The word “ghetto” comes from the word “geto” or “copper foundry.” It was the name of a Venetian island on which such a foundry was once located.  In 1516 the Jews of Venice were removed to this Island.  During daylight hours the Venetian Jews, so vital to the economic life of the city state, were allowed to circulate among the general population. But at the end of the work day, the Jews were required to return to the island, and the gated enclave assigned to them there.* The result was that the Jews of Venice, in their walled enclave, enjoyed a cleaner, safer existence than their free-range, gentile counterparts. Their culture thrived, their families prospered. In their separation, though, they had little cultural influence on their city. They certainly made no proselytes – not that any were trying.

            The Venice ghetto is separated from the Warsaw ghetto Hitler established by four and a half centuries and by a gulf like the one that separates heaven and hell. Both were products of antisemitism and hate, but the Venetian ghetto was an experiment in co-existence while the Warsaw ghetto was a tool of genocide.  If a person had to choose which ghetto to call home the choice would be an easy one.

            But should one want to live in any ghetto?

            The Venetian ghetto had many attractive qualities. It put a wall between Jews and a culture hostile to them. It allowed them keep their culture unpolluted, their streets unpolluted, their families unpolluted. For the Venetians, the ghetto allowed them to benefit from the talents of their Jewish population without having to socialize with Jews.

            Many of us Christians rather enjoy such an existence.

            I’ll never forget the day, back in Rome, Ohio, that I first recognized the Christian ghetto. We had received, at the office, one of those phone books that include only “Christian” businesses. The cover advertised a new section which featured “Christian” dance and fitness classes. One could find “Christian” waltz classes, line-dance classes, swing-dance classes, pilates classes, yoga classes, even tango classes (probably not the “Argentine” tango, but who knows?). In that phone book one could find the walls of a Christian ghetto. I have no doubt the publishers of the phone book just wanted to get information out, and help Christian businesses. What happened, though, was that many Christians found it helped them live within walls that kept the “Gentiles” out.

            The Christian ghetto is this insulated space we create for ourselves.

            First Century Christians neither had access to such space, nor did they seek it.  Jesus said, Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16). He prayed to the Father on our behalf, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one (John 17.14-15).

            Peter, who heard Jesus pray this prayer, instructs us: Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that on account of the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may, on account of your good deeds, glorify God on the day of visitation I Peter 2.12.

            Both Jesus and Peter draw a connection between our being among non-Christians and God being glorified. Nowhere does the New Testament envision this glory being generated in  the Christian ghetto.

            Mel Hurley, David Binkley, Alfred Huff, and Jack Powers these last three weeks all made this very point – and quite independently of each other. I detected in these sermons not a coincidence but a theme. It is a theme God makes clear in His word. As Jesus said, a city on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5.14). The world would love us to go politely behind the walls of our ghetto and keep to ourselves. We often find that appealing too. Life in the Christian ghetto is certainly easier. But it is not what God has in mind.

*From “The Eviction Curse,” by Patrick Sharkey, in The Atlantic, June 2016, pp. 34-35

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