Monday was the last day of Black History Month 2022. In my last post, I wrote this definition of racism:
“Racism, a predisposition to prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a person based on their membership in a racial or ethnic group, is a sin.”
The answer to racism in America or anywhere is spiritual in nature. It is a matter of the heart. And yet, if it is a matter of the heart, how do we know when racism is happening?
I cannot tell what is in your heart any more than you can tell what is in my heart concerning racism. We can usually tell by words that are said, actions taken, and exclusion from opportunities afforded to others. If you have ever experienced prejudice or discrimination, you know exactly what I mean.
In today’s culture, the charge of racism is leveled easily and often. If someone does not say or do what is expected, they may be labelled a racist. It is today’s equivalent of leprosy. You don’t want this label. Our society has reached a fever pitch on this issue.
I grew up in Rialto, California. I lived in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Most of my friends were Hispanic, but I had one Anglo friend who lived on my street. We were members at Memorial Baptist Church, an all-Anglo congregation, and were the only Hispanic family in that church. There was one Black family who were members too. The young man in that family became my friend as well. We are still friends today and stay in touch with each other.
I grew up in a multicultural context with Hispanic, Anglo, and Black friends. I thought that was the way the world was supposed to be, culturally diverse. I learned this was not so when I moved back to Texas, to the South.
As long as there are sinners in the world, there will be racism. Like all other sins named in the Bible, the only remedy I know to racism is exposure to the truth of scripture. For racism to be blotted out, it requires knowing that racism is a sin and experiencing conviction from the Holy Spirit that it is wrong in any shape or form.
Turning from racism requires repentance, a turning in the opposite direction. It is like following Jesus into Samaria to engage with Samaritans, to offer grace and love among people who are racially and ethnically different from me and you. Exposure to truth and obedience are critical because we do what we believe.
America’s history of enslavement of Black people since 1699 with horrific treatment, prejudice, discrimination, and our history of segregation laid the foundation for habits of racism and has proven challenging to overcome. Since 1848 people of Mexican descent in Texas and border states have also experienced horrific mistreatment, theft of land, prejudice, and discrimination. These actions are well-documented, unfortunate facts of our history. Native Americans and Asian immigrants to the United States have also experienced mistreatment in America’s past. As admirable as conversations about these issues may be, a Black-White construct for the conversation will always be insufficient for meaningful progress and improvement.
On July 4, 1776, the framers of the Declaration of Independence recorded these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” I accept these words at face value as applicable today for all women and men regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity. This is our American ideal. Even though we have not always lived up to the vision of these words, we have made much progress. Yet, there is much more left to be done.
A colleague of mine once said, “Spiritual regeneration, then moral transformation, and then social reformation.” What he was saying was that many of us want social reformation; we want our society to better, to be just, to be fair, to allow equal access to opportunity and advancement. However, that is not the starting point. The point of departure is spiritual regeneration of the heart.
What follows in discipleship is moral transformation and practicing what is right according to scripture and in the presence of our King. Then, person by person, family by family, and community by community, we will begin to see a reformed society. We will begin to see his Kingdom come; his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Cultural norms begin to look more like the Kingdom of God. Since we cannot legislate regeneration, morality, or transformation, we must pray for it, study it, speak about it, write about it, encourage it, expect it, practice it, and act like it has happened to us.
To this end, my vision for our communities is to see racial, ethnic, and gender diversity at the highest levels of executive leadership and governance, where we would expect it first: in our churches, in our denominational agencies, in our hospitals, human welfare agencies, faith-based ministries, and in our Christian universities.
I long to see the vision of Dr. King become a reality, where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I celebrate the few places where this has happened and I continue to pray, encourage, and expect diversity as our witness everywhere we profess Jesus as our Lord and King.