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Update from the President: June 18, 2020

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Update from the President

June 18, 2020

Answering a Call for Change

Following the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minnesota policeman, protests against oppression—ironically, many of them violent—exploded in more than 350 cities across America. The demonstrations jumped international borders, with related protests against racism and racial oppression—including protests about the history and acts of the former British Empire—erupting in more than 60 countries across the globe.

The book, The Fire Next Time, that James Baldwin wrote in 1963 on the centenary of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, has become a headline in current coverage, including a recent cover article of the internationally renowned Economist magazine.

The Economist account noted that the Minneapolis event became a spark, one that ignited a fire that spread around the world: “The fire this time is burning for the same reasons it has so often in the past…whenever America suffers misfortune, black America suffers most.” But this time there is a new power, one “that comes from belonging to a crowd that has suddenly found its voice, and which demands to be heard.”

Many now call for change. What form will it take? And for us as Christians, how should a disciple of Jesus Christ respond?

The Church of God community is no stranger to racial issues. I personally witnessed church racial segregation at the 1966 Feast of Tabernacles in Big Sandy, Texas. I had recently traveled through the Soviet Union for six weeks as a translator and photographer with Herman Hoeh, managing editor of the Plain Truth magazine. Dr. Hoeh invited me to make a few remarks about the significance of the trip to about 12,000 members and families attending there.

As I looked over the crowd, I was taken aback. A very large group of black families was segregated together. In a now-obvious reflection of cultural trends of the times, the church misunderstood certain Bible verses and here was the result. The application of this misunderstanding physically segregated church members by race, which was, of course, not right.

Thankfully, that policy based on societal expectations and biblical misunderstanding ended, and our understanding improved. Unfortunately, remnants remained, particularly in pockets around the world. As people join the Body of Christ, wrong cultural attitudes need to be abandoned. We have made progress—more is needed.

But even back then, as we believe now, we understood that all people have access to the incredible human potential—the capacity to become a literal child of God (1 John 3:2 1 John 3:2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
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) and live in glory for all eternity as a member of the God family. What is most important is that we fully understand how God views us and then rise to that standard.

What is God’s view of us now as literal children? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave [bondservant] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×
, English Standard Version).

Jesus Christ, whose incomprehensible sacrifice cleared the way for all to be reconciled to God, is the gateway to the true end of this current conflict.

In these times of upheaval, it is critical to remember that when God created all things through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2 Hebrews 1:2Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
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; Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
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), marvelous diversity was the result. Whether Asian, African, Caucasian, Latin or other background, God pronounced all of it good. Concerning the Kingdom of God—the ultimate goal and objective of every disciple of Jesus Christ—God makes no differentiation to imply that one race is superior to any other. All are equal before Him. His goal, His desire, is that we all become one in Christ.

So, how do we respond to a call for change?

First, we must remember that when Jesus came the first time, many thought (or wanted) Jesus to be a political deliverer to put Israel in place as a global-dominating world power. Even moments before a resurrected Jesus ascended to His Father, the apostles were still wondering about that possibility: “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 Acts 1:6When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
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Despite living on this earth armed with all authority (John 17:2 John 17:2As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him.
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; Matthew 28:18 Matthew 28:18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
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), Jesus never incited political rebellion against Roman authorities or government leaders, despite having numerous opportunities.

Second, we should note that the spiritual instructions and commands that Jesus gave apply to all people. The Beatitudes are color-blind. This includes the statement: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
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). Jesus—who is our coming King—left instructions with authority. Even the apostles recognized that salvation was available to all and that all held responsibilities for obedience (Acts 15).

Third, true freedom is only available through Jesus Christ. “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:34-36 John 8:34-36 [34] Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin. [35] And the servant stays not in the house for ever: but the Son stays ever. [36] If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation).

In this time of upheaval, we should all be active and careful listeners, whatever our background. Decades worth of hidden hurt and fear now lie open to all. Healing must take place, but the task will be challenging.

Paul tells us to be imitators of God and live a life of love. In this time, that means we are to be intolerant of racial slurs. We understand and appreciate that all people will have the opportunity to achieve their incredible human potential, and we treat them like it. Where there is strife, we sow peace as peacemakers. Our thoughts, speech, and behavior should be free of coarse speech, including online comments. As Paul directs us: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4 Ephesians 5:4Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
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, ESV).

In the immediate days ahead, what is our response? God wants to see “all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:21-27 1 Corinthians 12:21-27 [21] And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. [22] No, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: [23] And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. [24] For our comely parts have no need: but God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked. [25] That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. [26] And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. [27] Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
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, NLT).

What is our part in change? Consider this: are we praying that more should receive access to the precious truth we hold, and that more people from all walks of life will be called and join our fellowship? Are we conducting ourselves in such a fashion that people can openly see Jesus Christ in us? We are promised a better life, now and in the world to come. Can those outside catch a glimpse of the coming Kingdom of God in our lives today?

Here’s our part: instead of engaging in contentious protest, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 Romans 12:18If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
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, NLT). Answer the call for change: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
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, NLT).