5 Lies of Racism
We are supposed to be at the end of our series today, but this subject is way too big to cover in five weeks. So, I wanted I want to mention a few things we’re planning to do to help compensate for the lack of time. Let me let me just mention six of them.
One is a postlude, a couple of postlude messages. So technically the series ends today but it doesn’t. So maybe next week and the week after we might slide in a message without anyone knowing. Secondly, I’m planning to use the Ask-a-Pastor videos to answer some of your great questions. You all have sent in amazing questions, well-thought, impossible to answer all of them. But thank you. Many weeks ago, I asked you to send in questions, and they’re very insightful questions. So, I’ll address some of those in Ask-a-Pastor and then try to figure out another way to get the other ones. Also, we’re praying about a Life Ed class, possible parenting training, how do we make sure we raise our kids with a biblical understanding of racial reconciliation, periodic messages in the future. The elders are seeking God’s direction as far as how we as a church can move forward, practically living out what he is teaching us.And then finally to be really clear about the lies that undermine the unity of the body and what God is doing.
So, let me tell you what I was going to do. The message today went the way of my lunch yesterday. I was celebrating a birthday of a young man turning 60 in our church. We were at an Italian restaurant a group of us. If you know anything about Italian restaurants, they served, and I was eating away thinking this is amazing. And then I realized, oops that was the appetizer. There’s still more coming. So, you’re going to hear the appetizer today. I’m not even going to get to the second page of your outline. The appetizer kept growing, but I do feel like it’s important for us to get this for a couple of reasons. One is, we’ve got to understand some of the lies that travel with this subject of race, really important. But then also it will give us an opportunity to get our arms around some of what God has been teaching us as we come near the end. The message I was going to do, we’ll do next week. So, we will still cover that because it’s vital stuff. So, for today we’re actually never going to get to the text that we were going to get to. So, it will be a little different message.
Let’s talk about the five lies of racism. Obviously, these are not all the lies, but these are five of them.
So, number 1, you can worship Jesus Christ and be friends with Jim Crow. You can worship Jesus Christ and be friends with Jim Crow. Who is Jim Crow? The Jim Crow laws held sway from the late 1800s to 1965. Their pretense was separate but equal. There was a lot of separate and very little equal.
John Piper writes about this in several different places, but he grew up just a few miles from here, went to a church right on Wade Hampton which in the 1960s, early 1960s the church voted to prohibit Black people from attending their church. And Piper talks about that, when he was a kid, that happening, his mom and some others opposing that, but very, very few. He writes about what it was like to have (his dad was an evangelist and traveled, so he wasn’t there very often) what it was like to have a maid named Lucy. And I want to make sure I use his words here because he talked about Lucy taught him that you can have “deep affection and [his words] treat graciously” because they loved Lucy. Lucy loved them. “Deep affection and treat someone graciously but still consider that person inferior and still keep them somewhat at a distance.”
Do you see the danger in that? To deceive us. Yeah, we all love each other, we just we just want them to stay there, and they want us to stay over here. We’re just keeping people at a distance. And that that is the lie, one of the lies of Jim Crow.
This picture haunts me. I sometimes look at it and just think I hope that’s fake. I fear it’s real. The KKK in the front with this Jesus Saves sign in the back. And it haunts me. It makes me angry. I get the feeling you would get if you saw a picture of your dad’s face that had been cut and pasted and stuck in a crime scene. Or your sister’s face that had been stuck on some pornographic material that was sent throughout the high school. That feeling, how dare you do that? You’re taking the name of Jesus and you’re linking it with the very thing he died to save us from – hate and division. It’s unthinkable.
But the other thing that this picture – and the reason I think it’s important to look at it periodically is because the other thing it does to me is it humbles me. Because I begin to think OK some of these people might actually claim to be Christians. What do we today link to Jesus that one day people are going to look and go, “What the stink were they thinking? You think Jesus was that or was associated with that? Whether it’s our greed or tendency to justify immorality. Whatever it is, I don’t know. But I say God, those are people underneath those bedsheets just like us with sinful hearts made in the image of God who had been deceived by the lies of their culture. What lies in our culture are we deceived by?
