MIDNIGHT MUSING ON THE SIN OF RACISM
by Dr. Chet Harris
Hebrews 5:11 - 14
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Racism is a word most Christians are reluctant to admit exists in their life. The sound of the word is repugnant and seems antithetical to what we proclaim as part of our belief system. If you ask the people called Christian if they consider themselves racist, the most likely reply would be a firm, “NO!” They will act offended that you would even ask such a question. There is a distinct difference in what inhabits our soul and how we often act or think. Desired perception and reality drift into an inner battleground of rewriting what life has taught us, silencing the voices from our past that keep whispering, and what we know as righteous truth. Apostle Paul wrestled with the knowing and doing the right thing.
There exists within each of us a legacy of sin. This shadow of sin is subtle and stealth like in that we are not overtly shouting our racism and frankly we deplore those who wave the flag of racism. The racism that exists in many of us is lurking in our conscience as a by-product of acceptable cultural prejudice. None-the-less it must be named and confronted. This is where our spiritual self-discipline serves the cause of the Gospel.
I have come to understand and accept that we truly work out our salvation all the days of our lives. In our Wesleyan theology we have that remarkable word, ‘sanctification.’ In a brief summation of the meaning one could propose it is total Lordship of God in one’s life. We arrive at the time and place when we admit God must rule over every nook and cranny of our life. Does this action rule out the working out of our salvation? We might try to sneak in the word ‘perfection’ and even the dynamic duo of ‘perfect love,’ as code words for the work of God in our lives. Whenever I read the word perfection I readily think of completion. The mere mention of this theological conundrum requires more explanation and reflection than this brief article affords. It is my desire to suggest we have the capability of dismissing the remnant influence of the nasty word racism, while at certain times and responding to certain acts we revert to racist thoughts and actions. I have ministered to four different congregations during my years of service and I can say without hesitation I have witnessed the existence of racism in each one. But, more succinctly, I have recognized racism in my life, and I am sanctified! I confess it creeps into my thoughts and actions.
Inevitably a mature believer is confronted with the sin of racism. Is it remotely possible that a believer can after years of discipleship still harbor sin and precisely the sin of racial prejudice as a prime motivator and descriptor of their worldview? The answer is yes. There is the distinct possibility that in each believer exists a piece of the worldview puzzle that enhances and protects our racism. Many believers make a minor attempt to dismiss the possibility that racism still exists in a believer and to the point we defend and justify our racist actions. The unrepentant Christian community likes to beat the drum of pseudo-righteousness drawing attention to the overt racist actions practiced by unbelievers. We march, participate in candle vigils, post on Facebook, and generally act like we have been delivered from the sin of racism. I personally refuse to participate in church liturgies reflecting how we recognize and deplore racism and prejudice. Saying the words for me is playing a game of looking good, when the ugliness of personal sin is whispering to my soul. One of the words that transforms our life is repentance. True repentance can never be generalized, it requires specific and targeted action of turning away from a worldview that is not acceptable to God. Turning away from a life of sin. This is a biblical mandate that must yield to specific beliefs and actions in life. Specificity is essential, especially in the covert like action of racism.
One way of opening the door to transformation by naming the sin is asking another person to help us stay accountable and point of fact name the sin of faith failure that requires immediate attention. I found it helpful to seek the guidance of a person of color to mentor me and help me to identify the lingering sin of racial prejudice. Why? Because it is so engrained in our life that we might not recognize it. Vulnerable is a liberating word.
I reflect on the woman who reached out to Jesus to just touch the hem of his garment. She should not have been in the crowd. Her illness had been with her for most of her adult life. She was unclean and forbidden to touch another person. This entire scenario describes the evil one’s attempt to keep healing from becoming possible. This gallant woman of faith was willing to make herself vulnerable to public ridicule and literal banishment from proper society. Why? She believed Jesus would heal her and the healing would return her to life as God intended with family and friends. I ask myself the question, “ How willing am I to make myself vulnerable to the truth within me that I either cannot recognize or actively deny racism as a sin in my life that controls my decisions and actions?
I printed a quote from Hebrews at the beginning of this midnight musing. Read it and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart regarding whether you are on a milk or meat diet when the issue of the commonality of all humankind is questioned. I believe racism exists on two levels in a Christian’s life. The first is the deeply engrained racism that we do not easily detect. We automatically act out our racist views and actions and never give it a second thought. The next level is more obvious in our life. We know our belief and action is wrong. It is racist. We defend it. It is a banner in our life. Genuine repentance is necessary. Turning away from the sin is an absolute action required of each believer. The growth of the Kingdom of God is impossible if racism is permitted to continue in the Church. We have no right to speak to those outside the walls of the Church that is to the undiscipled, if racism sits in our pews.
(I wrote these words at 3:00am in the morning after reading about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. This act of racism was not the singular nudge from God calling me to pray and write. Racism is one of the single greatest stumbling blocks to the growth of the Kingdom. Churches worship in separate corners of the Kingdom every week. God gave me the image of being invited to drink from the Living Water and there were two signs indicating two lines: ‘Whites Only’ and ‘Blacks Only.’ I did not sleep much after receiving that image from God.)
Sinner Saved by Grace,
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