Race, The Cross, & Christianity

The United States has been treating evidence of racism, prejudice, and discrimination, and not the causes, since the Civil War.

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This afternoon, my wife and I watched the moving The Help staring Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, and Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan.

Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Emma_Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives — and a Mississippi town — upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. When she arrives home, she finds that her nanny and family’s maid Constantine Jefferson (played by Cicely Tyson) is gone. Skeeter sees the chance of writing a book about the relationship of the black maids with the Southern society for an editor from New York. First, she convinces Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) to open her heart to her; then Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is unfairly fired by the arrogant Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a leader in the racist high society, and Minny decides to tell her stories after finding a job with the outcast Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Soon eleven other maids accept to be interviewed by Skeeter that also tells the truth about Constantine. When the book “The Help” is released, Jackson’s high society will never be the same.

Barak Obama, in his new preface to his older book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, quotes William Faulkner to show that history is never dead. He describes the difference between the time the book was written and the time he was writing the new preface.

The book was published in 1995, “against a backdrop of Silicon Valley and a booming stock market; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; Mandela – in slow, sturdy steps – emerging from prison to lead a country, the signing of peace accords in Oslo.” He observed that there was a rising global optimism as writers announced the end of our fractured history, “the ascendance of free markets, and liberal democracy, the replacement of old hatreds and wars between nations with virtual communities and battles for market shares.”

“And then,” he says, “on September 11, 2001, the world fractures.”

“History returned that day with a vengeance; … in fact, as Faulkner reminds us, the past is never dead and buried – it isn’t even past. This collective history, this past, directly touches our own.”

The United States has been treating evidence of racism, prejudice, and discrimination, and not the causes, since the Civil War. Slavery; “separate but equal”; segregated pools, buses, trains and water fountains; workplace and housing discrimination; and other forms of bias and animosity have served as painful barometers of the nation’s racial health. They have been, however, treated like the pain that accompanies a broken leg. The effort was to treat or reduce the agonizing symptoms of the break rather than fix it.

In our faltering efforts to deal with race in this country, a great deal of time is devoted to responding to symptoms rather than root causes. That may help explain why racism, prejudice, and discrimination keeps being repeated.

The Bible has much to say on racial intolerance in both testaments. The good Samaritan story of Luke 10:25-27 was an attempt by Jesus to expose the wrongful attitude of racial intolerance that existed between the Jews & Samaritans during the time of Jesus. In Matt 28:19 Jesus told his followers to go out and make disciples of all nations and this would include all people groups. Jesus never said to only make disciples of some people groups, he said Òall nations. Also, Paul in Galatians 3:28 condemned racial intolerance in the church. Racial discrimination should not be a part of the true regenerated Christian.

The first thing to understand is that there is only one race—the human race. Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Jews are not different races. Rather, they are different ethnicities of the human race. All human beings have the same physical characteristics (with minor variations, of course). More importantly, all human beings are equally created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to lay down His life for us (John 3:16). The “world” obviously includes all ethnic groups. God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9), and neither should we. James 2:4 describes those who discriminate as “judges with evil thoughts.” Instead, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are affronts to the work of Christ on the cross.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NKJV)

Christ Our Peace

 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). If God is impartial and loves us with impartiality, then we need to love others with that same high standard. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him. If we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image; we are hurting somebody whom God loves and for whom Jesus died. Racism, in varying forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years. Brothers and sisters of all ethnicities, this should not be. Victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Racists may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Those who practice racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to stop and repent. “13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13). May Galatians 3:28 be completely realized, “28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately, humanity has twisted the Bible to try to justify human fears and prejudices. Some consider the “curse of Ham” to be an excuse to hate those of African descent. Others insist that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death and deserve our ridicule. Both views are patently false. The Bible tells us that God’s judgment is not based on appearances but what is on the inside (1 Samuel 16:7), and those who do judge according to appearances do so with evil intent (James 2:4). Instead, we are to treat one another with love (James 2:8), regardless of ethnicity (Acts 10:34-35) and social standing (James 2:1-5). Christian love negates all prejudice, and the Bible condemns racism.

A new year will be upon us soon. What will it take to put our racism, prejudices, and discrimination aside and unite as ONE in Christ Jesus?

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