Grady Jones is a regular contributor to our blog. I always appreciate getting blogs from those who aren't necessarily clergy, but still part of our Alliance family. Having roots in the south, he brings a perspective that many of us aren't aware of when it comes the issues of racism.
Given the recent national brouhaha over systemic racism in America, I thought it might be a good time to explore what makes a racist. Lately, a disconcerting number of Americans have found it easy to toss about accusations of racism against those with whom they disagree. Hating on “racists” has become the debate tactic du jour. Followers of Christ must take a more benevolent approach. Why? Allow me to explain with a personal example.
Something untoward happened when I was a little child that involved a well-known African-American celebrity. I don’t recall the specifics of the event, but it resulted in an adult within my family (we’ll call him Joe) feeling compelled to explain to me the so-called “truth” about African-Americans. Joe told me “No matter how much a black man acts like a white man, eventually he’ll act like a ‘n-word’ when life gets tough.”
Yes, you should gasp with horror. That’s a terrible thing to say to a child given the virtue that children soak up everything said by their adult family members. I carried this pernicious belief into my young adult years. It was only after I moved away from the all-white community where I was raised that I began to see the truth. Working and living alongside people of color from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds showed me, first-hand, that what I had believed about African-Americans was completely false.
God hammered home the truth even more when I first stumbled upon Galatians 3:28 that says: “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 with that verse my overall sense of white superiority vanished like flatulence in the wind. Granted, this verse refers primarily to our salvation through Christ, but it also gives us a peek into how God views people groups throughout the world: he loves us all more than we can fathom, and me no more because of my skin color.
I had an epiphany that my shortcomings and sins were not less egregious than the shortcomings and sins of other men with different skin color. In other words, my goodness was not better and my sins were not less evil than the same sins committed by people of color. Even so, the belief that I was a better and more civilized creature, because I had been born white, was a hard attitude to purge. Yes I believed intellectually what God was showing me about race, but renewing my heart on this issue took years of life experiences and struggles with the enemy of our souls. Satan wants us to believe this lie about ourselves and our fellow wayfarers in this life. It makes his schemes easier to accomplish and it makes us feel good about ourselves, albeit in a completely unwholesome way. After all, who would want to give up feeling more valuable, more intelligent, more industrious, more religious, more virtuous, or having a so-called better genealogy than entire communities of people with a different skin color?
We like to think we have a greater part in God’s plan as evidenced by him blessing us with being white in a culture that reinforced this wicked and false ideology for many generations. I am not making the argument that there are no differences between ethnic groups. But the real differences are superficial and do not mean that any race is better or has more value than the others. Skin color is not a scarlet letter, nor is it a badge of honor. It helps me when I remember that we are all created in God’s image and we are all descendants of one set of parents: Adam and Eve.
For decades I held a grudge against Joe for telling me an ugly untruth about African-Americans. Then God confronted me again about my attitude. He showed me that Joe had grown up surrounded by extremely poor African-Americans and he had judged an entire race based on his local, and limited, experience with a small portion of one group of people. We humans have an unfortunate tendency to pass judgments based on anecdotal evidence, which is often worthless evidence. You see, Joe had also been incorrectly taught the same racial ugliness as a child. His enclave of white neighbors all (or nearly all) believed the same as Joe. Hence I can forgive Joe for not making the connection that it was poverty, lack of education, the fallen human condition, and spiritual need that helped produce the negative behaviors he observed in a small segment of the African-Americans within his small community. Those negative behavioral outcomes were not the result of skin color or some type of innate inferiority in African-Americans. The same negative behaviors were present in poor white neighborhoods, but that fact was conveniently overlooked.
Accusing someone of racism for no other reason than the fact that we disagree with them on politics or social issues reveals us as a weak thinker. But let’s say a person displays real evidence of racism. Don’t followers of Christ have an obligation to consider what’s really going on deep within that person’s heart? The next time you feel compelled to hate on a racist, stop and think about it: that racist could be you, given the right circumstances and flawed influence from your own family. In any case, you might want to ask God if you harbor a sense of racial or ethnic superiority within your heart. But don’t ask if you really don’t want to know, because I can assure you that God will crush it out of your life if you dare to ask him.