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Monday, February 23, 2015

Pastorgraphs: “In Christ, There is Neither”

E-Vangel Newsletter
February 23, 2015

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center

“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205
Pastorgraphs: “In Christ, There is Neither”

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us, we are all equal.” (Galatians 3:28)

You can tell a lot about a church simply by looking at how the sanctuary is laid out. I remember preaching way back in 1998 in an historic North Mississippi Methodist church. The event was a district bicentennial celebration of Methodism in Mississippi (1799-1999). The church was built before the Civil War, and appears much like the image in the picture (St. John’s Church, Columbia TN). The beautiful, yet simple, architecture communicated volumes.
First, as in the image, there was a divider that separated the pews into halves. That was to separate the men from the women. As a matter of fact, the front Narthex had two doors. One was for the men to enter, the other for women and children. In that time and culture, it was unthinkable that men and women would enter or sit together in worship.

Next, as in the image, there was a slave balcony. That’s right, whites and slaves could worship together, but only if the slaves were segregated neatly out of sight of their “masters” who were comfortably seated on the sanctuary main floor.

Finally, there was the matter of who got the prize pews. Today,  it seems the back pew is the best seat, because everyone wants to sit there. Back then, a family paid a pew fee in lieu of a tithe to support the local church. The more a family gave, the more prominent pew their family received – usually closest to the front – so they were the most seen people by the rest of the congregation (albeit separated by gender via the pew divider). 

So there it was: a church laid out to “preserve holiness”, but in complete contradiction to Galatians 3:28, dramatically drawing lines of separation and division along racial, gender, and economic lines.

Racism, sexism and classism are still insidious today, even in the church. Over the past couple weeks, I have encountered reminders of how all three are still alive and well, even among Christians. My E-Vangel two weeks ago where I dared use the I-Word (immigration) brought the most hate-filled feedback. That saddens me greatly, but doesn’t surprise me.

The prophet Joel spoke of the coming Day of the Lord: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” In those days…just not this day for many.

As Bishop Carcaño spoke to a full house last Sunday night, I thought how great an opportunity it was for many girls to see a female role model, not just in the pulpit, but as the head of the Methodist Church in Southern California, Hawaii and the Pacific islands. But I am quickly reminded many church-goers do not share Paul’s view of no distinction between male or female when it comes to clergy. Again, I’m saddened, but not surprised.

William Barclay noted in his commentary that an old Pharisaic morning prayer began with thanking God that "Thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman." Paul takes that prayer, which likely he had prayed many times before meeting Christ, and reverses it in his letter to the Galatians. The old distinctions are gone; all are now one in Christ.

I am grateful that Exodus United Methodist Church is a church where there is no distinction because of race, gender or social standing among clergy and laity. We don’t have to agree on every jot or tittle in theology, the Bible or church dogma. And thank God, we don’t have to be faultless. But as long as we love each other, even as Christ loves us, then we are indistinguishably ONE.

For Christ’s sake,
Bill Jenkins

From The Quote Garden:
“It is not the force of man but the love of God which alone can unite a disunited world.
~ Dr. William Barclay, Commentary on Galatians, Daily Study Bible, 1956-59.

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