This article was originally posted on brandonpark.org on August 19, 2017.
My heart has been grieved and deeply disturbed by everything that I’ve watched take place in the country this week. It is truly tragic and heart-wrenching what took place in Charlottesville last weekend. The racial divide in this country is now wider than it’s been since the 1960s.
So what can we do as disciples of Jesus Christ? What should be our response? We need to first of all understand that this issue is not a skin problem, it’s a sin problem. The answer to racism isn’t sociological, it’s theological. The more our country pulls away from God – the more the rate of hate will grow. Just as cold is the absence of heat, hate is the absence of God.
I pastor a church that is racially diverse. It’s one of the things I absolutely love about serving at Connection Point Church. I would never want to be a part of a church that wasn’t racially diverse. We value and intentionally plan to have that kind of diversity. We want to make it clear to our community that we are a church for all people. We understand that the church of Jesus Christ must be about building bridges and tearing down barriers. As I’ve thought a lot about this in the last couple of days, let me share with you a few thoughts that I would suggest we take to overcome racism in our country.
1. We need to denounce white supremacism every chance we get.
I didn’t do this at first. I thought to denounce white supremacism makes about as much sense as announcing the sky is blue or that the grass is green. This viewpoint of white supremacy is so ludicrous and fanatical, it doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned let alone recognized. Knowing how much Richard Spencer and the alt-right movement is craving attention, I didn’t want to personally give him or any one else of his ilk what he was looking for.
But our friends of color need us to say it and to take a clear stand against it. We need only be reminded of the dangers of racial superiority when looking at how the Nazi regime exterminated 6 million Jews because of their race. Racism can escalate into a very dangerous thing. Christians must be urgently concerned with anything that leads to the devaluing of the life of any human being. We need to make those within our own sphere of influence impervious to the toxic teaching of any type of racial superiority.
2. Don’t allow your mind to be a pawn in the hands of hate groups.
The goal of any terrorist is to spread fear and terror. When American’s were afraid to fly after 9-11, the terrorists succeeded in their mission in part. What are the goals of racial supremacist hate groups? It’s to spread hate, division, and dissension. When you watch what is taking place on social media and in the news and respond with more vitriol, you’re giving the hate groups exactly what they want. When you don't acknowledge the feelings of the black community and treat racism as if it were an issue that doesn't exist - you're causing firm lines to be drawn in the sand. When you become upset because your white friends aren’t responding to racial bigotry the way you expect them to – you’re achieving the very thing that these groups are hoping to achieve. By pointing fingers of blame at one another, people begin to take sides and we are giving the hate groups the very success they seek. You can never respond to hate with more anger and hate. Just look to Charlottesville to see how that worked for them.
3. Don’t play into the racially divisive narrative that the media keeps perpetuating.
Trump is not to blame for a white supremacist rally just like Obama is not to blame for Black Lives Matter activists becoming violent. The media wants to stoke the fires of racism because it’s simply good for ratings. More people watch the news when there’s a racial firestorm brewing so the media will propagate this as much as possible. It’s amazing to me that most people haven’t figured this out yet. Studies of the brain show that when our emotions are triggered, our logic and reasoning go out the window. We need to keep things in perspective. We must refuse to allow the media and what’s showing up in our social media feeds to create divisions among us which didn’t exist prior.
4. We must focus more on what we have in common, not on what separates us.
My fear is that taking pride in your ethnicity only serves to divide us, not unite us. Even though I have a southern heritage, I strongly feel that white people should never display the confederate flag. What may be an expression of pride in one’s heritage to one group can certainly invoke harsh feelings towards our African American brothers and sisters whom we’re called to love. From my perspective, any type of racial pride can result in polarizing our society and taking us one step backwards towards segregation. If we want to overcome this, then we need to rid ourselves of this race-baiting, ethno-centric mentality that is dividing our nation.
The success of the Civil Rights movement under Dr. Martin Luther King was made because so many Americans from all races and walks of life joined together for a single cause. We will never get around to being one nation under God if we can’t even get around to being one Church under God! A unified nation will never be realized until there is a unified church.
We need to get to the point where we call sin what it is. Racism is sin. Race-baiting is sin. Ethnocentrism is sin. And showing favoritism towards those of your own skin color is sin.
When the Kansas City Chiefs take the field at Arrowhead Stadium – there are both white people on the team as well as black people on the team. But they all wear the same team color: Red. It doesn’t matter if they are from the inner city, the suburbs, or the farm. When they come to Arrowhead Stadium, they all wear the same color. The color of their skin is irrelevant to the bigger agenda of the game on the field. And until all of the people of God are willing to subject their humanity to the color red – the precious blood of Jesus Christ – we will never see what God can do in our culture and in our country.
5. Focus on the characteristics you love and admire in those of another race; not on the characteristics you can’t understand or identify with.
It is our responsibility to discover and appreciate each other, and God provides us with a common ground to meet on – and that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. When you actually spend time with people of other ethnicities, I believe you can actually see things within their culture and life experience that you can grow to admire and appreciate. It’s those honest and light-hearted conversations that endear us to one another and help us to appreciate what every people group in the body of Christ has to offer. Not all stereotypes have to be negative. Let’s focus on the good.
6. Understand that racism is a spectrum and we need to analyze our own racial biases.
Let’s face it. All of us deal with some type of prejudice to some degree. It’s not just a “white or black” thing. Let’s be honest, when we see Muslim men in an airport, how many of us size them up in our minds and evaluate the likelihood of them being a terrorist?
