“These kinds of things didn’t happen back when the KKK was still around!” That is a statement that I never thought I would hear as a pastor. I grew up in the rural South so I was not oblivious to the existence of racism. I even had some family members who were unashamedly racist. But I never expected to hear church members referring to the Klu Klux Klan as if it was a civic organization and a pillar of the community. As a pastor at a small church in the rural South I heard several comments like this and had several other encounters with racism and prejudice. I was shocked! It was made even more difficult, because at the time I was dating a black woman (who is now my wife). I knew that racism existed and I believed that it was wrong, but until then I didn’t take it seriously; now I do.
How do I get you to take racism and prejudice seriously? This is the problem I am faced with as I write this blog. Most people reading this would probably agree that racism still exists in the world. Most people would probably agree that racism still exists in their country, in their state and in their town or city. Many people would agree that racism exists at their workplace, within their circle of friends or in their family. Some of the people reading this might even agree that racism exists among their church family. BUT IS IT REAL TO YOU?
If you are like I was, then racism and prejudice is kind of a distant reality. You know it exists and you don’t like it, but for the most part (in the case of many white Americans, like myself) you are unaffected by it. Occasionally, you will hear a racist joke or comment from an acquaintance, a friend or a family member and for a brief moment, that uncomfortable reality will come rushing into your face as you struggle to figure out how, or if you should respond. I am sad to say that for much of my life I simply just got quiet and let the comments pass. I think that a lot of you do too! Why? Probably because racism and prejudice usually fall into the category of “bad things that I can’t change.” This is the same category where we often file away our feelings when we see commercials and news reports about people starving overseas. We care, but the problem seems worlds away until, for some reason, we are forced to face it (like I was). In short, racism is “out of sight, out of mind,” and (to be honest) we like it that way! We have countless distractions, worries and obligations that weigh us down, so we ignore the problem because it is easier.
Why should you take racism and prejudice seriously? The best answer is that God seems to take it seriously. In Numbers 12:1-15 Aaron and Miriam confronted Moses because he married a Cushite woman. God defended Moses. In Jonah 4 God used an elaborate illustration to demonstrate to Jonah his love for all peoples, including the Assyrians. In John 4:7-38 Jesus broke ethnic and cultural boundaries when he ministered to a Samaritan woman. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul publicly confronted Cephas (Peter) for distancing himself from the non-Jews when a group of Jews from Jerusalem visited. (The dietary practices of non-Jews may have been an issue here, but the divide across ethnic lines was still important). These are just some of the examples from scripture that apply.
The commandments to “treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12 NASB) and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NASB) are also applicable. Even if you ignore all the other scriptures I mentioned, then these two commands still demonstrate how we should treat people of other racial or ethnic groups. You may argue that Jesus did not have race or ethnicity in mind, but then you would have to ignore Luke 10:25-37. Jesus was challenged about the meaning of “neighbor” in the command to love ones neighbor and he responded by telling a story about a man from an ethnic group which was despised by the Jews (the Good Samaritan). Jesus framed the issue of biblical love towards other people using language that emphasized ethnic differences. What else will it take to demonstrate to us that God takes this seriously? Racism and prejudice violates the command of God. If this issue matters to God then it should matter to you and to me. We take racism seriously because He takes it seriously.
If I have succeeded and you are convinced to start taking racism and prejudice seriously, then you may be asking: what do I do? Racism is a big issue and there are no quick fixes; however, here are some things that we can each do to make a difference.
Racial reconciliation won’t happen until we admit that a need to reconcile exists and then take steps to end the offense. My prayer is that God will guide us all in this difficult area. Racism is a divisive and harmful issue. We need God’s help.