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Racism and A Message for Hope

    Jun 16, 2020 | by Pastor Patrick Wood

    I want to begin by stating in no uncertain terms that racism is wrong, unacceptable, and is based in what is the worst of humanity, the fear or hatred of another person. Speaking as a Christian, racism is completely antithetical to who we are and is completely unbiblical. The Bible, God’s Word to us, speaks clearly against the mistreatment of others because of skin color or any other distinguishing characteristics. So this statement is an effort to speak clearly to Smithfield Baptist Church where I am Pastor, the Smithfield community, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to our great country.  

     As I sit here at my desk in the quiet of my study, I am painfully aware of the disconnect between my surroundings and the tremendous amount of upheaval and chaos that is currently gripping the country. It is in the midst of times such as this that we as community leaders need to speak clearly and lead by both our words and our actions. Jesus Himself gives us a powerful message against racism in a story that is commonly known to many as the “Good Samaritan,” a message and teaching so well known that it is both a term used for anyone who does good to another without expectation of reward, as well as the basis for laws protecting someone as they attempt to help others in crises. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of a man, who is a Samaritan, helping another man in desperate need after two religious leaders pass on the other side of the road just to avoid providing assistance. While this is certainly a story of helping others in need, what is sometimes missed is that the man who provided care, as a Samaritan, was a member of a group of people who were hated by many of Jesus’s original hearers simply because of their ethnicity. Jesus shocks His hearers by showing how the “Good Samaritan” was closer to God and a better example of a follower of Jesus than many of His “acceptable” hearers because the Samaritan was willing to demonstrate mercy and love, even though he was despised by many in the ancient world. One scholar has called this story one of the strongest statements against racism in the entire Bible. And to include one more biblical example, in the “Letter of James,” penned by one of Jesus’s earthly brothers, Christians are urged to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is a consistent message throughout the Bible. However, James goes a step further and writes in the next verse, “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and convicted by the law as transgressors (2:8-9).” So, again, I would state without reservation that racism is wrong and un-Christian.

     As a Christian, I also want to speak out for justice that treats all individuals equally. Our larger family of Baptist churches has recently released a statement related to the death of Mr. George Floyd and the inequality within our justice system:

     While all must grieve, we understand that in the hearts of our fellow citizens of color, incidents like these connect to a long history of unequal justice in our country, going back to the grievous Jim Crow and slavery eras. The images and information we have available to us in this case are horrific and remind us that there is much more work to be done to ensure that there is not even a hint of racial inequity in the distribution of justice in our country. We grieve to see examples of the misuse of force, and call for these issues to be addressed with speed and justice.

     And this should be the desire of all citizens of this great country. Justice must be the same for all and this must be the goal of our country as we move forward. And I choose to believe that the vast majority of our fellow citizens feel the same.

    But unfortunately, we are all painfully aware that a conviction of the evils of racism is not shared by everyone. Some simply will not choose to love all and lift up others who are different than themselves. And in Christian beliefs, the root cause of this evil is called sin. As Christians, we believe that sin has a powerful hold on this world and causes many evils, including the evil of racism. Our faith teaches us that Jesus Christ overcame the final power of sin which is a death that would lead to our separation from God. We believe that Jesus overcame that separation for us through His death and resurrection which we celebrate specifically every Easter. But even though sin’s final power is eliminated, all people continue to struggle with the affects of sin as we live in this world. And quite frankly, my friends, this is why we must acknowledge sin and evil in our world and call it by name.

     There are many solutions and suggestions right now in our society that are being broadcast 24/7 across the media and online services. And, in my opinion, many of them are good ideas, while some are not. But the hatred of racism and the injustices within our systems will not be solved by politicians and pundits of any party or position. Why? Because while government can solve many issues and problems, it cannot solve the basic fundamental problem of our humanity. Politicians of all kinds and governments of all types, throughout all of history, have never been able, and will never be able, to address the basic fundamental problem we face. Sin. You can call it by different names. You can even deny it is an issue. But as both a student of history and a Pastor, it is clear to me that humanity will never be able to devise a system of governance that will successfully address our most pressing problem because it is not a legislative issue, it is a heart issue. And I believe history proves that you cannot legislate a changed heart. This is not an excuse or reason to not work together to create better laws, a stronger country, and a deeper commitment to justice. These things should absolutely be our goal and worthy of our best efforts! However, I believe we must remember in the midst of the work that racism, injustices, hurt, oppression, hate, anger, and fear, to name just a few, are all ultimately heart issues that will not be overcome until our hearts are healed.

     So what can we do at the individual level? How can we in the community of Smithfield hope to make a difference in the face of an evil that has such a long history and has led to so much pain? How can we practically make an impact to combat this evil power that confronts us? Many will have different answers than mine. Some may disagree with my suggestions, and that is ok. Having civil discourse and respecting those we disagree with is vital during this time. There is already enough hurt. We do not need to add a lack of civility to the mix.   

     First, as a Christian leader, I would encourage all of our citizens to pray for a healing of our country and repentance for past wrongs. Every survey taken demonstrates time and time again that Americans are a praying people. This is a time for us to collectively lift our voices to heaven and seek reconciliation, peace, unity, and justice for and with all members of our community.

     Second, we can demonstrate true love and acceptance of all. As I sat on my back porch yesterday, I watched my sons and daughter playing with their friend in an outdoor kiddie pool with a slip and slide. In a few minutes, two other children in the neighborhood came over and joined in. The moral of the story… my children would be identified as “white,” while each of their friends were “black.” These children were simply enjoying being together, and the differences among them did not take away that joy. The evils of racism and injustice caused by sin can be overcome by love and modeling for the next generation how we are all the same in what matters. Want to make a difference? Make sure the actions you live are the lessons you want the next generation to learn. Start with you and yours, and with God’s grace, we can begin to see our hurts and our hearts healed.

     May God bless you and this country as we seek His face.

    Patrick

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