Racism is properly defined as someone who feels discrimination or prejudice to people of a different race, or that feels that one race is superior to another. As human beings, we have a tendency to create “in-groups” and “out-groups” which begins on the school playground. But we aren’t born with prejudice. My own children remind me of this as each of their best friends are those of a different skin color than we are. Prejudice is something that we learn. It’s the product of nurture, not nature. We learn it from the people we surround ourselves with. We pick up social values by osmosis. The more social contact you have with different people has been proven scientifically to not only improve cognitive development but your cultural understanding and appreciation of all races overall.
Prejudice is having a bias – the inclination to have certain opinions based on your personal experiences. We all have biases and those biases align themselves to positive and negative emotions. That includes racial biases. Racism is on a spectrum. It's not binary where you are either a neo-Nazi racist or a perfect angel. If you don’t think that you have some racial bias, just ask yourself this question: “Are most of your friends the same skin color as you are?” If the answer is yes – you probably have at least some racial bias.
What most people perceive as racism today should more aptly be defined as “culturalism.” People’s reasons for treating another group differently often amount to characteristics that are independent of race. The stereotypical assumptions of people that we often base on race just come from differences in socioeconomic status, education levels, etc. that are true of any race. I may feel “on edge” when I’m surrounded by inner city black men who all appear to be part of a gang; but I feel just as equally uncomfortable surrounded by a group of Hell’s Angels motorcyclists that are all white. The issue is not skin color – but a subculture that I have a difficult time understanding or identifying with.
Regardless, we must fight the inward tendency to treat those we may not connect with personally with less love, courtesy, and respect than we would treat our own. And we cannot allow negative experiences of the past to taint how we perceive people in the present. When we allow ourselves to develop negative feelings towards any race - white people, black people, police officers, or any other people group – we are becoming the very thing we say that we hate.
7. When you see racism in the actions and attitudes of other people – stand up and speak up!
White Christians: when you see or hear other whites making derogatory stereotypes and comments about minorities– stand up and speak up. This is the 21st Century. This non-sense has got to stop. Black Christians: when you hear comments that white people “just don’t get it” or that “the white man is holding me back”– call them out for it!
As Christians, we need not placate to the declining spiritual temperature of our friends and family members – we need to be the thermostat that sets the level of spirituality, love, respect and courtesy towards all men.
We need to understand that we are in a war for the souls of men. And when you are in a war, you don’t care about the color, culture, or the class of the man fighting next to you as long as he’s shooting in the same direction as you are. And the only thing that matters is if the man next to you loves Jesus like you do. We may have all come over here on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
We have failed to see that until we have become the one people of God – until being Christian and being American is more important than the color of your skin or your ethnic heritage – you can forget about revival or cultural transformation. Because God’s Spirit will only work in an environment of harmony and unity.
8. When you have conversations with others of a different race about racial issues – be a student, not a teacher.
We need to learn from one another. The need for honest conversations about race relations has never been greater. But when we do converse, we need to make it our objective to be a student of the other person’s perspective, not a teacher of our own. We need to listen to each other with humility and intentionality – not from a posture of defensiveness. We need to learn to ask good questions, and not make blanket statements. When we make statements the other person is faced with either agreeing with you or finding what he disagrees with. But when you ask good questions – you open the person up to see aspects of his viewpoint that he might otherwise not recognize.
9. Love is the only way to overcome hate.
Protesting in the streets is about the least effective way to change someone’s opinion on a matter – in fact, it only adds more fuel to the fires of racism. You can’t affect societal change en mass, it’s done by influencing one individual at a time.
One of the most inspiring stories of racial reconciliation is that of Daryl Davis, a black 58 year old Blues musician who in his spare time makes an effort to actually befriend white supremacists. He goes to where they live. Meets them at their rallies. Dines with them in their homes. He simply asks them a question: “How can you hate me when you don’t know me? Look at me and tell me to my face why you should lynch me?” He’s collected the hoods of dozens of KKK Klansmen who have given up their racist beliefs after getting to know Daryl. For the full news story, click here.
10. Take advantage of every opportunity to extend extra love and grace towards someone who has a different skin color than you.
If we’re going to heal racial tensions, that means we’re going to have to go out of our way to extend love and grace to each other. We each need to do our own part in removing the negative stereotypes of our own race and culture.
When you interact with someone of a different color than you – be like Jesus and go out of your way to show them love and courtesy! Show them how much you value them. If you’re in a checkout lane and your cashier is someone of a different race than you – go the distance to engage them in friendly conversation. Every single day, each of us can do our own part in healing racial tensions that pervade this country.
Sometimes when I see my African American brothers and sisters in church, I just walk up to them and give them a big hug. I do that for two reasons: 1.) they’re my friends and I sincerely love them, and 2.) I’m reminded that many of them have had to overcome more than what I have in order to get to where they are today.
Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Let us remember that white people, black people, and Hispanic people have only one real enemy – it’s Satan and his lies. Satan has done a magnificent job of splitting us up along racial, socioeconomic, and cultural lines. Let’s collectively draw a line in the sand today and say, “Enough is enough!” God will not bring a Hispanic revival, or a white revival, or a black revival – He will only bring about a Holy Ghost revival!
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools."