This week I took the unusual step of posting a direct appeal to Facebook. This message has been welling up inside of me for several weeks, and as a preacher, I was compelled to tell it. I asked my congregation and friends to please receive it with grace, love and a challenge.
My friends, I don’t have to wonder if there is racism in our nation. I don’t have to ask others, “What do you mean? Define it for me?” I don’t have to have someone tell me that I received messages about people of color that were implied or overt when I grew up. In my moments of honesty and clarity, I know it is all true.
I heard the jokes told by my elders and repeated them. I rarely ventured to certain parts of my city and if I did, I was nervous the whole time I was there. I would get a mixed message from those whom I loved and I know loved me. As an adult, I know that some of them were struggling with their own knowledge and worldview. My pastors, whom I loved and respected, would say, “God loves everyone the same and Jesus died for everyone in the world.”
“Whosoever surely meaneth me,” we would repeat. I would sing at the top of my lungs at Vacation Bible School, “Red, yellow, Black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Yet at the same time, I would listen to those who taught me and sang those words with conviction along side me use a racial slur or make a general derogatory remark about people of color and chuckle. This is my experience of growing up in the white working/middle class of the South in the mid- to late-20th century.
As a pastor, I have been threatened by a congregant when a Black teenager wanted to join the church; but thanks be to God, those who wanted to follow the way of Jesus opened the door wide in that case. I have had others in the church make comments about race that have surprised me and disappointed me. I don’t assume this was your experience, but I would venture to say that many of you can relate.
I am like the father who said, “Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief.” I would utter, “Lord, I love, help me to love.”
Let me say, I am not angry or bitter, and I sure don’t blame others for my own thoughts and actions. I still love deeply all who are a part of my past. I consider myself blessed by God because I knew I was loved deeply by my parents. I was a part of a large family that provided incredible stability even when my father died when I was a teen.
I went to church every time the doors were open. The church was our life. I was taught the story of Jesus. I was taught the value of work and responsibility. I was taught to respect those in authority and to be grateful for the freedom provided by our nation. I was told to respect and love others even though sometimes it was not modeled.
As an adult, I understand the struggle we have in acting like we tell our kids to act. We know better, we teach better, but sometimes we don’t do better.
I became a follower of Jesus at age 9, but I will tell you that the work that the Holy Spirit began is still occurring in me. Praise be to God! I have put old ways of thinking to the side. I have thrown them off, and I continually toss them away. I don’t want to pick them up ever again. I want to fully realize the transformation that comes with the mind of Christ. I want for the Holy Spirit to reveal the places where such poison in my soul still resides. I am like the father who said, “Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief.” I would utter, “Lord, I love, help me to love.”
You may have never had my experience. I just know what I know, and now I am telling you and now you know.
What began with justification, being right with God, continues in sanctification, becoming like Christ. I know it is a lifelong journey, but I rejoice that the older I get the more I desire it.
So, my friends, will you join me? Paul encourages us in Philippians 3:13-14:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (The Message)