I grew up in a community where there was a lot of racial tension. In the high school that I went to, there were quite a few scuffles and fights between people of different ethnicities. When I was in junior high, I attended a church with a friend, and while driving down the road to that church one night. I looked out the car window and there was a KKK rally going on not far off the road. You could see a cross burning and men along the roadside holding guns. I was very frightened in that moment.
It was just a few weeks after that that the pastor of the church we were attending spoke out against the KKK. The church burned down. The man who started the blaze had been used as a pawn and wound up in prison, the church rebuilt, and the racial tension continued. That’s the culture in which I was surrounded when I was growing up.
When I became and adult and a pastor, I served a church where, one day, on the cover of the bulletin was a picture of some African children. One man walked into the church and he wouldn’t take one of the bulletins. I asked him why and he pointed at those black children and said, “They have their churches, and we have ours!” I didn’t last long in that position.
I am convinced racism is alive and well today, but we assume it only exists in remote places where people are vocally and verbally expressing their hatred and racism. Where we really need to be looking for racism and prejudice is deep inside our own hearts.
James, in his epistle, tells us not to show favoritism, which requires that we be able to examine ourselves to see favoritism in our hearts.
I’ve never met someone who claimed to be a racist. I’ve never met someone who said, “Absolutely, I think my ethnicity is superior to all the others.” There are those people out there, but I don’t personally know any of them. But I do know a lot of people that have said things that are indeed racist. They’ve made jokes, they’ve made innuendos, they’ve suggested things, and yet would be the first to say, “Oh, I’m not a racist. I love everyone and I accept everyone.”
Here’s the challenge: To realize that deep within you is the tendency, because you’re a sinful human being just like I am, to assess people. To prejudge people before we get to know them. And when a people group – when an ethnicity, or a nationality, someone of a different religion – comes into our life that we are unfamiliar with, we are prone to fear them and to think negative things about them without even getting to know them.
And until I acknowledge that, I can’t beat it. Until I let that evil rise, I can’t cut it off.
So that’s my challenge to you today, Spend some time searching your heart and say, “God, is there prejudice left in me?” And if so, purge it by fire. The fact is, Jesus Christ died for all, equally. He gives his life for everyone on the cross, and so I need to live my life valuing that kind of equality.