What do you think Jesus might say to us when it comes to the racial divide in America today? One thing is for sure; WE NEED TO READ WITH PERCEPTION WHAT THE BIBLE TELLS US!
Christians should begin discussions of race relationships humbly. The opening chapters of the Bible tell about how God created the world as a good and beautiful place. God gave choices to Adam and Eve. And humankind chose wrongly, resulting in their expulsion from the Garden. The creation accounts do not speak of race or cultural origin. There are simply, people. Genesis 1: 26-27, “Then God said, let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”.
While God desired His people to be unique and distinctively His, too often they acted like their neighbors. Eventually, the Hebrew people fell into slavery in Egypt. It was slavery not based upon race, but more because of economic deprivation, and cultural background. God called Moses, a Hebrew child raised as Pharaoh’s own son, to be God’s instrument to deliver the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt. Once delivered from Egypt, God could have their full attention and train them to live as God’s chosen and unique people. The Exodus from Egyptian enslavement has many echoes in the New Testament, including many urgings that the Hebrews be kind and merciful to the “aliens and foreigners” that might currently live within the bounds of Israel, saying “Remember when you were slaves and foreigners in Egypt.” (Paraphrase Leviticus 19: 33-34)
God’s love is not confined to one race, one culture or class. God reaches out to all — including our enemies! Consider the Samaritans, and Jesus’ attitude toward them. In Old Testament times, Israel was defeated in battle by Assyria in 722 BC, and a number of leading citizens were drug off into captivity. They were displaced by some other defeated people in an effort to “thin out” a defeated people. Samaritans were somewhat like religious half breeds. The Jews believed that God must be worshiped in Jerusalem, if one is really doing it right! For centuries, an ancient hostility survived between Jews and Samaritans. As Luke tells us, when Jesus and the 12 were making their last journey to Jerusalem, they would have traveled through Samaria (the most direct route) saving miles of travel. In Luke 5: 51-56, Jesus’ “advance team” were denied supplies, and James and John asked “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven?” They were itching for a chance to use God’s power to enforce their own prejudice and superiority! Luke 9:55 tells us simply that Jesus “rebuked them,” and they went on to another village.
America’s history is filled with Biblical analogies. Early immigrants coming to America were often very devout, longing for the “Promised Land.” Many saw the founding of Plymouth Bay as the chance to become free from European society and hardship. The story of the quest for “freedom” is a central one.
My family of origin included Presbyterian ancestors who came to America from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Growing up, it was fun to share family history at school, how some ancestors moved from initially settling in South Carolina to Bloomington, Indiana in 1825. The existence of slavery and my ancestors desire to live in a free state (Indiana) was life challenging. Slaves tried to escape the cruel systems, fleeing unjust slaveholders who hired men to try to recapture them before they could reach freedom in Canada.
Within the span of my short lifetime, much, but not enough, has changed in the area of race relations. When I was in my first 3 years of public education there were marches and mobs of angry white people in places like Little Rock, Arkansas not far from Tulsa, Oklahoma where we lived. Angry whites voiced their disapproval about having “coloreds” in their school. I remembered Mom and Dad helped prepare me for such events by explaining that Blacks hadn’t always been well treated in America, and that Christians should love everyone. We sang with enthusiasm in Sunday School “Jesus loves the little children, All the little children in the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight! Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
What would Jesus have us believe and do in the light of race relations in the US today? It’s dangerous to feel morally superior to another person or group. Such attitudes are common in fueling bias or hatred toward others. Human sin mars every generation. Each generation may have their strengths, but also their moral blind spots. In the light of Christ, we all fall short. We recall the parable Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 where two men go to the temple to pray. A Pharisee makes a speech to God, praying aloud ‘I thank you God, that I am not like other men, robbers, evil doers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector would not even look up to heaven, but prayed “God have mercy to me, a sinner.”
I want to close with this thought: If we honestly look at ourselves and our lives as Americans, the best chance we have for better race relations is to approach God and our neighbors with humility and confession. I John 4: 19-21 says, “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister”.