When you see a church completely indifferent to human suffering, it’s disturbing. When that indifference seems to be so deeply rooted in racism, a completely separate set of concerns must be raised. I am left to wonder, given how deeply the evangelical church claims to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, whether they truly have encountered the same Holy Spirit their Bible speaks of.
The first encounters the church had with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament are found in the book of Acts. If you grew up in the church, you’ve probably heard the story of Pentecost. This was the start of the Holy Spirit era, if you will. The Apostles were filled with the Spirit and they all began to speak in tongues. What I find interesting is that even among those who’ve heard of Pentecost seldom know the story of how the Holy Spirit challenged the Apostle Peter on his bigotry shortly thereafter.
Peter was a Jew. Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles much. The average Jew probably didn’t see this as a problem, nor did they likely think themselves bigoted or racist. Indeed, Jews were a special people to God and they felt it was their duty to maintain a social and religious life that was untainted by those outside of God’s special grace, at least as they saw it. Yet all that changed in Acts chapter 10. A certain Italian man named Cornelius was chosen to take part in the grace of God in a special way- although not Jewish.
Cornelius was a well respected Roman military man. He prayed constantly and gave alms. God took notice and decided to send Peter to help bring Cornelius and his family more fully into the knowledge of God. The problem is that in recruiting Peter for the mission, there was a snag- Peter’s own bigotry. God showed Peter a vision of wild animals of all types, then a voice instructed Peter to get up and kill the animals for food. Peter quickly replied that he could not for he had never eaten anything considered “unclean.” God’s reply? Simple: “what I call clean, don’t call unclean.” But look deeper, this story isn’t about food at all.
When Peter reached the home of Cornelius, he was excited and publicly announced that while he had not associated with Gentiles in the past, God showed him that he should not consider any person to be “unclean.” The point is that one of the first encounters Peter had with the Holy Spirit was one in which his bigotry was challenged. As I see the evangelical church, still unwilling to confront the ugly truths of race and human suffering, I have to wonder, what Holy Spirit did they encounter?