the ruling that struck down the “separate but equal” policy of public education in America.  Before Brown v. Board of Education, most public schools were racially segregated, primarily along the lines of black and white.  I can remember those days of racial segregation growing up in Texas in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  In elementary school and junior high school, I had a few Hispanic and Asian classmates, but I did not have an African-American classmate until my junior year in high school, almost 13 years after the Supreme Court verdict.  The Court had ordered schools in the South to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.”  Most school systems took that as a mandate to be more deliberate than speedy, and to stall and delay desegregation.  Eventually in many municipalities, including Prince George’s County, desegregation was implemented through court-ordered busing.  Now with the return to neighborhood schools in many school districts, re-segregation is taking place along racial lines.  According to an article in the latest issue of Newsweek, “minorities and whites are increasingly taught in separate schools, and blacks and Latinos often make do with limited resources.”  The policy of “separate but equal” never worked in part because racially separate schools were never equal.  

The American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP, co-sponsored a telephone survey of over 2000 people last November and December conducted by the Gallup Organization.  The survey was the largest and most comprehensive study of race-relations ever undertaken in this country.  Some of the findings may surprise you.  In some areas things have changed dramatically with regard to race-relations in the last 50 years.  For example, in 1958 a Gallup Poll asked respondents if they approved of interracial marriage.  Would you like to guess how many people in 1958 said they approved of marriage between whites and blacks?  4%.  According to the latest Gallup survey, 80% of blacks, 77% of Hispanics, and 70% of whites say they generally approve of interracial marriage.  That is a huge change in less than 50 years.  66% of white respondents said they would not object if their own child or grandchild chose a black spouse.  

Other racial attitudes have significantly changed since Brown v. Board of Education.  Majorities of blacks, whites, and Hispanics all say they would rather live in racially mixed communities than in neighborhoods comprised of only one race.  Most whites now say they expect to have black colleagues or customers or neighbors.  Of course, what people say to a pollster and the reality of the situation are not always the same.  As I indicated, many schools remain largely segregated along racial lines, along with many neighborhoods.  A lot of the division is driven by economics.  Nationally, the median household income for whites is $55,000 a year.  For Hispanics, the median household income is $40,000.  For African Americans, the median household income is $35,500.  Given that economic disparity, it is no wonder that many neighborhoods and schools are racially segregated.  Coretta Scott King remarked:  “African Americans and other people of color are still severely underrepresented in political leadership and better-paying jobs in every industry.”  There is much more interracial interaction than there used to be, but there are still racial divisions in most communities in America.

Race relations have been a problem in most societies throughout history, at least in most societies comprised of two or more races.  Race relations were a significant problem in biblical times.  The scripture verses that we read this morning were taken from four of Paul’s letters, written to churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, and Colossae.  Rome was in modern-day Italy, Corinth was in modern-day Greece, and Colossae and Galatia were in modern-day Turkey.  Each of those churches in each of those cities over a widespread geographical area had to deal with the issue of race relations.  The major division in those churches was not between whites, and blacks, and Hispanics, and Asians, but between Jews and Greeks, or Jews and Gentiles.  Most societies in Paul’s day were segregated along racial lines.  Typically Jews would have very little to do with Gentiles, especially where Jews made up a good part of the population in Palestine.  Jews living outside of Palestine, in the Diaspora, of necessity had more interaction with non-Jews, but they still tended to live in Jewish neighborhoods and restrict their social interaction to fellow Jews.  But in the Christian churches across the Roman Empire, this division along racial lines began to break apart.  In the churches the walls of racial segregation began coming down.  Jews and Greeks began to worship together, and to eat meals together, and to do ministry together.  They began to experience a unity of purpose that transcended their racial differences.  This was just as dramatic, or even more so, as the changing racial attitudes that we have experienced over the past 50 years.  

Paul summed it up in Galatians 3:28:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Now, Paul was not trying to pretend that differences no longer existed.  Obviously people from a Jewish background and family and culture retained that part of their identities.  Likewise people from Greek background and family and culture would retain that part of their identities.  Obviously the institution of slavery persisted, even within the church, and would persist for many more centuries.  Obviously gender differences between men and women were not eliminated by their common faith.  Our faith in Christ does not change those distinctions like race and socio-economic status and gender, but our faith in Christ does change the way we relate to one another.  Those distinctions are less important than what we have in common.  Our unity in Christ is more important than our diversity as persons.  

Ideally the church should be at the vanguard of racial reconciliation.  In the American experience that has often not been the case, for many churches are still largely segregated along racial lines today.  In some cases, the segregation is based on language or cultural characteristics.  But in other cases, people of different races don’t worship together and fellowship together and serve together because people just naturally tend to stick with their own kind.  It’s not just a black thing or a white thing or an Hispanic thing or an Asian thing—it’s a human thing.  But just because racial segregation comes naturally doesn’t mean that it’s right.  

One of the most exciting things that has happened since we re-entered our rebuilt church building a year and a half ago has been the increasing diversity of our congregation.  Like this community, this church was once predominantly Anglo.  Village was never all white, because there were some Hispanic charter members of this church, and there have been some African-American members going back over thirty years.  But basically for most of its history this has been a white church.  That is not our future.  Churches in this county that try to remain all white eventually relocate or go out of business.  Our future is to reflect the diversity of our community.  And it can be a bright and promising future if we will continue on the path we have begun.  There are challenges to be met for all the members of our congregation.  The challenge for the white members of this congregation is to become even more welcoming and more inclusive.  The challenge for persons of color is to become more involved in the life and ministry of this church, to make this church your own.  We need more diversity in positions of leadership and visibility—in the Adult Choir, the Praise Ensemble, the Handbell Choir, the Worship Dance Ensemble, Women in Action, Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies, Sunday School, ushers and greeters, nursery volunteers, members of the various Commissions and Committees.  We have an opportunity to create something special here, a fellowship of Christians centered not around race or other divisions, but around our common faith in Jesus Christ.

When I opened that packet of hate literature that appeared on my driveway last month, my first instinct was to throw it in the garbage where it belongs.  But instead I kept it and I showed it to some of my fellow clergy here in south Bowie—to the rabbi at Temple Solel, and to the priest at St. Edward’s Catholic Church next door, and even to an African-American leader of the Islamic Community here in Prince George’s County.  Every religious leader I spoke with shared the same conviction—we must not allow hatred and prejudice and racism to divide us.  As leaders of faith communities, we must speak out against such divisive attitudes.  There is one more thing that we can do as Christians.  We can follow the distinctively Christian approach of combating evil with good.  The best good that we can do is to create a loving Christian family in this community of faith, so that as the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  That which unites us as Christians—our faith in Jesus Christ—is greater than anything that would divide us.  May we find our unity in Christ, and in that unity worship together and fellowship together and serve together and live together in harmony and peace.

Bruce Salmon, Pastor, Village Baptist Church, Bowie, Maryland
May 16,  2004

Return to Village Baptist Home Page