Posted by: baptistthinker | September 9, 2011

Racism And The Gospel And A Personal Testimony

Warning: Portions of this are extremely personal. I haven’t talked much about this facet of my former life, because it’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable. Everybody likes to think “I’m not a racist”. But in reality, many of us, both black and white, Latino and Asian, have racist thoughts and prejudices. Maybe you’re not one of those people. That’s great. I’m really, truly, thrilled that you have never known that sort of prejudice. Maybe you only laugh at racist jokes, or just get uncomfortable around people of other ethnic backgrounds than your own. Maybe you look at a white man or black man, and decide you can’t trust him, based only on your past experiences. Consider, friend, that you just might be a racist. Portions of this may make you uncomfortable. Understand that I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, or make you uncomfortable. But I want you to understand that the Gospel of Christ is antithetical to racism.

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
(Gal 3:26-29 ESV)
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
(Col 3:8-11 ESV)

I love the above verses, because they talk about how in Christ, we are all one. There is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised. These verses also dispel the notions of racism. Paul wrote these verses, I believe, thinking on the subject of racism at least a little. Jews often thought themselves the better, because they were the circumcised, the chosen of God. Greeks and other Gentiles were lesser people, on account of not being Jewish. In fact, if you look at the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well, you’ll see that this story directly addresses racism. The Jews hated the Samaritans, who were  descendants of Jewish and Gentile ancestors. As the Jews were forbidden by God to marry with those outside the Israelite faith, this was highly taboo, especially to those who were “pure Jews”.

Before we go much further, I want to stop and define racism. Racism is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race(source). There are different forms of racism present in the world. Some are more explicit, like those who quite simply hate people of other skin tones and state their opinion vocally(the Neo-Nazis, KKK, Nation of Islam). Then there are those who maybe tell a racist joke among friends now and then. Or who look at people of a different skin tone and judge them simply for being that skin tone, and assume “they’re all just like ______”.

Here are some soul-searching questions each of us should ask ourselves, when we think “well, I’m not a racist. Those KKK members, now they are racist. But not me.”
-Do I have less compassion on illegal immigrants because they look differently and speak another language?
-Am I reluctant to adopt a child of a different skin color?
-Do I make judgments about a person’s intelligence, abilities, etc. based on their ethnicity?
-Do I frown upon marriages that are ‘interracial’?
-Would I hesitate submitting to a pastor with a different color skin?
-Do I tolerate humor that ridicules other nationalities?
-If I boarded an airplane and discovered my seating assignment was next to an Arab man, would I treat that person with any less respect?
-Would I be willing to incorporate into our worship service styles of music that represent other cultures?
-Is my conception of Jesus that of a (insert your own race here)?
-Do I ignore the painful discrimination that people of another skin color have experienced in the past or present? (“weeping with those who weep,” Rom. 12:15)
-Would I be willing to give my life to share Christ with people of another ethnic heritage?(Source)

I grew up in the Northeast, in Delaware. My mom was a southern girl, and my dad a Yankee from Massachusetts. I wasn’t brought up to hate anybody. I attended church every Sunday and Wednesday, and every Revival and Special Meeting. My dad would now and then tell jokes about people of all ethnic backgrounds, including our own. I played with all the kids on our street, both black and white. But I remember, that fairly often, my toys and bikes would get stolen by the older black kids down the street. I remember one day, our new bikes we had gotten for Christmas were stolen. That night, the mothers of these two older black kids came walking down the street, towing their sons and our bikes. I remember my dad standing on the front porch, lecturing these boys. Dad had taken them to church now and then, and had bought them shoes and school supplies from time to time as they were poorer than we were(and we were poor). These events, along with others in our neighborhood(the local crackhouse, the woman getting her throat slit down the street), began to solidify an opinion in my mind about black people. I thought to myself “they’re all thieves.” Gradually, as I got older as a teenager, this opinion began to form more and more into “The entire black race is degenerate. All black Americans should be shipped back to Africa, and let’s see if they can do as well as they can here. That will teach them to be ungrateful.”

I didn’t know anything about Martin Luther King Jr as a young man. I confess, I still don’t know much about him, although I am learning more about his accomplishments and life. Our school, a private school run by my church, didn’t celebrate MLK day until after I graduated, and even then, it was an optional holiday. We didn’t celebrate MLK day for the reason(as I understand it, from overhearing teachers talking about it) that “MLK was a whoremonger and Communist”. As a young man, I had become fascinated with Civil War History, particularly with the Confederacy. Not entirely over the issue of slavery, as I was against slavery. Mostly. However, I did hold the opinion that many descendants of Confederates in the South still hold, that is that “slavery was not as bad as it’s made out to be by liberal historians”. I cited, as evidence for this, the fact that many slaves chose to remain in the employ of their master. There are many things that I realize now I had failed to take into consideration that would account for this fact. I certainly didn’t understand the de-humanization of people that is inherent in the type of slavery held to by the slave-owners in America, and I doubt I would have cared. I didn’t understand the condition known as Stockholm Syndrome, and I didn’t understand the “normalcy bias” that is inherent in humanity. But these are topics for another day.

