The Evil of Racism v. The Love of Acceptance
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18
My wife, daughter and I just spent five days in New York City. Five long and tiresome days as walking is the primary means of transport and there is lots to see in one of the worlds most densely populated and historically diverse cities. Asian, Indian, Latino, Russian, European, Israeli, African, and American people saturated space everywhere we went. Though I never felt like a minority, as a white family, we were.
Out of the entire time we were here, we only observed one minor episode of racism. It was a non-violent infraction, with one side blaming the other for being a racist while the other side simply pushed back in defense of injustice (there was a bit of a scam going down to be honest). Other than that small moment, what we witnessed was a city embracing its diversity and championing the defense of social justice.
On the subway, and in other public spaces, were posters (New York has a lot of posters) championing diversity and reminding people both of their rights and of their responsibility to report of any activity that reflects prejudice. Maybe more people need these posters to remind them of what is the essence of “treating others the way you want to be treated?” Or, maybe its not just the posters accomplishing the work, but the lessons learned from behaving in ways contrary to them.
From the beginning, New York has been racially diverse. A hard-to-watch movie set in 1860’s New York, features the early struggle between races (Gangs of New York, 2002 rated R), showcases the roots of self-serving prejudice and the consequences of celebrated bigotry. Fast forward to the civil rights movement 100 years later and you can find more violence over race across the country. As we stand today in America, the tiny bubbles of a pot on its way to a boil may be appearing yet again.
When I see protesters in Charlottesville engaged in defending the right to hate another race, nationality, my heart is filled with grief and my mind is filled with questions. How can they think this way? What has been done to them to make them take such a stance? Can they not see how wrong and evil this is? What's wrong with people?
I once encountered blatant racism from a man at church who was physically shaken in anger as he felt that we had done a great injustice to allow a black man preach that day. This honestly took me by surprise as the man who spoke that day is a close friend, a brother in Christ, and perhaps the most friendly and likable man I know. I had invited him to speak. He did a great job reminding us of the importance of Jesus. Yet, in visible anger, this man said to me with accusation in his voice, “He needs to go to his own people.” I immediately replied with concern, “He is with his own people. We love him and all like him. If you don’t feel the same, this may not be a place for you to feel at home.”
His reply revealed something more personal and perhaps something worth pausing to consider. “You have no idea what his people have done to me and my family.” To this I replied, “I do not and I am sorry that you have experienced negative and painful things, but this man did not do these things to you. He is not to blame.” Unfortunately, my logic and reply did little to calm him down. His wife at this moment engaged, embarrassed as she discerned what was happening, and quickly dismissed and departed with her husband.
This conversation is honestly disturbing. This is a "faithful church attender" that will make the claim that he loves Jesus. I have to hope that this is true, but clearly there is a disconnect between his understanding of Jesus and how it repairs and rebuilds his life. There is a tender nerve somewhere in there that he refuses to let the gospel heal.
As a follower of Jesus, a pastor, and simply a man raised to discern right from wrong from the Bible, I fully and unquestionably denounce any position or action that does not align itself with a love for God and love for neighbor. This includes racism, sexism, violence, hate, and comparable dispositions that stem from fear, selfishness, and a failure to grasp God’s unconditional love for sinners. According to Jesus, love for others is the whole of the Law in one idea (Mark 12:31). There is NO PLACE for racism in Jesus' family.
This being said, I’d like to remind us of something that can give us a level of discernment and care as we navigate through this emotional social unrest, regardless with where people are on the spectrum of loving their neighbors - Hurting people hurt people. This is a vicious human cycle and it can only be broken as we realize our personal great need for forgiveness and acceptance in God's love. If we've been hurt, we tend to live in fear that is shaped by that hurt and do what we can to defend ourselves from that kind of hurt again. But our defenses typically cause hurt and the cycle continues generation after generation.
We human beings require far more mercy and grace than we imagine. Before God, each of us are more guilty than we are willing to admit or even have the capacity to realize. Until the deep hurts of our hearts are healed, we will look to blame others, defend ourselves, live in fear, and cultivate hate. In other words, until the good news of God’s unconditional love for us, revealed in Christ’ substitution and atonement on the cross, becomes our personal source of peace, we will still witness people responding irrationally out of fear rather than love.
Our brothers and sisters of a different race needs to hear and see that they are loved. Gospel freedom motivates us to invite them into our lives, into our homes, into our church and welcome them just as God in Christ has welcomed us. When we see others (regardless of race or nationality) being mistreated, we should step up to defend them with words but our actions speak louder than words and we act by living a life of love that is fueled by the gospel.
Those who continue to live and respond out of hurt and fear and anger against other races, they require this transformative love too, but they also need to know they are clearly wrong. Let's do more than nod our heads at this or post something on Facebook. Let's show others we love them because we know in an incredible way, God has found a way to love us.