Last weekend a gathering of “alt-right” white supremacists showed the ugliest version of humanity in Charlottesville, VA. A group of people were so upset about a symbol being removed that they decided to gather with torches chanting words of hate that eventually cost three people their lives and many other injuries. Sadly, none of my non-white friends were the ones saying, “I can’t believe this is happening.” This is an invitation to those of us that were too shocked because it’s not our norm.
In the wake of this tragedy, I often hear questions that sound far too much like, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” So many people live in comfort of their lack of overt racism and think that this was a fringe group of people of which I am not a part. When innocent blood is again poured out for the sake of white nationalism, it’s time for us to be our sister’s keeper and ask hard questions. It’s time to look at the places of privilege that I benefit from and ask the Lord to once again search me and know my heart and get rid of every wicked thought of supremacy.
As I heard accounts Friday night of hate groups buying all the ammunition from the local WalMart and Black clergy leaving through the back door of a prayer meeting, I was struck by the way the Gospel of the Kingdom has always addressed racial and ethnic prejudices. Not only does racism dehumanize those made in the image of God, but it stands in direct opposition to the Good News. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Certainly, this is such a time. We must wrestle with the words of Scripture and participate in the ministry of reconciliation.
In Ephesians 2, Paul speaks to Gentiles about the fact that we (non-Jews) were once alienated from God and yet God tore down the wall of hostility and ethnic hatred. We are reconciled into one body, Jesus. The death of Jesus killed hostility. We must remember that we were once alienated from God and each other and Jesus makes it possible for us to walk in what was impossible.
The apostle Peter was on a roof in Joppa praying one day when the Lord gave him a vision that represented the non-Jewish lifestyle and Peter was shocked. The Lord tells him, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Peter comes to the realization that truly God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). The story goes on and Cornelius and other Gentiles experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Peter shares this with the other apostles and they begin to realize that the power of the resurrection really is wider and bigger than they could have imagined.
As we continue in the story of the early church, Peter is still trying to figure out this Kingdom lifestyle of welcoming in the outsider. So he starts acting one way around his Jewish Christian friends and another way around his Gentile Christian friends. Sometimes he eats certain foods and other times he adds on some extra rules to the Christian life.
We often miss this beautiful passage in Galatians where one leader to another, one brother to another, Paul confronts Peter on his racism and ethnic supremacy. In public. Paul opposes Peter “to his face,” (Gal 2:11) because his hypocrisy caused others to stumble. When the Gospel doesn’t impact the way we view our neighbors who look different from us, it is a hypocrisy that will lead others astray. Paul wasn’t afraid to name the specific sin of racism and ethnic superiority and until we join his courage, we will not live in freedom and unity.
Peter was adding on to the Gospel because he couldn’t imagine a life of faith outside of his own culture. The truth of the death that killed hostility and resurrection power hadn’t impacted his cultural lenses yet. He added on cultural rules that had actually been eliminated through Jesus. We chip away from the goodness of grace when we do not allow the Gospel to impact our prejudices.
The Psalmist asks the Lord to search his heart. We must do the same. We find too much comfort in the fact that we do not join in with the torch bearers, limiting God's transforming work in our own hearts to show us where we benefit from our comfort and privilege. If the apostle Peter, on whom Christ builds His Church, had to continue working out his salvation so that he was steadfast and full of integrity before his neighbors, certainly we, too, can continue sifting through our hearts with God. How are we viewing the Gospel through our own cultural lenses like the Judaizers of Galatia? How have I benefited from my racial privilege in ways that make me uncomfortable to name my own racism?
In the name of vulnerability and to encourage that we all search our hearts, I’ll share a story of my own wrestling with racism. When I was in Israel several years ago, I was struck by the way my time in some Palestinian territories made me feel afraid. I encountered one of the moments in my life that I felt most like a minority on the Temple Mount. There is much more to say, but most relevant was a moment a few days after I returned home. I was walking past a few brown-skinned people in traditional Muslim dress when I felt something unfamiliar in my heart as I looked at these image-bearers and felt fear and hatred enter in. My limited experiences in Israel had opened a door for me to view the “other” as dangerous and less-than. I’m so thankful that the Lord convicted me and showed me the weight of my prejudice. I quickly asked Him to cleanse my heart of every racist thought and every sympathy toward thoughts of racial and ethnic superiority. I want my heart to line up with the Lord and be set free from the fear and hatred that was present.
Truthfully, I’m uncomfortable naming that, because racism is an ugly sin. I don’t want to be comfortable with that. It’s also uncomfortable for me to name the ways I benefit from a racist system, but until I do, I can’t impact the system.
We need to be Paul to one another in these days. We need to remind each other that there is no room for the hypocrisy of racism in the Kingdom. We need to cry out, for our own hearts and for the lives of those around us. May we have the boldness to ask God to cleanse our hearts of unrighteousness and with undivided hearts step into the ministry of reconciliation.