As I got closer to 18, I was becoming more radical in my mind about these things. My next door neighbor was a man who read militia magazines(if you remember the 90’s, you’ll remember that militia groups and survivalists were considered to be somewhat of a threat to the security of the United States, although most of them actually weren’t), and would sometimes let me read a stack of them. As I read them, I began to discover that there were websites for these groups. I sometimes got on the internet at my grandmother’s or at the library, and would look different sites up. Outwardly, I was still quite normal, although I had become somewhat of an advocate for the Confederacy in the Civil War. I had a Confederate Flag put on my class ring. I would say “It’s heritage, not hate”. But in my heart, I knew there was that part of me that was burning with hatred. I had a Confederate flag on my belt buckle, that I wore mostly to taunt people. I was moving further down a path that would just continue to lead to destruction.

When I went off to Bible college, I was going to train to be a pastor. I thought, that whenever I finally set out on my own away from my parents, I could find some sort of militia group where I could be the chaplain(something similar to the Klan, although I didn’t want to join the Klan because I didn’t want to change my political party affiliation to a Democrat). I had a couple of groups in mind at the time, and even thought of starting my own. College was also a place where I found a few like-minded people. Fellow students who’d use slurs for black people, or Asian people, or Latino people. And the scary thing is, we didn’t see a contradiction between our faith, and our hate. Our Bible college, forbade dating between black students and white students. Now, between a white student and a Latino? No problem. White student and Asian? No problem. Black student and black student? No problem. Black students were only able to date other black students. White students could date whoever they wanted. I remember one Latino, from Brazil I think, who had very dark skin tone. He got called into the office one day, because he was dating a white girl, and the faculty thought he was black. Once it was discovered that he wasn’t a black student, he was told “well, just stick with dating Latino girls. We don’t want to give the school a bad testimony.” Interracial dating between white and black students is/was very highly looked down on in our circles. Of course, this college also forbade married couples younger than 40 from touching on campus, “to avoid giving the school a bad testimony by making people think that we allow dating students to touch one another”. But, this school also has a large bus ministry that goes into the inner-city of Chicago to pick up kids for church on Sundays. There is or was(not sure if it continues now) a “10% rule”, which was “no more than 10% of your bus on any given Sunday can contain black children.” The alleged reason for this, was because the black children and the Latino children would get into fights, being from different gangs and gang turfs. There were, I believe, two Sundays out there, where we did a big push in neighborhoods with large amounts of black children, where we would bring those children to church. But that was rare.

We used certain Scripture verses to justify our racism. Like Genesis 9:20-29(we used this to justify the existence of slavery in America, that the sons of Ham were the “black people groups”, and thus under judgment from God, and this is why slavery was okay); Exodus 34:13-16, Deuteronomy 7:1-4(used to justify our stance against inter-racial marriages). And I would hold firmly to these Scriptures to justify my own prejudices and hatred. I have since learned that these interpretations of Scripture are deeply flawed, but again, that’s a topic for another day.

And then one day, something happened at college. During a chapel service, God moved me in a profound way. I suddenly realized, sitting in my seat, that I wasn’t saved. That I didn’t actually know Christ. I remember sitting in my seat, with tears flowing down my cheeks, under so much conviction of sin that I thought my heart would break in two. I got saved that day. But my racism didn’t stop right away. To one extent it did, and that is, the intensity of my hatred began to die down. My desire to join some sort of racist group just kind of faded away into nothingness. I don’t remember when. I just know that I no longer desired that. I no longer wanted to ship everybody that wasn’t white out of the country. But I still felt resentment whenever I saw an interracial couple. I still felt fear when I walked into a room where it was just me and a black man. I laughed at jokes about other racial groups. I still didn’t grasp the problems inherent in American-style slavery and viewed it as a minor issue, the very anti-biblical, anti-God, anti-human nature of it. I still didn’t grasp that holding prejudices against a different ethnic group was not just wrong, but was a sin both against man and God. Man is made in the image of God, and so to hate one man because he was different than me, is to hate the image of God. To have a prejudice against somebody made in God’s image because of his skin tone, is quite frankly, stupid.

But as I began to grow in the faith, I began to learn different things that began to change my outlook on this issue. I knew already that all men come from Adam. So essentially, we are all of one race. We are of one blood. We are one people, separated by ethnicity, tribe, tongue, and sometimes religion. When we approach our ideas of “races” based on the idea that we are biologically different from one another, we are bound to eventually come to a conclusion that one “race” must be superior to another. This is foolish for the Christian to believe however, because we are all of Adam. That means we are all brothers. So in the very broad scope of humanity, we discover that we are all brothers. But then, those of us who are believers, we are also bound together by Christ. A few years ago, Thabiti Anyabwile preached a sermon on this at the Together 4 the Gospel conference. Tim Challies did a brief overview of that sermon here.

 

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Responses

  1. Amen brother, God bless you!


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