Let Us End Racism

It’s been more than 20 years since that moment. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my dorm room in Brooke Towers at West Virginia University when a group of my friends came back to the floor. They lived just a couple rooms from me and, occasionally, we would go to dinner together in the cafeteria.

On this particular day, however, one of them noticed a shopping cart that was in the hallway. It was a long-standing game for those of us who lived in the Towers community to “borrow” shopping carts from the Kroger down the hill. I admit to borrowing one or two during my two-year residence at Towers.

For some reason, the presence of the shopping cart agitated this student. He became irate. He slammed the cart across the hall. He screamed out words I can still hear today.

I hate these n#####!

Down the hall was another hall friend of mine. He would soon become famous for his standout performances as a running back on the football team. I cannot recall if he was there, but the words were shouted loud enough that if he was, he would have heard them.

I was embarrassed. I was appalled. I was ashamed.

I didn’t shout the words, and it certainly wasn’t the first time I heard them. Growing up in southern West Virginia, you were exposed to racist attitudes and language that sought to separate people. As a kid, you didn’t always have the words and experiences to understand what it was that people were saying. You did, however, know it made you uncomfortable.

That moment, in my dorm room, changed everything for me. I didn’t want to be associated with racists nor did I want to be one myself. I wasn’t perfect in this area, but I wanted to live out the values of my faith stronger that God created us all the same.

I define racism as simply dismissing others because of the color of their skin and making contributions to society that separates people by race. It is a two-fold existence, and we have to recognize where we’ve contributed in some way to either side of the definition. Perhaps we have said things that have dismissed people because of their skin color or we’ve performed acts that have contributed to the separation of races. Sometimes we’ve done both and many times we are silent when we’ve witnessed it.

I pray for the day when racism ends.

I recognize we must be the answer to these prayers. A few years ago, I proclaimed in a sermon that my son’s generation would be the ones to see that dream come true. Several years after making that statement I’m cautious, because our children are formed by our examples and, often times, the examples we often share is of division and separation.

We share the example of dismissing concerns from people of color. When people of color share about institutional biases that favor whites, we often turn to the old advantage that everyone has an equal playing field in America. I’m a white male from Appalachia who has experienced institutional biases based upon my education and where I went to school. How much more so have people of color experienced? We need to hear their concerns and make the appropriate systematic changes that levels the playing field so all may have a chance to succeed in life.

We share the example of valuing heritage over the concerns of symbolic racism. When people of color express how displaying the Confederate flag and statutes brings up images of slavery and oppression, we often dismiss the concerns by saying we are focusing on our traditions and heritage. Instead of hearing their concerns and working together to find proper solutions and balance, we immediately dismiss the comments as detrimental to society.

We share the example of pointing out the differences instead of focusing on our commonalities. We do this by making specific references to the skin color of people of color we meet. There is an issue when we will use phrases like “that black person” or “my Hispanic helper” that we would not use if that same person is white. We point out our differences to the detriment of finding the places of common life and shared interest.

Perhaps, though, the most heartbreaking is that we will immediately accept someone based on their skin color and we will equally question someone by the same attribute. We see this in our politics, in social media, and in life. Acceptance is, sadly, as much about race as it is about the content of someone’s character today.

I bemoan all of this.

The sad thing is our children watch how we treat people. They see how we treat one another and the words and actions we use when it comes to race. Our actions provide more guidance for our children on how to live out God’s love than our words ever can.

If we truly want racism to end in our nation then it cannot begin by passing the baton to a younger and more accepting generation. It must begin with us saying, “Enough is enough.”


Racism is Still a Problem Today

I remember the day quite well.

I was sitting in my dorm room at West Virginia University, during my freshmen year, when “John” entered my room. “John” was unhappy and he wanted to share with me his frustration. His anger was centered on a person who lived in the floor, a person whom I thought was a decent guy and great future talent. “John” in his anger used words and language that was inappropriate and uncomfortable to hear. What I learned that “John” was not angry simply because of something that may or may not have happened, but because of my acquaintance’s race.

It wasn’t the first time I had encountered racism. Growing up in West Virginia, racism was a central belief for too many. Racism is wrong. It is vile. And, unfortunately, it continues still today.

We like to believe racism is no longer a problem in the United State, but it is present in many sections of our country. It is my belief that racism may be more an issue today for many of reasons. That is because it is not discussed and when it is discussed we immediately believe someone is playing the “race card” and dismiss their arguments. It may also be a bigger issue, now, because our racism is not limited to white and black issues, but includes racial differences that extends beyond many cultures and races.

If there is any doubt racism still exists in our world, one only needs to see the reaction some have had towards President Obama, or the ongoing outcry regarding a recent shooting in Florida, or the controversy at ESPN regarding comments made about Jeremy Lin.

As Christians, we are called to be followers of Christ in seeing a world that no longer sees others only by their skin color. So, how do we do this? I believe we have two guiding principles that help us.

