What is the most serious divide in the worldwide church? Is it over theology or sexuality? Is it race? As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., observed, the most racially segregated hour in American life is at 11 AM, Sunday morning. But James, the brother of Jesus, noted another glaring divide among Christians of the First Century, in addition to the one among Christians of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, when he wrote: "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2: 2-4, NIV)."
Sometimes I have seen that the greatest divides in worldview and the deepest divisions of mistrust can occur between people of the same race but of different social class and caste. When these divisions and distrust affect the church, they are every bit as much a betrayal of the gospel of peace as are divisions and distrust around matters of race, ethnicity and nationality.
This is a pressing issue for Emmanuel Mennonite Church, not because I am aware of any significant strife among members over matters of class, caste, wealth or poverty. I am not. But our search for a new location for worship, ministry and fellowship is opening doors into neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, public assistance and immigration. This presents us with wonderful opportunities for growth in spirit, relationships, ministry and membership. It also presents us with challenges, as worldviews of scarcity, injustice and need bump up against backgrounds and experiences of plenty, relative privilege and orderliness. God will have much to teach us through each other.
For last Sunday's message of welcome and warning from James 2, click on Download james_2.doc, and see if we're on track to becoming a ministry of reconciliation in a time and place of growing disparities of class, power and wealth.
Mathew Swora, pastor