I share the frustration and heartache of so many Americans who are marching and advocating for racial justice. But what to do about it? What does the bible say?
In Acts 6, Luke records how Greek (Hellenist) widows were being unjustly overlooked in the distribution of food in Jerusalem, in favor of the majority Hebrew (Hebraic) widows. The Hebrew widows were native to the area and ethnically-aligned with the church leaders.
This episode is not equivalent to today’s issues, but I think it can guide our response. The leaders of the early Christian church moved rapidly to address this 1st century racial injustice.
First, here’s what they did not do:
- Question the disparity
- Get upset at the Greeks for raising the issue
- Whisper that Greek-on-Greek violence and other cultural deficiencies contributed to there being so many Greek widows in the first place
- Point out how a few Hebrew “bad apples” were responsible for the problem and that it could be easily fixed by replacing them
- Worry about how the Greeks might take advantage of any benefits that came from victimhood
- Say that “all widows matter” because all are created equal by God
Unity & Integrity
The apostles understood the root of the complaint was legitimate, and that not addressing it imperiled the unity and integrity of the church.
The church leaders delegated to the group to choose seven men full of wisdom and the Spirit to assume responsibility for this food ministry.
Why did they delegate? A couple reasons, I think.
For one, the apostles were dedicated first to spreading the good news of Jesus, and didn’t want to lose momentum. The church was growing like kudzu then, and of the two primary commands in the bible – “love God” and “love your neighbor” – God always comes first.
Also important was the legitimacy of the fix. If it was a top-down directive from members of the majority group, it might have been received with skepticism. Sort of like how people would be suspicious of any Republican-led racial justice initiative today. That’s not a gratuitous dig – just truth.
What did the community of Christians do? A remarkable thing: they elevated and empowered seven men, all of whom were non-Hebrew. We know because they all have Greek names, like Stephen, Prochorus, and Nicolaus.
This solution “pleased all the people,” including those who felt wronged. And the church continued to boom.
Application to Today
This isn’t all relevant today. This reckoning occurred in a small-ish Christian community, not a large, diverse, and mostly secular society with a history of slavery and discrimination.
But still, why can’t we appoint wise black and brown people to tackle these difficult issues? Not a meaningless task force or focus group, but a body that has actual power and authority to make reforms.
And maybe some of these people will be Spirit-filled Christians. Not Donald Trump-style “eye-for-an-eye” Christians, but ones who want to be more like Jesus. The same Jesus who hung out with the dispossessed and advocated for the downtrodden. The same Jesus who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the missing one.
And maybe when racial justice is better served and minorities are affirmed, the church will boom again.