The Rock Upon Which Christ’s Church is Built
15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” Acts 11:15-17
The apostle Peter told this story in 1st century C.E. to Jerusalem followers of Jesus after they criticized Peter for accepting the hospitality of Gentiles, eating with them, and violating their centuries-old religious dietary practice.
Peter’s response, however, reveals that neither the preaching nor preacher, nor a religion’s rules decide who the Holy Spirit baptizes. This passage makes clear that it is the Holy Spirit that chooses to whom Jesus’ invitation and gift is given. Peter and his critics in Jerusalem realize that Jesus’ teachings and sacred realm is not exclusive to one group. With its own divine agency, the Holy Spirit chooses to link all groups, races, ethnicities and cultures to God and each other. What we witness within Peter and members of this first church is a dazzling understanding that Jesus’ church would not be limited by their small-minded humanness. God was so much more…Yet, in the years and centuries that followed, religious institutions and their ideologies would again and again exclude the Other and endorse the wounding of men, women and children who do not conform to their preconceived notions of who are chosen and superior.
Amid the COVID-19 viral pandemic, the rise of Asian-Americans being falsely accused of being the primary viral spreaders and unjustly made scapegoats by expedient political leaders, Peter’s story remains relevant and needed in 21st century America and its 50th State. The catastrophic rise in Asian-American violence, particularly among women and elders in the past 18 months is gut-wrenching. It requires a response that rises to the same urgency as the Black Lives Matter movement toward justice. It requires the same compelling demand to rebuild the capacity of America’s Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians to be democratically self-determined and sovereign. Some in Hawai‘i believe we are immune to a resurgence of racism and violence. We are not.
Racism in practice is the learned belief that different races have traits and customs that make them superior or inferior to each other. On the continental U.S. racism manifests predominantly as differences in skin color and physical features such as the shape of your eyes, nose, and hair texture. White skin is considered superior, black skin the most inferior. Between White and Black Americans racial profiling describe different skin colors from brown, red, yellow, olive, etc., with the accompanying physical features. In Hawai‘i racism manifests not as skin color, but as ethnicity (i.e., your kinship group’s cultural affiliation and identification) and social class (e.g., where you to went to high school, your socioeconomic status, if you speak English with an accent). My point is, whether we are on the continental U.S. or here in Hawai‘i, racism which is the most corrupt form of excluding and wounding the Other, exists; and if left unchecked, will exponentially grow.
As a UCC Conference located within the State that has a majority of Asians, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to be an advocate and voice for Asian-American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian populations. The United Church of Christ could use its considerable power to influence and extend the dialog on Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Rights to include General Synod resolutions that responsibly chart a course for ending the racial violence against Asian-Americans and help to generate public policy that dismantle systemic racism and eliminate hate-speech.
Theologian, scholar and UCC minister Walter Brueggemann described the Bible as the inspired Word of God breathing into us—vibrant in its power to guide our path toward God’s grace and justice—
16b God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:16b, 18-19
Written by: Naleen Naupaka Andrade, M.D., Kahu,
Kahikolu Congregational Church