So, I do think it’s important for us to pause to see the lies but then to look within our own hearts. James 2:1, James 2:1, and if you want to turn there you can because James hits this head on. It’s page 1011 if you’re using a seat Bible. He says,
“My brothers show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”
Of course, he’s saying you can’t say “I hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ the Lord of glory, and I show partiality to people.” Those two things can’t go together. He is not our club’s mascot. He is the Lord of glory. He is not one race’s superhero. He is the Lord of glory, all glory. Every ounce, speck of glory in the universe flows from the Lord of glory. So, he is not to be used to accomplish our own personal cultural agendas.
That word partiality is very interesting. Literally in the Greek it’s the receiving of one’s face. It’s the idea that if you judge by appearance, in the context of James 2, if you keep reading, it’s the idea that somebody walks through the door, you look at them, and you assess them by their appearance. In this context it’s rich, wealthy, successful, you sit over here. Oh poor, unsuccessful you really don’t have anything to contribute, you see it over here. And James is saying that is a disgusting contradiction between saying I worship the Lord of glory, but I show partiality and prejudice to people. Those two can’t go together.
And whether it’s economic or racial or any other kind of prejudice, partiality, bias. Lie number 1: You can worship Jesus Christ and be friends with Jim Crow.
Lie number 2: your race is your primary identity.
And I’m going to use the word race very generally – ethnicity, nationality. If you primarily think of yourself as white, Black, Mexican American, southerner, westerner, Latino, Canadian, Asian. If that’s your primary self-definition of who you are, you’re believing the lie. That’s not your first and foremost identity. Yes, your ethnicity, your nationality, these things can be gifts of God, opportunities, and they do tell us somewhat who we are, and we can celebrate that. But that’s not your primary identity. You are primarily an image bearer, beautiful, broken, made in the image of a holy God who calls you to reflect him as male or female. As a Christian, your life is hidden with Christ in God. Just try for a moment, imagine what that does for who you really are.
See if who you are is just your nationality, your ethnicity, your race, whatever, then you’re constantly susceptible to be offended, right? Because somebody is going to look at you or say something or you imagine that they… you’re constantly vulnerable. But imagine that if like Colossians 3 says, your life is hidden with Christ in God. Do you feel the security in that? That’s who you really are. And all these other things are beautiful and again can be celebrated but are not primarily who you are.
Colossians 3 goes on to say, verse 9,
“Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here [in this new self, this new life in Christ] there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all in all.”
That’s who you really are. You can just feel the security in that and the unity in that, and it sets us up to enjoy the creativity of God. In that sense we are not color blind. We appreciate the kaleidoscope of God’s creative design, but we distinguish between who we are primarily and who we are secondarily. Colossians 3:12 says “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones,” wear your primary identity, let that shape who you think you are and how you treat other people. You’re holy. You’re beloved. Be compassionate.
Put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Lie number 2: your race is your primary identity.
Lie number 3: racism is gone. Racism is gone. It’s nowhere. It’s past. It’s not a big deal. This lie assumes that as long as no one is selling slaves in public or building separate drinking fountains or redlining certain communities to deprive them of loans or services as long. As you have one friend of a different color, racism is gone. As if generations of prejudice and segregation just evaporate.
This view often is based on the assumption that anyone who claims to experience racism is either excusing failure or seeking to gain power. And it’s also based on the assumption that if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. It’s a classic ostrich head inserted in sand. This posture fails to remember that you can change laws without changing hearts. You can change laws but not immediately eliminate the ongoing effects of racialized structures that have momentum. And even when they’re ended can continue to have devastating effects on communities.
Lie number 3 is racism is gone. And I want to mention lie number 4 because I think they’re related. Lie number 4 is often an overreaction to lie number. Or lie number 3 is an overreaction to lie number 4.
