I’m seven years old, in the middle of the second year of my illustrious two-year football career. I play tight end for the Packers. Tonight’s game is an away game – about a fifteen-minute drive to a part of town I’ve never been to. I just caught a pass for a two-point conversion after we scored a touchdown. I’m excited; my parents are proud, etc. But this isn’t the most memorable moment of the night. No, that comes in a few minutes. I don’t know how it started – maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but all of the sudden two kids start going at it – one from each team. The scuffle grows and a few other players join in (I’m, of course, much too scared, so I stand on the sideline). As the conflict continues to escalate, a dad from each sideline rushes into the middle of it. Their voices get louder and louder and before I know it, there’s (at least to my 7-year-old mind) a full on brawl taking place on the football field.
As the scuffle dies down, our assistant coach huddles us up in the far end zone. Our head coach is off dealing with the situation. “It don’t matter what color you are, where you come from, what you look like – we’re all human beings and we’re all the same, no matter what color,” coach says. “Nobody’s better or worse because of their skin color.” Oh, I think to myself. So that’s what this was about. (I guess I didn’t mention in the former paragraph: my team was mostly white; the opposing team was all black.)
This was my first exposure to racial conflict. I had never been faced with it before. Apparently, our seven-year-old white quarterback used a word that I don’t believe I had ever heard until that night. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time I heard it.
Fast-forward a decade. It’s Wednesday morning at about 6 a.m. I just brought Smitty his coffee and we’re in his upstairs in his office. “I think I might be racist,” I say to Smitty. “What do you mean?” “Well, I don’t think it’s my fault, but, honestly, I think I have some reservations toward black people. I’ve grown up playing golf at an essentially all-while country club. I’ve gone to Lexington Christian Academy my whole life. This year I’ll graduate with one black person and a hundred white people. I’m just never around them and I think I kind of just believe all the stereotypes I hear.” “Okay,” Smitty says. “Well we’ve gotta fix that.”
This was the moment I first realized that racial tension and racism didn’t just apply to other people – it applied directly to me. Not only did I experience racism around me, but I was a part of it. I was a racist.
That night, I worshipped at Consolidated Baptist Church, a black church in Lexington. It was uncomfortable; it was awkward; it was really, really good. That January, on MLK Day, I woke up early. It was a cold morning and I was half asleep as I walked – not by choice – into the convention center at Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington. Why am I here? I thought to myself. The plain answer was that I was there for the Unity Breakfast. The veiled answer? I was there because I was still holding onto my racist tendencies, and I needed to sit and learn from the people whom I had wronged with my thoughts, and, at times, my words, over the course of my life. I needed to sit amongst the pain and the hurt and the anger that was still there. I needed to sit and, if I could barely bring myself to participate, to at least listen to the passionate rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” I was there because I needed to be there, and I was there because somebody saw that I needed to be there.
That was four years ago. It’s 2015 now, and I have come a long way, but I confess that I still succumb, not only to racism, but to favoritism of every kind. I see myself as better than you because you’re not me. I see myself as better than you because my interests, my passions, my hobbies, my sports teams, my preferences, my skin color, my gender, my religion, etc. are all better than yours. But that’s not what Scripture teaches us. Scripture teaches us that we are all fallen, all broken, all sinful. No one is better than another. “We have all fallen away. There is none who seeks God, none who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-11 paraphrase) At the same time, Scripture teaches us that all human beings are created equal. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Not only are we all created in his image, but we are taught that Christ, “by (his blood), ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) We will spend eternity worshipping with people of every color and every language and every culture imaginable! Yet we still succumb to racism because of our sinful nature.
It’s 2015. Racially charged slavery is over. The Civil Rights movement succeeded. The U.S. has a president of color. But we still cling tightly to our racist, elitist tendencies. Racial tension is not gone: just ask citizens of Ferguson, Missouri.
I graduated from Lipscomb University. I enjoyed my time there and I learned a lot about how to live faithfully as a Christian. I also saw a lot of sad things that taught me just how deep the roots of fake, nominal, cultural Christianity run. One particular pointer was a Lipscomb social club (essentially a fraternity) making t-shirts for an event with a confederate flag covering up the entire front of the shirt. How can a Christian organization at a Christian school consider this even remotely appropriate? How can I drive down the road and see Jesus fish stickers on cars right next to rebel flag stickers on the same car and hear Christians say, jokingly or not, “the South will rise again?” Why do I see Facebook posts all the time criticizing the crimes of black people, referring to them as “thugs,” but never see anything applauding the great accomplishments of our black brothers and sisters?
This may not be my best post structurally or grammatically. It may not flow very well. It may make some people mad, quite frankly. But if it does one thing, I hope it challenges you to do some introspection this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Ask yourself if you are harboring feelings of superiority towards people of other races. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you in areas of favoritism or elitism. Throw yourself at the mercy of God and repent of your sins of racism. Tell him you’re sorry for belittling people who bear his image. Ask yourself if there are any individuals to whom you need to apologize. If so, then do it! Seek out relationships with people of different ethnicities – not in a patronizing way, but in a legitimate effort to learn from them, to be a more faithful Christian. Church leaders, ask yourselves if your church is a sound representation of the demographics in your surrounding area, or if you need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. They are your brothers and sisters! Challenge yourself to read about minority cultures so you can stop maintaining ignorant presuppositions and biases. Start with Black Like Me, or Same Kind of Different as Me, of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.
I pray that we, white brothers and sisters in Christ, would do a better job this year. I pray that the Spirit would open our eyes to our blind spots and change our hearts toward our brothers and sisters of different colors and cultures. For God’s sake and for the Gospel’s sake, may we repent of our sins of racism and elitism and be sanctified in this area in 2015.