Sunday, August 13, 2017. As I spoke with friends that morning after the senior adult Sunday School class I teach, a newer member and his wife approached me. He looked into my eyes and thanked me for condemning racism in all its forms so clearly. Just the day before was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and drawing from the Book of Obadiah, we had agreed that in creation, there is no superiority of birth, nor of rank or position or blessing. All that we are and have is from our Lord, and it is just the same for every person of every race and place in the world, all for whom Jesus died.
That someone in this class would be glad to hear biblical truth was not surprising. What was surprising was his next statement: “I am from Germany. I fought in the war [World War II]. And I am very glad to hear you say these things.”
His English is fluent, but his accent is still thick. He told me he spent more time as a prisoner of war than in combat, having been captured early in his assignment.
The rest of his story I do not know because he came to the class while I was away in ministry, and we have only spoken briefly once or twice so far. I look forward to hearing more. Coincidentally, I am reading a historical work on World War I, a war that was also fought over race, though perhaps not as overtly as its continuation, which we call World War II.
Racism is in the news in America. In June this year, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention passed another resolution against racism, this one specifically mentioning the alt-right.
But America is not the only place with racial issues. Later in June, I was in Kenya and preached at a long-term refugee camp/village. The refugees in this camp are members of one large tribe. These particular members had lived as minorities in various villages and towns dominated by another tribe. Several years ago, they were violently expelled from their villages by the dominant tribe and since have survived day by day in this camp that has become a small village of its own. They were forced, sometimes brutally, from their homes with nothing and after all this time, still have little to show except for the love demonstrated by various Christian and humanitarian organizations.
I have some experience with racism. I grew up in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed there. My father was a pastor who preached against racism and welcomed people, whatever race, into his churches. This was not always popular. My first pastorate was in Mississippi, in a very small town in which blacks and whites lived on separate sides of railroad tracks. My son and I supported the Baptist church across the tracks with its Vacation Bible School, and by the great kindness of a godly deacon, I received the best jar of homemade barbecue sauce I have ever tasted!
I am no race relations hero, but I have thought much about just what racism is. You see, the racism of the world wars was not a “racism” of color, but of breeding. Germans fought Anglos and French. And Americans, often of some German descent, called Germans by the derogatory slang, “Krauts.”
Racism is not essentially about color, though that has been much of America’s experience. Racism is one of the many sinful expressions of human arrogance, “exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.”
The world is filled with racism because the world is filled with arrogance. All have turned from God. We all want to think we are more than we are, and in so doing, we assert that God is less than He is and that His creation, including other people, is less important still.
Adam and Eve were of this mind. The serpent suggested that they were superior to, wiser than, worth more than God, and they readily agreed, going their own way. The roots of racism were laid.
Racism is ancient. It is a form of this arrogance that exaggerates the value of the group with which an individual is most closely aligned. Though ostensibly about the racial group, racists always have been willing to protect members of other races who agree and submit to their thinking while castigating and seeking to destroy those of their own race who disagree. And racism is not confined to those who are in the more powerful position, though the application of racism through power is egregiously wicked before God.
Of all people, the people of God, of Christ, should be free of racism because we have become a different sort of race, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” a race of all the races, the very Kingdom of Heaven. The remedy for racism of all varieties, including Nazi or alt-right or tribalism or in one’s own heart, is in our Lord. His great gift of love is our great command to love.
Even what we claim to know, the wisdom we speak, arises from our fear of this just yet loving God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. And the fear of the Lord who loves us and who died for us is the end of racism.
Isaiah 53:6b: “Each of us has turned to his own way.”
Proverbs 1:7; Deuteronomy 10:12; Psalm 111:10.