Here’s lie number 4. Racism is everywhere. You notice these often go together. You have one person that is arguing it’s gone. That ended in the 60s. And then somebody else is saying, no it’s ubiquitous. It’s permanent. It’s pervasive. It’s systemically unavoidable. The U.S. has always been and will always be racist. Certain people with lighter skin are born guilty and bred to perpetuate this evil. Certain people with darker skin are doomed to be lesser perpetual victims. I want to say real clearly, that’s a lie from the pit of hell and it leads to a hopelessness.
I think I may have mentioned this in one of the services, I can’t remember a few months ago when I came back from Memphis at MLK 50. I was in a session out there where we were having this discussion and many of these older civil rights leaders were having a discussion about what things we still need to address and work on. And there was a point where it felt a little oppressive, like are we making any headway? And so, this one person asked the question, is anything changing? And you could just see the light in the eyes of one of these old preachers. He was in his 80s, he had marched with Dr. King and had seen it all.
He said, oh let me tell you about change. And he tells the story about when his brother and he were 6 and 9 in Memphis. They jumped on a bus, and they sat in the wrong seats in the white section and they were kicked off the bus. He said, fast forward several decades my brother became the president of that busing company. Yes, that’s change. Because you can come to the place where you view racism as so pervasive that your eyes are blinded to when it is no longer as pervasive.
It’s still present. It’s kind of like what Jesus said when he said the poor you will always have with you. Racism you will always have with you because you have broken hearts, sinful hearts. Wherever you have a sinful human being, you’re going to be tempted towards racism. Yes, but that doesn’t mean we as a church or we as a community, we as a country can’t move forward and see progress. This lie, the racism is everywhere lie, is reinforced in a couple of ways.
Let me just give you two examples. One is a collective way which I believe is absolutely devastating to this generation being brainwashed by this on university campuses. Let me give you an example Dr. Edna Bonacich, a Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of California Riverside. She says this,
“Capitalism is a system that breeds class oppression and national/racial conquest. The two forms of exploitation operate in tandem. They are part of the same system that creates inequality, impoverishment, and all other host of social ills that result. I believe you cannot attack racism without attacking capitalism, and you cannot attack capitalism without attacking racism.”
So what Edna is arguing and again she’s been teaching for many, many decades is that anyone who believes that a free market is more moral than a controlled mandated market is automatically a racist. Now I don’t have time. I’m tempted to get in a big debate, capitalism/socialism that’s beyond the scope of this discussion. That’s not my point. My point is, do you see the racism is everywhere mentality? Once you say that, that just shuts down conversation. We can’t even have a conversation.
Okay what is the best way – all of us agree there are poor people who desperately need help – what is the best way to help them? You can’t have that conversation, because it’s assumed if you take one posture you’re automatically a racist, and the only motivation for you to take that posture cannot believe that you actually believe it will help poor people, but it has to be motivated by systemic racism. And once you take that it just shuts everything down, and I personally believe it keeps impoverished people in poverty perpetually, and it creates this class warfare that socialism feeds on. One of the ways you know this is not true. I did a survey throughout the world this morning.
Who’s the number one racist in the 20th century globally? Guess who won? Adolf Hitler. What was the name of Adolf Hitler’s party. National Socialist German Workers Party. Now I get it. My socialist comrades will go ballistic and say he’s not a true socialist. Yes, he was a national socialist. He rejected Stalin’s socialism. But if we assume that capitalism and all racism, socialism is our way forward, all you’re doing is turning to a system that historically has perpetuated racism. This is what fosters this racism is everywhere because it keeps the cycle of economic disparity perpetuating the conflict.
So that’s one way – there are many – again that the racism is everywhere, it’s perpetuated. Let me give you another one that’s more personal and not as collective. When John Perkins was a young man he was arrested, dragged into a police headquarters in Brandon, Mississippi and beaten mercilessly. He spent the night on the floor in a jail cell in a pool of his own blood. That was many, many years ago, decades ago. He’s now almost 90 and he wrote this recently. And there’s tons of wisdom in this. Don’t miss this.
