Am I a racist? Are you?
Writing this weekly message – blog? article? newsletter? – every Monday is stretching. For 30 years, I’ve sought to challenge you and my other friends (nearly 5000) to address the hot-off-the-press issues of the moment looking through the lens of Scripture. It’s 4:35a as I write today’s edition…
Jabez was a welcome diversion from the Covid-19 crisis. For five weeks, this column didn’t mention the pandemic, closures, facemasks, quarantines; we looked back nearly 3300 years to pick up some insights that are still worthy of emulation today. Today, the headlines have shifted; history has meshed with histrionics as a violent and indefensible act by a policeman in Minneapolis has stopped the world in its tracks.
I grew up in a town surrounded by orange groves. The kids in the annual class photos at school were mostly white, but definitely mixed. I played football through junior and senior highs; our huddle looked like the United Nations. Samoans, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Blacks, Whites; with our helmets on, there weren’t any differences or divisions apparent. I was a lineman, blocking for Isaac Curtis who went on to play for over a decade in the NFL; a white kid opening holes for a black kid who went to Berkley on a football scholarship. Nothing was wrong with that picture.
If we had been more sociologically savvy – and lined up based on demographic profiles – I would have stood in the Poor White Trash contingent. My dad was a gardener – before the task was reassigned to immigrant labor – and we mowed lawns in the neighborhoods where my White Privilege friends lived. Nobody seemed overly preoccupied by those differences; I did well in school, but our social studies classes weren’t out to highlight inadequacies in the way we did life.
I didn’t know I was PWT; my friends at school – and, at church – didn’t seem to know they were growing up with WP. When we all graduated, I was the Class President. After graduation, most of my WP friends left for college; the month after graduation, I moved into an apartment (I was 17, and lied about my age on the rent application) and went to work, taking classes at the local junior college at night. Vietnam was raging; back then, the only “lottery” was drawing birthdates to determine who would be inducted into the army. The first hundred drawn were likely to head to southeast Asia…
Racists? Those were the KKK guys who made the news, while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was calling the nation to reimagine the values that we claimed as foundational. Assassinations and demonstrations were historic markers, but they seemed a world away from the neighborhood, before the era of breaking news and live coverage on our ever-present mobile devices. Am I a racist?
I have a great friend who played quarterback for a Division One school, got his business degree and has a vita far superior to mine. I have a grandson who started life in a Zulu village in South Africa and joined our family six years ago; he’s my flesh-and-blood. Our family devotes significant time and resource to support the rescue and nurture of children orphaned by crisis in South Africa. I lead a color-blind ministry that invests in the leadership of Christians whose faith-based influence can change the world and build God’s Kingdom. Am I a racist?
“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The followers of Jesus have checkered histories; life apart from redemption by grace came in various deficiencies, but those definitions were left in our past when the transformation made possible by the Lord Jesus redefined us, at the core. We were all something, before; but, today, we’ve been made something entirely different: washed, sanctified, justified in His Name, by His Spirit.
Apart from the reset of redemption, people are defined – secretly, or blatantly – by the sin that has come to define them. Because of redemption, sin no longer characterizes the follower of Jesus: we may choose to re-enact the moral failures of our past, but those choices can be challenged by the power of God that makes victory over sin the game-changing option.
Am I a racist? No sin defines me, though any sin could distract me from living up to my potential in Christ. Being aware of the egregious path and choosing, instead, the righteous path is the daily exercise of following Jesus.
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