I finally ventured out yesterday to buy some new tennis shoes. Wearing a mask, I went to a local store and followed the rules. I was waited on by a very sweet and helpful young woman, also in a mask. She happened to be African American. As I was trying on shoes, I asked, out of habit, “How are you doing?” “Oh, I’m fine, how are you?” A typical exchange of pleasantries.
Something moved me inside to say, “Actually, my heart is broken. That horrible killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has left me heartsick.” And like that, our conversation changed. She opened up, not angry, but surprised that a masked stranger buying tennis shoes would venture the subject, I suppose, but she spoke more frankly that she shared my sadness and a trace of exhaustion. We have to hope and pray things can get better, she said.
It didn’t last long, but it reminded me that we can live on the surfaces and not know anything about what’s underneath with each other. Something has blown open this week in the soul of our country. It is not new. It’s painful, a wound that gets better for a time but never fully heals.
Racism is not only cruel; it is irrational and ultimately brings death and destruction. It is far past time to call it out wherever it is and require our corporate life to reflect who we hope to be at our best—fair for everyone in our society, just in treatment of one another,
and fierce to speak out for our neighbor, not just ourselves.
In 1996 Alabama experienced a string of church burnings. Our church made a gift to one of the churches and I drove down to meet with one of the church leaders. Our missions committee donated to them to help rebuild. I wrote these words then, twenty-four years ago. I wish they were not still relevant now. I wish I could say, “That was then, this is now.” I wrote this after standing among the ruins of that church in 1996:
“Racism” is a loaded word. When it is spoken, defenses are erected almost immediately. “Oh, no, some of my best friends are…” Some definitions are so sweeping that they cause despair. Often, African Americans and Anglo-Americans don’t even mean the same thing by the word.
Put simply, racism is the irrationally held belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own race to all others. Often it is defined to mean an attitude that only those in power can hold against those without power.
I have never doubted in the powerful and pervasive presence of racism, if nothing else from simply moving around a lot. If animosity and political scapegoating had only happened in one place, I would not be so suspicious. But racism, unfortunately, is a fact of life, and not only in America. In virtually every society, the deep-seated need to blame others for our own failings and problems is everywhere.
Many thoughtful and caring people despair that we can ever overcome our hatreds. Through the years, I have never believed that the difficulties of relationships between people could be solved by analysis, though that is a start. It takes more than naming the problem to solve a problem. It takes deeds.
We have not taught the teachings of Jesus vigorously enough. We have not insisted that hatred is incompatible with Christianity… These are not simply “African-Americans.” They are fellow Christians. Let us at least say, “Stop it! These are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
No law will stop hatred, no program overcome it. It must begin inside the human heart, with the determination that we will live the gospel, speak out clearly, teach it consistently and embody Christian love to all. Anything less is little better than the silence that has become our all-too-comfortable pattern. What is required is that we simply follow Jesus whom we profess. Nothing more and nothing less.
Pentecost is the time that symbolizes the breaking of the barriers. On that day, the birthday of the Christian church, people were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of the harvest in the Jewish faith. What happened was a miracle of understanding, as the gospel was preached across ethnic, language and national barriers.
Irony contains great truth—that America could be demonstrating its oldest pain so openly on the day celebrating Christian barrier-breaking contains a word from the Lord for us. Deeds, not words. Reconciliation takes deeds of healing, acts of mercy and justice, fixing broken buildings and broken laws, mending wounds, speaking peace instead of division and changing our minds. Stop blaming one another and listen. It is past time.
Let Pentecost be a call to the churches of America to repent of all racism and return to the gospel of Jesus alone as its center. Let us live the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 10:34-35: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” The ministry of reconciliation begins in a change of mind and heart. Let us lead the way. My heart is broken, but that is not enough. More is required. This is Pentecost when the wind of God comes from heaven and we might begin anew.
Christianity Today, “George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston.”