“After my beating in Brandon, I wanted to be a victim. I can remember that. I wanted to say I got something to whip them with. For persons who see themselves as victims, it is easy to be ensnared by pride. We can carry our pain as a badge of honor and try to whip others with it. I have tried to be careful since that incident in Brandon to not use what happened to make me think I was better than my oppressor.
I seldom talk about the details of that beating because I don’t want to use it in a prideful way to punish whites. This pride can easily slide into a feeling of entitlement. That I am owed something. To be sure, we are owed respect and honor as a human being. But we must not assume upon this expectation by suggesting that others should do for us what we can do for ourselves.”
There is a ton there, but what Dr. Perkins is warning us of is the kind of resentment and bitterness and victimology that guarantees that racism will persist. Because it clogs our ears and it hardens our hearts both the oppressor and the oppressed. Israel experienced this when they were slaves in Egypt, Exodus 6:9 Moses came to them. He spoke thus to the people of Israel. And if you read right before there what was he speaking to the people of Israel what God had just told him. Hey, I have heard the groaning of my people. I remember my covenant. I will deliver you from slavery. And Moses is going to the people of Israel saying, “Good news everyone!” And what was their response?
They did not listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. Their hurt hardened them to the help that was there. This is a good word for all of us, isn’t it? Hurt has a way of hardening us to the very help we need but refuse because our ears are clogged, and her hearts are hardened, and we can’t listen. And we, like Dr. Perkins warned us, are tempted to maintain that status as victim as a posture of power to make people pay. But in the end, we are cementing our own slavery. A very dangerous place to be.
Edmund Burke wrote several hundred years ago,
“In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from past errors and infirmities of mankind.”
He’s saying here history is loaded with lessons we can learn. We can look back at these past errors and these infirmities, and we can learn from them. But imbedded in the looking back and the learning is also a built-in danger. He goes on describe that these hurts and these infirmities can actually become a means of “keeping alive or reviving dissensions and animosities.” Is that not what happens sometimes?
This is the danger. Even talking about racism can actually unearth animosities. And dissensions and this, brothers and sisters is where the gospel is so powerful, because the gospel allows us to talk honestly about failures, hurts, infirmities without fertilizing bitterness, anger, resentment. And so, we need to look back. That’s what we were doing when we were learning to listen. There are things that we have not heard that we need to hear and learn and remember. We need to look back.
I have for a long time now been reading book after book, watching films specifically that helped me enter into the struggle, the pain, the inequities, the injustice. This is huge. Open our eyes, God. We need to be able to do that. We need to be able to lament in a biblical way not just chucking guilt but truly have a broken heart as God’s heart is broken. But notice, do it in a way that fuels love not resentment, or we just keep perpetuating the cycle. We look back after decades and say we’ve come nowhere. We’re stuck. The racism is everywhere lie keeps us stuck.
Number 5, the final lie: racism is someone else’s problem. This comes in many forms, and in this is for all of us. It’s easy for us to think, hey I’m not a racist. I don’t hate anybody. So why do I need this series? Why are we even talking about this as if there’s no one on your row, on your street, in your neighborhood, in your school, at your work who is not struggling.
This is where there’s some real dissonance in the body of Christ. We will spend a fortune training, sending, supporting missionaries, learning languages, going to the other side of the world to minister to people who are different from us. And yet some of us will not take an hour or two on Saturday to get to know a neighbor down the street. What in the world? Or maybe even learn a language so that I can communicate with them or learn their culture or hear their hurts or feel that.
Years ago, we invited a house that was full of Latino families down the road from us, and most of them did not speak English, and I know enough Spanish to know my name’s Pedro, and I know a little more. So, we invited the Oehrigs who are usually sitting over here and speak Spanish.
They came over, and we had a big barbecue. But what amazed me is at the end of that meal several of them said (Jim was translating) we can’t believe you would do this. We thought you hated us. We’re looking like what? Do what? That you would have us in your house as if they’re a different kind of people than us, a dirty people or something. That just broke my heart. So, we will support missionaries to go to your country but not reach out to someone down the street? It doesn’t matter what your immigration policy is governmentally to have a heart for people, right?
