True confession: I am a 53-year-old white male raised primarily in the South, and I occasionally find myself involuntarily thinking racist thoughts. Not big, dangerous racist thoughts, just the kind of insipient stereotyping that comes as second nature to most humans.
When this happens, I am horrified and usually begin to dig through my thought processes to figure out where that idea came from and how to get rid of it. The point is that we do not have to be the products of the culture from which we have come; we get to make choices about what we will think and how we will behave, about whether we will feed stereotypes or confront them.
Jesus taught his disciples this truth: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
This reality has been on vivid display in North Texas this week, as a result of the incident at a neighborhood swimming pool in McKinney that involved white police and black teenagers in a videotaped confrontation. Plenty already has been written about the actual incident, although it is clear we do not yet know the full story.
What concerns me even more is the response of people in the metro Dallas area to these news reports. I have been dumbfounded for the last day to read and hear comments that demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that full-blown racism is alive and well among us — all from people who were not present at the pool and do not know any of these kids.
I’ve seen the teenagers at the pool called “sorry little thugs” and “hoodlums” and characterized as those who “have no respect for the law, for police or anything other than their immediate gratification.”
One commentator on a Dallas Morning News article said, “They should break out the bleach and clean the pool from all the black filth.”
Another opined: “These are the same kids wondering why nobody will hire them even though they were the affirmative action darling of their college.” To which another added: “Too bad they weren’t raised to be decent human beings. Simple as that.”
And then there was this gem: “This trash will never learn. … Why don’t they do what they are told? They knew they did not belong there, they refused to leave or obey legit orders. They got what they deserved.”
And finally: “A hundred criminals breaking and entering need to be shot. The girl leading the riot invasion should have been tazed and arrested. Cop did good making an example of her.”
These are not the worst comments, by far. In fact, many of the posts were so offensive that editors had deleted them when I went back to verify them. What I’ve quoted here are some of the comments that survived the edits.
Given the demographic makeup of this region, it seems likely that many of those making these blatantly racist comments are church-goers or would identify themselves as Christians. This thought makes me sick to my stomach.
Set aside the pros and cons of what actually happened at the pool — even though those details point toward another expression of racism — and think for a moment about the venom that so easily flows from our mouths. This has been further compounded by opportunistic faux news sites that have capitalized on the attention with inaccurate descriptions. And yet, because of stereotypes, many people easily believe these unreliable accounts without a second thought. Too many of us today are willing to believe accounts that justify our racist predispositions, even if those accounts are not verified by the facts.
As a pastor, I am left asking: What is the church’s role in all this? How can we live in such a heavily churched culture, a place with steeples on nearly every major intersection, and yet produce such evil expressions that defy the clear teaching of Scripture that “God is no respecter of persons”?
The church and the people of God need not to be silent. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. God help us.
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