Jesus, Lead Me Away from My Racism

After Charlottesville, where is a Jesus follower to go?

16Moreover, when one has moved toward the Lord he completely removes the veil. 17Even more, the Lord is Spirit; where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Liberty. 18Now we all, having had the veil removed from our faces, look upon the glory of the Lord as if it was our own reflection. That image in the mirror is his aim for us, always transforming us from one degree of glory to the next. The source of this work in us is the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3 (My own translation)

America’s last lynching took place forty miles from my childhood home. Even so, I didn’t notice discrimination as a young child. It wasn’t until middle school that I started to realize a stringent attitude of racism was being adopted by many of my peers. I’d hear derogatory racial language in the halls and the locker room. I’d hear whispers of clandestine meetings to ensure our town stayed white. Racism felt like something we were all breathing in, whether we held the views or not. It coexisted with so much of our rural Indiana world. 

It became staggeringly blatant in high school sports. One of our rival schools had a predominately Mexican American student population. They hosted one of the biggest cross country races our team would participate in every year. As a freshman, I remember my team running by their team when two of my teammates yelled racial slurs at them. The rest of us hushed. It filled me with anger that my fourteen-year-old mind didn’t know what to do with. Plus, I was legitimately scared of these two upperclassmen—earlier in the year they’d tied the freshmen to the undersides of the bus seats. Thus, I justified my silence.

But for all the racist influences of my adolescent environment, I thought I’d been rather inoculated from its effects. My parents always provided a counter-balance to the hate at my school. We’d watch a documentary on Wounded Knee, or read a book about Harriet Tubman, and always spoke of the gospel as the good news for all peoples. I figured I had nothing to worry about . . . I’d escaped the racist trappings of my town with an unaltered image of people of color. 

Then, as a college student, I moved to Atlanta for a summer. While there I attended Cascade Avenue Church of God—an historically black congregation. I was the only white person most Sundays. At first, that didn’t seem like a big deal. I enjoyed the fellowship. I felt embraced. People invited me to things. And I loved our Thursday block parties. 

Then Sandra invited me to her house for dinner after a block party. It felt like the whole church was there. I’m not much of a mingler. In fact, I hate that kind of a party. So, I found a spot on the porch, sat on the railing, and talked to whoever talked to me. Then a young man showed up. I hadn’t seen him before. I happened to be on the porch alone when he arrived. He looked at me and I froze. I felt unsafe. I wish I could tell you that I felt unsafe because he approached me with hostile body language or because his first words to me were angry and vehement—I wish I could tell you anything other than what I must. I pegged him to be unsafe, because of the color of his skin. He asked me who I was, reached out his hand to shake mine, and I stared at him. Finally, a woman came out of the front door and hugged him. “This is Johnathan,” she said, “He’s one of the pastors at the church. He’s been on vacation since you’ve been here.” 

I went home that night knowing I needed to hand over my biases to Jesus.[1] The image in my mirror did not look enough like Jesus. I could not claim to be liberated from racial bias.

Jesus calls us to be ever reforming; always metamorphosing from our sinful nature to our new nature in Christ. That process requires humility—the ability to look in our hearts and see what we don’t want to see. Humility calls us to not only see our failures, but bring them into face to face encounters with Jesus. We lay our brokenness and sin at his feet. With an unmitigated view, we peer into his gracious eyes and ask him to change us. 

Charlottesville reminded me of that. While the whole world argues over who is to blame, I've felt myself looking inward—searching for my own blame; I’ve wondered, what have I missed in my community. What have I hushed about, when I, the pastor, should have spoken? What can I do to help us all come afresh to Jesus? What can I do to ensure that we listen to our brothers and sisters of color with humility and respect? What can I do to humbly resource the world with healing? What can I do to squelch racism; to help people filled with hate meet the reforming reflection of Christ? What can I do to help my fellow Christians ensure that their whole hearts are spread naked before Jesus and his grace? What else in my heart can I offer to Christ's renovating work in me?

I’ve always found that when I ask Jesus that question, he faithfully finds a transformative path for me to walk. I beg you to not just be sad, or just be angry. Lay your reaction in Christ’s hands, and let’s walk together the transformative path he opens before us.

[1] Johnathan and I became quite close by the end of the summer. With great enthusiasm, and great failure, he tried to teach me to play the piano. I’m so thankful for his generosity to me.


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