Are we being real about racism?
Nearly 30 years ago after class at my Christian school, a teacher pulled me aside to inform me she’d heard I was dating Bernard, the only black boy in the 6th grade. Going together back then consisted of passing notes and possibly sitting next to one another over Lunchables. Usually, a relationship ended in the course of a week. It was all very harmless, but that wasn’t the point.
“It just isn’t right,” she said convincingly as her ice blue eyes peered into mine. “Just say you can't date him anymore. He'll understand.”
I’d passed notes with a handful of boys that year, but only this particular young man drew the attention of that teacher. It was of no consequence to her that Bernard was also a Christian, funny, smart, kind and handsome. All that mattered to this authority figure charged with shaping the next generation was that his skin was several shades darker than mine.
This is not the heart of God. I want to scream that from the rooftop. This does not align with Scripture. Yet my experience might be the kind of religion you have experienced before, based on a Bible that was presented in biased and broken off pieces. Perhaps a person you respect - a grandparent, parent, an extended family member or even a coach or teacher tried to convince you somewhere along the way that our skin color is what makes us different.
But this doesn’t represent the Christ of Christianity. This isn’t the Jesus of Nazareth who came breaking class, color, religious and gender barriers.
In Genesis 1, at the very beginning, we see a good and just God pouring Himself, His very breath, into the pinnacle of His creation.
Nothing in all of God’s glorious creation could rival the skin and soul of mankind. Not the moon or stars or planets or the 8 million species under the sun. Like clay in the hands of a potter, God shaped us, colored us with melanin and stamped His image upon us, so that every person of every tongue, tribe and nation would bear His image. He made skin our largest organ, a triumph trumpeting His creativity.
“From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth” (Acts 17:26).
God doesn’t stutter about loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:29, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27). He doesn't qualify it with “if they look like you or think like you or vote like you or live in the same socioeconomic class as you”. God doesn't sidestep these difficult issues.
The full counsel of Scripture is crystal clear. God created the human race and all the ethnicities within it. Humans construct the wall of racism just like the Tower of Babel, built sin by sin that hardens our hearts and creates hostility among us.
Jesus came, in all His empathy, and put on skin. Jesus wasn’t Caucasian or Black. He was Middle Eastern, Brown and Jewish. This Jesus of Nazareth, born into a carpenter’s family, came to tear down the dividing wall of hostility between us to build something new and better.
“But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility…. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:13-18).
The two groups to which Paul is referring aren’t Whites and Blacks or any shade in between. They are Jews and Gentiles. The separation that existed wasn’t due to skin color but because of sin nature. This is why Jesus came, to take on our sin in exchange for His peace. The blood of Jesus has reconciled us to God, so “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male and female, since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
We’ve been reconciled and brought near by the blood of Christ and can walk in that reconciliation with one another by the grace of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18).
As Dr. Tony Evans has stated, the racial tension we are still experiencing is - at its core - a sin issue, not a skin issue. Racism is a spiritual problem, not a political problem.
Does this mean racism doesn’t really exist and if we were all just color blind it would go away? Does this mean there's not a place for laws to protect the vulnerable and marginalized? Absolutely not. It means we all have some kind of buried bias, prejudice, discrimination, and yes, racism in the recesses of our hearts, because we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23).
The very nature of being Gospel people is that we acknowledge our sin and our need for the Savior. Racism is not a remote issue. It's as close as our own hearts.
Racism is as old as the human race. It’s as old as the Fall in Genesis 3 that fractured humanity’s relationship with God. Amidst the bounty in the Garden, we see the enemy weaving lies of scarcity and superiority. Humans know better than God. What God provided isn’t enough. What God created isn’t good. Lie after lie after lie.
We all have been conditioned to show preference and partiality in some way, just by our very sin nature.
“Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).
We need to ask ourselves if we consciously or unconsciously make judgements about people based on external things - the color of their skin or an accent or socioeconomic class or the way they dress - instead of on the character and contents of their hearts.
Because God is wildly different. God is holy, just and impartial, righteous and abounding with love.
“God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
My middle school-encounter took place 26 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Yet, here we were. That law didn’t stop that teacher from trying to teach an ideology antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That law didn’t stop Martin Luther King, Jr. or Trayvon Martin or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery or countless names in between from being murdered. That law didn’t stop the suffocation of George Floyd, or the social suffocation of many image bearers in the black community.
The law, while necessary, cannot change a person’s heart, because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Only God can. Only Jesus can change the systems that lock out truth, justice and righteousness. Jesus came to fulfill all the laws we could not keep (Matthew 5:17). Jesus is the Door to our salvation and reconciliation with God and with one another (John 10:9).
A heart transformation, not legislation, is the only thing that can create lasting change between us.
Jesus came to rebuild us into one strong body that is united by one Holy Spirit. All the parts of the body - the different colors, sizes, shapes, and strengths - are what make it a more accurate and beautiful reflection of the Creator.
The God of Creation created color not to divide us but to diversify and strengthen us.
“There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink” (I Corinthians 12:12-14).
The body must work together, connected and communicating, not segregated or silent.
So important is our unity to Christ that He prayed for it the night before His crucifixion.
“May they all be one as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me” (John 17:21).
Satan desperately wants to mar our witness to a watching world. Our unity is so that unbelievers will know we are children of God. The voice of the Church should be distinctive and healing in regards to racism, not divisive or hurtful. The Church should be a lighthouse for those being tossed and battered, a beacon of hope that shines the way forward and dispels the darkness.
If we claim to follow Christ, then we will want to imitate Him, see and love all our neighbors like Him.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus can transform and heal our hearts. He can expand our limited perspectives and plant seeds of compassion and mercy that will grow up to be oaks of righteousness as we water them with the Gospel. Because God doesn’t just pursue us for redemption but for restoration, to restore us back to His image.
So we need to be honest and constantly ask of the Lord, with the cross ever before us:
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).