As a veteran of the great American civil rights movement, these past few weeks have been
painful for me to watch.
I grew up under segregation in the Jim Crow South. As a college student in Tennessee, I helped organize my fellow students to protest racial discrimination and inequality. We were instructed in nonviolent resistance and were committed to achieving great things by changing people’s hearts. I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other luminaries of the movement.
And I can tell you that the division, anger, violence, and other ugliness we have seen of late has nothing to do with what we were marching for.
Race has always played a complicated role in American society. But lately, it seems as though we have been moving backwards, not forwards in our approach to racial issues. Despite all the gains that have been made over the past decades, racial tensions appear to be at an all-time High.
But why is that?
I wonder if it’s because we have become too fixated on race – to the exclusion of everything else. It is becoming the only thing people see and an overly simple explanation for the complex problems that beset our country. Even so-called Christians have become caught up in the racial division, heaping blame and calumny upon others for their perceived sins.
We have forgotten that there is no black or white, no Jew or Gentile in the sight of God. We are all equal before Him, and we should strive to see each other as God sees us. That is, we should see each other as brothers and sisters, children of God.
But instead of seeing past race and ethnicity, we are stuck in a pattern of accusation and attack. I’ve even seen pastors get caught up in it, using their pulpit to indulge in the temptation to preach about race in a way that stokes division and hatred. Maybe they don’t see it that way, but it’s obvious that virtues like charity and mercy are being ignored in the rush to condemn and vilify. If your pastor is preaching racial division, you are in the wrong church.
Allow me to take a moment to say a few things that should be obvious to all, but have been
overlooked, ignored, or twisted to fit a particular political agenda:
- What happened to George Floyd was a terrible tragedy. He and his family deserve justice – as do all victims of police brutality. I have yet to meet anyone, on either side of the political aisle, who disagrees with this. Why are we letting ourselves be torn apart when we agree that racism and injustice have no place in our country?
- The police have a difficult and often thankless job. While we should look for ways to stop police brutality, we should also recognize that such incidents are the work of bad apples. All police should not be punished or defamed because a few police officers have done wrong. After all, we don’t punish or distrust all doctors when some prove to be evil or incompetent.
- The protestors marching peacefully for police reform have been done a great disservice by the violent rioters who have destroyed property, pulled down statues, threatened and harassed their fellow citizens, and spurred anarchy in our cities. The protestors deserve our support, but the rioters deserve condemnation and where appropriate, prosecution. They should not be permitted to turn a worthy cause into an appeal to tear down our country and destroy our values.
There is a reason that nonviolent protest is an effective way to bring attention to issues like racism and discrimination. Nonviolent protest allows for the civil discussion of ideas without demonizing or vilifying those with different perspectives. It allows us to use love as a tool for change.
Love is the key to the issue of race in America. We must speak the truth in love and seek to redeem, not condemn. We should seek to love our neighbors, not hate them. Love them regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of differences in religion, politics, background, profession, or any other source of disagreement.
In short, we should act as Christians and put our faith before party and politics. Of late, we have been too quick to deal in judgment and anger. That is not the way to healing and a better America. Let us work instead to spread love and see the humanity in each other.
Believe me, we will get much further in ending racism in America when we turn to each other in the spirit of love and generosity and work together to make this country better. Let us put aside the anger, blame, and accusation. Remember that we are all God’s children, and only Jesus was perfect.