Back in the day
As I approach my 50th birthday later this year I’m reminded that some things in life just stick forever. For me some of those forever memories are the songs I was taught as a wee lad in Sunday School. One of those songs is called Jesus Loves the Little Children, written by Clarence Herbert Woolston in the early 20th century. There are various versions to the lyrics, but the ones I’ve always remembered go like this:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow
Black and white
All are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
It’s a cutesy song, but it’s meaning is far from cutesy, in fact it’s meaning continues to have prophetic relevance for the church in the city we live and serve.
The diversity of Auckland
According to the 2015 World Migration Report, Auckland is one of the world's most culturally diverse cities with the fourth most foreign-born population. With 39 per cent of its population born overseas, the city is more diverse than Sydney, Los Angeles, London and even New York. Only Dubai, Brussels and Toronto are ranked as cities with more overseas-born people than Auckland.
The face of my local community has also changed dramatically over the last 10 years due to high levels of immigration in New Zealand, particularly of people and families from Asian countries, with the highest proportion of immigrants coming from China. Auckland is also home to the largest Polynesian population of any city on earth.
This cultural diversity brings a richness to our city that is unsurpassed almost anywhere; it brings colour and vibrancy, and an incredible selection of hospitality venues, and it brings the opportunity to live out my Sunday School song.
But not all is at is seems
Of course on one level we celebrate the richness of diversity, but there is a dark and despondent side that often follows closely behind, and that’s the reality of systemic racism.
We all know that racism is nothing new. We’re a nation from which English colonisation created significant injustice and pain to the Tangata Whenua, the people of the land, the Maori of NZ that predated English settlement by a long long time. There are close similarities in Australia with the original owners of that land, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people groups.
Similar stories are recounted all over the world and for as far back as recorded history goes; we have a sordid past of marginalising, oppressing, and often killing people who are different from us, be that be of colour or religion.
It’s not God’s way
As a born-and-bred white Kiwi with my ancestral line being very white and very English, I’m conscious that by default I’ve often harboured attitudes that could easily be described as racist. Confession is a step in the right direction and God is good at working on our rough edges.
There is not an ounce of evidence that any form of racism has anything to do with the Biblical narrative of God’s interaction with His people. Any attempt of exegesis to support anything close to racism comes up woefully short, laughably so. There are so many Scriptures we could quote that support equality of all of God’s people, but they’re aptly summed up in my little Sunday School song.
I write this as coronavirus continues to spread around the world. Suspected of originating within Wuhan in China this has also brought with it a significant amount of associated xenophobia directed at anyone that looks slightly Chinese. The examples from within my own community are just dreadful to hear; one recent example being a couple who were told to ‘go home’ as they walked down our local beach. They are actually home, having been born in NZ decades ago.
If the church is really to live by not confirming to the patterns of this world (Romans Chapter 12) then understanding that God sees no distinction in race could be one area where Christians are seen to be markedly different from the prevailing culture. Racism has absolutely no place in the local church and it should be called out when it raises its head, often through the attitudes of an existing congregation when change starts to happen. Yes, it’s raised it’s head in the church I lead.
Kingdom living is standing up for God and His ways and I suggest that being a welcoming church based on God’s unconditional love for all His children could become a beacon of hope for victims of racial abuse.
But as we all know, let’s get the log out of our own eye first.
There’s no middle ground on this subject. It’s black and white. Really, it is.
Grant Harris is the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, a church that was planted 65-years ago and comprises people of all generations seeking to reach a community that consists of people of all generations. The tagline of Windsor Park is ‘doing life and faith, together.’ Grant can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.