Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying
Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christians should stand for justice and equality of all persons. These values not only define what it means to be American, these American values were derived from Scripture.
God is the creator of all persons, and longs that they all experience his love and grace. God longs to create a multi-cultural family of believers that then go out into the world as peacemakers, reconcilers, and seekers of justice.
God is working against bigoted, prejudicial behavior through all of Scripture. God punishes Aaron and Miriam for their bigotry against Moses’ wife Zipporah for her skin tone (Numbers 12). God calls his people to welcome the stranger. He places persons with different nationalities in Jesus’ bloodline, like Ruth.
When Jesus describes a “good neighbor” in the New Testament, he describes someone from a rival ethnic group to good Israelites (a “good Samaritan). He tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus places justice for the poor as the centerpiece of his ministerial call (Luke 4).
In Acts, we see God challenging mistreatment of widows of different backgrounds, and the apostles creating a system to protect the minority group that was being mistreated. We see God breaking through in challenging the church to welcome Gentiles into the family of God.
Paul calls the church to be reconciled, places peace and cooperation of persons of different ethnic groups as the centerpiece of the books of Romans and Galatians. He calls for tolerance and acceptance of different social, racial, and cultural mores, as long as the behaviors are not directly contradictory to Biblical teaching. He says regardless of gender, race, or economic background we are all united as equal members of the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).
The history of our nation, however, bears with it a long history of racism and racial violence—often while simultaneously claiming to be acting on Christian principles. Americans fought a war over slavery, and careful students of history will know that much of the Nebraska territory was as divided on the issue as well. North Platte had a race riot in 1929. Very few places have been immune to racial or cultural conflict.
The United States military, in a series of conflicts lasting over 100 years, slowly killed off a large portion of the Native American population after stealing their land. They forced the rest onto reservations even though many of the people lived in a nomadic culture. These wounds continue to reverberate.
American racism has not been limited to blacks and Native Americans. Our treatment, both through legislation of law and acts to protect American security, has been less than stellar in how we treat Asian Americans and Latin Americans as well. And, too often, churches and Christians were either silent or complicit in all these forms of racism.
And so it needs to be said, that when a man named George Floyd, an outspoken Christian believer by the way, gets killed by a police officer on the street, that we need to say that this is wrong. This needs to be recognized as part of a systemic issue of violence against vulnerable people of color that includes lychings, cross burnings, and more. The same is true with a group of white men in a pick-up truck hunting down and shooting a black young man in Georgia in broad daylight. This is wrong as well. As are many other examples that have become too numerous for me to remember every name.
It is also wrong is the way we often treat and speak of persons who speak Spanish as their first language, the way many of us make broad sweeping generalizations about Native Americans. Again, the examples are lengthy.
All of this, this biblical teaching that racial prejudice and violence is wrong, needs to be said. It needs to be stated and restated by believers and clergy alike. And so I am doing so, in a church newsletter, at a timely moment in our national life.
At the same time, I feel frustrated, because I think understanding this truth and being sensitive to this issue should go without saying. You know, I think loving our neighbors, and doing justice for the mistreated is like Following Jesus 101. Actually, it is like “Common Human Decency 101”. But, over and over again, it needs to be restated.
Its as simple as this. Choose not to be a jerk. And when you are a jerk, repent and ask for forgiveness, and try and make things right. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Don’t hate those that are different than you. Stand up for those that don’t have the power or the ability to stand up for themselves. Help those in need. Be a person of justice. Be a person of mercy. Be a person that has a passion to break down walls of ignorance, prejudice, and hate.