On August 2, 1964 The New York Times published an article by Kyle Haselden entitled, “11 A. M. Sunday Is Our Most Segregated Hour.” Haselden, a noted White pastor and then editor of Christian Century, asks a fundamental question that surfaces repeatedly in his essay, “As racial violence and the white backlash increase in the United States, one question arises sharply: Why doesn’t the church do something about the racial problem?”
And now, a whopping 56 years after it was first asked, we find this same question tragically relevant. Sunday at 11am remains the most segregated hour of the American week. Why indeed doesn’t the church do something?
Racial and ethnic division (especially between Gentiles and Jews) threatened the early church too. The Apostle Paul fought those who would insert cultural bias into the new movement of Jesus. In three different Letters to the young churches (Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus), he describes the church as “one body with many parts.”
But in his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul paints the clearest picture as he pleads with the church to understand that Jesus himself “is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14 – NIV) Writing in the wake of this new reality he describes the young church in its wholeness: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together, and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16 – KJV, NIV)
From the beginning of the Church, Paul calls the church to be fitly joined together. I love this phrase. And for centuries it has begged the question, “How can it be, that the church remains disjointed and torn apart by race?”
Eight weeks ago, my 16-year-old daughter tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) playing basketball. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of a pair of cruciate ligaments (the other being the posterior cruciate ligament) in the human knee. The 2 ligaments are also called cruciform ligaments, as they are arranged in a crossed formation. Cruciate means “cross-shaped.”
The orthopedic surgeon demonstrated that the crossing of the two ligaments holds the knee in place, while providing the capacity to pivot and jump. So when the ACL tears, and the two ligaments are no longer cruciform, the knee cannot hold together in the same way, thus preventing agile change of direction, pivoting or leaping.
Seeing the damaged ACL on her x-rays, the doctor explained, “You can live without an ACL; however, you will never jump, pivot, or change direction in the same way ever again. Your other option is to replace your ACL with another tendon in your body — because there is no repairing your ACL.” He went on to say, “When the ACL tears, it is like trying to put a rubber band back together—you cannot repair—it has to be replaced. But when you replace a torn ACL ligament, and reform the cross with the other ligament in your knee, it will be stronger than it was before the tear.”
Why indeed doesn’t the church do something?
When I look at current state of disjointedness across the racial divide, I wonder if our inability to change direction, pivot, or leap over the hurdle of racism has progressed too far? Are we too disjointed for this divide to be pulled back together? Certainly our cruciform knees illustrate an answer. We must be re-formed and held together by the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Only at the Cross do we bring the agility to change direction and leap into newness. Only at the Cross do we find the necessary agility of forgiveness, humility, sacrifice and love where we might accomplish the ancient call of the Apostle.
Be fitly joined together.