This Week's Comment from Network 7 News 

Edition 369 – July 24, 2004.  

 This weeks  was written by AWR's  English Language Service Director, Victor Hulbert.  The full programme can be heard in Real Audio on our web-site.

RU Special?

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Monday morning I felt very special.  Part of an exclusive elite.  The headline in the Guardian read “90% of whites have few or no black friends”.  It revealed the results of a survey released this week by the council for racial equality.  It reveals that the majority of British white people do not share close friendships with blacks or Asians.  The result, they feel, is a lack of empathy – and therefore an increased possibility of prejudice.   

I guess I’d never really seen anyone of another ethnic background than mine until I was 11 or 12.  That’s when my family moved from more rural parts to the City.  My dad had two churches to pastor in London , largely West Indian,  and I moved from an all while school of 2000 students, to a school of 350 students who came from about 40 nationalities.  Suddenly I was thrown into an environment where people had different world views, different likes in music, different eating patterns, different styles of worship.  

I’ve since grown up in that world, moving back and forth in working within different cultures --  and I totally agree with Peter Kellner of the pollsters YouGov who says, “There is an empathy born of experience.”  

We got to discussing the survey over the lunch break.  Two Americans – one black – one white, a Dane, and me, an Englishman.  Ariel shared a little snippet.  She’s been sharing a college dormitory room this year with Mellisa – a Canadian American but of missionary parents in Rwanda .  Blonde and blue eyed Mellisa washes her hair every day to keep it grease free.  Ariel, with her Caribbean origins, puts oil into her hair to keep it looking nice.  Two little differences, but two things they learnt about each other – and incidentally, two people from very different backgrounds who have become good friends.  

There were other things that came up in the discussion.  Why is one group classified as “African American” while another group is not classified as “European-American”?  Why do some labels seem to be more important than others?  And why is it that in some areas of life there is a desire for integration, and yet we all want to keep our cultural identity?  I don’t have answers for all these questions – and I’m not even going to try to deal with them here.  The question we must ask, however, is what is there that draws us together, rather than what is there that separates us.  

For instance – and I’m now looking at another area of life where prejudice is rife – my youngest son currently has a girlfriend that is a Christian, but from a different church to the one he attends.  They have both been to each others churches, in fact, Tim met Jo at the Friday night youth group that her church runs.  

The strange thing is, when Tim started to show more interest in Jo, one of her friends said to her, “you shouldn’t go out with him, he’s not really a Christian.  He doesn’t speak in tongues.”  

Thankfully she didn’t say this to Tim directly, which has given him more time to think of a response.  His first, of the cuff reaction was, “she’s not a Christian because she goes to church on Sunday rather than the Saturday Sabbath.”  

Neither statement would be correct or helpful.  A Christian’s salvation is not dependent on whether they speak in tongues or not – indeed Paul calls it the least of the Holy Spirit’s gifts – but neither is salvation dependent on a day of worship – important as I see that to be in my relationship with God.  But how do you best respond when someone challenges what you believe to be true – or makes you feel that your form of Christianity is inferior?  

In the first place, it seems to me that you build bridges rather than barriers.  We have more to learn and to share from each other than we have differences.  If I only read Christian authors from my own church I would not feel as enriched as I do today.  Perhaps I would not even feel challenged.   

Then I feel we need to point people towards Christ and towards the cross.  That is where differences reduce in size – as we all realise what Jesus has done for us and that forgiveness is available whatever my religious, social or ethnic standing.  

Then I think we look not so much to the Gifts of the Spirit – which God will give us according to our need and situation – but to the Fruits of the Spirit that the apostle Paul tells us will develop in every Christina life -- Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)  

“. . .  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  

Such fruits will help build natural friendships in all communities, will break down barriers, and will ultimately make a powerful difference in our faith, and our society.

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