First, Genesis teaches us that we are all created in the image of God. Each of us shares a common humanity that comes from the love of God. The image of God is not exclusive to a chosen race or a chosen culture. It is a blessing bestowed upon all of creation. When we see that we are all created in the image of God, it should open us to see the commonality that each of us have. Thus, we are not separate by our races, but unified by our shared nature that comes from the hand of God.

As well, Paul writes in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female, in the eyes of God. We could also add that there are no races. We are all united by the blood of Christ, who died and rose for all. When we see that Christ’s love is there for all, it should inspire us to share that love with others, regardless of one’s race or culture. To deny someone the love of Christ because of their race is to deny the power and holy love of Jesus Christ.

We, who are followers of Christ, are called to take the lead in tearing down the walls of racism that still exist in our country and our world. This can only happen when we desire to be witnesses who welcome others because God has welcomed us.

Let us share the common good and work to eliminate racism from our vocabulary, so that all will know the love of Christ.

Thinking About Race, the Church and Pike County, KY

Kentucky was at the center of the national consciousness, this week, and it had nothing to do with the play of the University of Kentucky basketball team. Unfortunately, it had everything to do with some of the more disappointing and frustrating aspects of Appalachian culture.

Word came out this week that a Pike County, Ky., church had decided to ban interracial couples from being members. The action by Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church came as a result of one of its members brought her fiance, who is black, to church. While the decision is likely to be overturned by an anticipated church vote that could come as early as Sunday, it raises many questions that are applicable to both Appalachian culture and the church, both the individual church and the church at large.

Why did this happened? Why does racism continue to exist in Appalachia? How was this allowed to happen in the church? What can we do in response?

Obviously, there are likely many other questions that are likely to be asked, and should be asked. These are just the ones that I believe are most prominent, at this time, to the discussion, and I can only offer thoughts as it relates to my own interactions with Appalachian culture and my role in the church.

First, let me say that the decision by this church was completely wrong. No where in Scripture is permission given to not marry someone based solely on their race. Passages that deal with who to marry focus on staying within the faith. Contextually, these passages (such as Paul’s warnings about marriage) focus on the dangers of what can happen when two people are not equally yoked. We read our own worldview into these passages when we attempt to wrongly argue that God desires marriages to be limited based on a similar race or culture.

God does not desire racist attitudes. Instead, he desires us to see all of God’s people as his children. All of Scripture tells us of God’s free and gracious love that is given to all of humanity. It is not limited to a specific race, nor is it limited to a specific culture. God’s grace and love is available to all who would believe and “earnestly repent,” to use the words of the United Methodist communion confessional, of their sin and seek to live in a peace and a relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As children of God, then, we are called to be witnesses of God’s love by reflecting that love to others. This means that we are to be witnesses of that love and share it with all people, races, and cultures. Our love must be blind to a person’s color and must be willing to see others as someone who God loves and created.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Our nation’s dark history of slavery and racism is still a problem. While we strive for the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., to see not the color of someone’s skin, but to judge someone by the “content of their character,” we all fail from time to time. This is especially true in Appalachian culture. It is a culture that is very protectionist, and refuses to recognize anything that it claims to not be normal. By this nature, it breeds racist attitudes that can come out in the most unfortunate of ways and circumstances.

While Appalachian culture is mostly seen as racist by those who live in other parts of the country and world, let us not be blind to believe that racism only exists in the mountains of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The country still struggles with seeing people from other cultures and races as children of God. Some of the discussions surrounding illegal immigration have racial tones that are hidden behind arguments of “protecting our borders.” We can all grow in what it means to see all of God’s people, regardless of their race and culture, as children of God.

For this to happen, I believe the church must take the lead, and I believe the church has. Many congregations are becoming places where all races and cultures are welcomed, and I believe this should be embraced as a holy representation of the kingdom of God. There are dialogues that exists between races and cultures which, I believe, are producing great fruit in the life of the church.

However, those outside the faith will not hear these stories today. Instead, they will see the entire church as an exact copy of the church in Pike County. This paints the church with a broad brush, but when churches like the one in Pike County or others, for instance Westboro Baptist make national news, we are all impacted. As witnesses of Christ’s love for all people, we must be willing to stand for the truth of the Gospel and what it means to live as people of God. It is a difficult challenge that the church faces as we seek to overturn the negative perception that many who are outside the faith have based on the examples of a few rogue communities. We do this, collectively, by sharing the love of Christ to all people and at all times.

Because we live in a fallen world and are fallen people, there will be other examples of the church being misguided in its interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will hear of people who desire to place their own worldview on top of Scripture, instead of allowing Scripture guide and inform their worldview. And, we will be shocked and dismayed by the inability of the church to be the church.

When this happens, let us use it as an opportunity to show others the true nature of God’s love. A God who loved us so much that he sent His Son to live with us and die the death we deserved to die. A love that is available to all us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and we are called to share with all freely.

Today, let us be a living witness of Christ’s love by sharing that love with all of God’s people, no matter their race, no matter their culture, and matter their creed.