On Wednesday, October 26th, Mercy Hill held its “Living Room Conversations: A Gospel-centered Conversation on Race” between a panel of pastors, staff, and church members of varied backgrounds. This post is a part of our Continuing the Conversation blog series that seeks to keep Mercy Hill thinking and talking about issues of race.
So, I’m prejudiced. But it’s not like what you’re probably thinking. I don’t think I’m better or more superior than others just because they look different, or have a different skin color. I’m an equal opportunity offender. I think less of others, no matter who they are, because I’m selfish.
And that’s not me trying to brag about sin in my life. I’d like to propose we’re all like that. We’re all selfish, self-focused people who think we’re superior to others; we all elevate ourselves and our opinions above everyone else around us. We even do that to God himself.
Look for the Self-Centeredness Root
This self-centeredness is the problem at the root of racism around the world, and it’s the problem at the root of every other sin in our lives. Racism, though, has resurfaced as a topic of public discussion due to recent events. Rightfully so, I’d say. It’s an old problem that has been largely ignored for one reason or another, and it has sprung up again like a mountain in our society, dividing citizens of this world and citizens of Heaven alike.
But it’s a mountain we should be willing to traverse if we call Jesus our Lord. Citizens of Heaven can’t be bound by obstacles, even of the human heart. And that’s ultimately what racism is. It’s a heart problem.
I used to think, “I’m not racist!” After all, I grew up in a diverse setting. I’m white, but had black friends as a kid, as well as friends from other countries and varying ethnicities—certainly one of the positive things about a public education. I roomed with a black friend in college. And, I have friends and church family now who don’t look like me or have my cultural heritage.
Yet, as the cultural climate in America has quickly risen to a boiling point, I’ve caught myself starting to wander at times, getting lost in the mountain, so to speak. I’ve seen the news reports over the last year and heard the outcry from my black neighbors calling for justice and recognition. Yet, I’ve found myself initially thinking in a way that lacks compassion and empathy and is probably downright ungodly.
Those initial thoughts show my heart’s tendency to disregard others with whom I don’t identify. It’s not that I was overtly racist toward those men I saw in the news, like some in our society probably were. It’s that I don’t have their experience, so my initial reaction is to dismiss or ignore them. That’s not right, and it shows how selfish I really am. I must at least be willing to listen, whether it’s my experience or not.
So, if it kind of gets under your skin when you hear someone say, “We’re all racist at some level,” I hope you’ll get over it and recognize it’s true. It’s true to the same extent that if you’ve ever lied before, you’re a liar. Or if you’ve ever stolen or cheated before, you’re a thief. Or if you’ve ever lusted before, you’re an adulterer. Or if you’ve ever hated someone, you’re a murderer.
I don’t want to discount the fact that there are people in our world who hate those of a different skin color. That’s racism. But I also don’t want us to fall into the trap of thinking we’re better than them just because we’re not overtly racist ourselves.
The Heart of Racism
The thing is, all sin (including racism) is a heart problem. And if the heart is the seat of our emotions, our feelings, and our very identity, then sin is, at root, an identity problem. When my identity is wrapped up in myself, then I’ve rejected the identity God has prepared for me. In other words, apart from God my identity is wrapped up in my sin.
But you know what? The first step in overcoming sin of any kind, including racism, is to admit that.
During the recent presidential primaries, the leader of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Dr. Russell Moore, was accused of being a nasty guy with no heart! And rather than retaliate with a message of anger or defense, Dr. Moore came out with an exemplary response. He said, “I actually agree. I am a nasty guy with no heart, which is why I need forgiveness of sins and redemption through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
If we call ourselves Christians, then we should take the same posture of humility. I’m going to tend toward racism and a whole lot of other sin issues, and I need the redemption that God offers through Jesus Christ. I’m sure I’m much worse than I even realize.
The Gospel Answer
Thankfully, when I look at the Bible, it gives me hope that my identity can be changed. Though my tendency is to wrap myself in the bonds of sin, Jesus has broken those bonds and made me free to live a life of love for my neighbors. My tendency is toward selfishness, but Jesus can move me toward selflessness.
Where I fail to be a good neighbor, Jesus was the ultimate Good Neighbor. He lived the life I should live, but don’t. And then, instead of getting the reward for living a perfect life, Jesus took the death I deserve for my rebellion against God. Jesus took my place. Then, he overcame death so that, one day in the future, those who trust in him can overcome death with him at the end of human history.
Now, as I trust in and dwell on that gospel story, and as I consider how much God loves and has forgiven me through Jesus, I’m moved to love and forgive and empathize with others. As he’s been a good neighbor to me, so I want to be a good neighbor to them. My identity isn’t found in my sin, but in my Savior, and that changes everything.
-Carter Mundy (Mercy Hill Elder)