Everybody’s like, uh, I don’t know. Okay. Let me give you another form of this racism is someone else’s problem. I’m not a politician. I can’t fix it. It’s a little more sensitive but, I’m not white therefore I’m not prejudiced.
A few months ago, May 29th when Starbucks did their racial sensitivity training for the afternoon I wanted to interview some employees to learn what they thought about it, so I talked to some in our church. And then I was tracking with some in other places in the country. And this one barista from Minnesota basically called the training ridiculous. Now why? That’s interesting. And the barista said the reason it’s ridiculous is because we’re all in our Starbucks we’re all POC, we’re all people of color. So, why have racial sensitivity training for people of color for four hours? The assumption is only pale people can be prejudiced. Is that true? It’s not true. We all have broken hearts, sinful hearts.
Last week Adaobi Trisha Nwaubani wrote a heart-searching article in The New Yorker entitled “My Great Grandfather, the Nigerian Slave Trader.” It took a lot of courage for her to write this. Long before Europeans showed up in Nigeria, her family owned and sold slaves. The international slave trade took their business to another level and made her family and many like her family, many families like hers quite wealthy. When her great grandfather died, a leopard was killed in honor of him. He was held in such high esteem.
And six of his slaves were buried alive with him so they could serve him in the afterlife. Even today a class of Nigerians are not permitted to marry another class because the one class, the Ohu, are descendants of slaves and the other class masters and not allowed to intermarry. Her family is now living all throughout the world. Atlanta, London, Johannesburg, and still many in Nigeria. And this past January their family called for a fast to repent and pray over their past. Her father texted these words to the family throughout the world. Psalm 19:12-13,
“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.”
Racism with all its relatives –anti-Semitism, xenophobia, prejudice, bias, race-based slavery, race-based privileges – all that is not simply a white problem or a southern problem or an American problem or a western problem. It is a human problem. And the reason this is so big is until we can see that and say that know that, we can’t come together to solve it. We together in the presence of God, through the grace of Jesus Christ.
As long as we think it is someone else’s problem, we will either ignore it, or we will look for some system to solve it. But a system won’t change the human heart. A Savior will, and God is all about changing hearts first and then transforming systems from inside out.
This is what he has called us to do as his people. God has given us remarkable resources. When I look at you, I am just blown away at the resources God has given us, the blessings of education, jobs, gifts. We have people in almost every area of society, education, work, politics, lawyers, doctors, every different realm. And you can just imagine the grace that flows from this place throughout this community each week as we realize that he has poured into us what he has given us – his grace and his love – so that we can disseminate it to a culture, to a community that desperately needs it. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2,
“If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
All faith, mountain-moving faith that does not germinate into neighbor-loving, transforming, heart changing compassion, it’s fake, it’s fake faith. And that’s why God goes for the heart. Philippians 1:9, Paul prays that our love would abound, the Philippians’ love would abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment. God is teaching us how to love well as he sends us into this community. Let’s ask him for help.
Father, we have just talked about a few of the lies that travel with racism, and we ask that your Spirit, the spirit of truth, would do your heart work on us. Lord, I’m just imagining your Spirit right now going into our hearts and just kind of pulling back the defenses, removing the trip wires that we set up to protect ourselves sometimes even the barbed wire to try to keep people, even your Spirit away from us. Lord just we just pray that you would cut that, remove that. Just take away that defensiveness.
Our eyes are on you, Jesus. You are the one. You have loved us, who did not deserve your love. You have loved your enemies. We have experienced and are experiencing that kind of divine love. We want to bathe in it, Lord. Our identity is shaped by it. Our thoughts are transformed by it. Our hearts are purified by it, Lord, as we look to your sacrifice on the cross. We believe you, Jesus. And let that faith by your Holy Spirit fill us with love.
And teach us to love well, not just to love to love, but the kind of love that is abounding more and more and is discerning, so that we can really listen to our neighbors. We can lament with them, and then we can love them with the kind of love that only you provide. Jesus, thank you. Thank you for the work you’re doing in our hearts, in our church, in our community. We thank you in Jesus’ name.