Dealing with Racism and Prejudice
“Why do we even have to talk about racism? Wouldn’t it better if we just didn’t say anything?” I know some think this way because a brother in Christ said those words to me a few years ago. I was teaching a class on this subject. I appreciate him sharing with me how he felt. What do you think? Should we talk about the problem of racism anymore?
Racism is a problem that continues to exist. We hear about it in the news. There are discussions on it on social media. In 2018, I held a meeting in Tennessee. It was on navigating cultural storms. One of the topics I discussed was racism. I learned one of the members who is black was attending the University of Memphis. She lived in a dorm on campus. Someone wrote some racist words on her dorm door.
When I was conducting a meeting in College Station, I spoke to one of the students. She shared with me how some of the Christian college students still share racist jokes with one another. Racism is still a problem. There are plenty of people who are talking about racism. But not enough of them are going to the source where one can find the solution: God’s word. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If anyone should be talking about this subject, it should be God’s people!
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the issue of racism. It is a topic we can not shy away from. We will have to be bold and courageous. We will have to trust in God and His word. Racism has been used by Satan to distort our perception of reality too long. We must use God’s word and the lens of faith to see this as God has instructed.
As we seek to learn from the scriptures, I would like to begin our thoughts by sharing a story. It is from a brother in Christ who I love very much. We are friends, and he has assisted me throughout the years. He gave me permission to share his story of overcoming racism. I shared his story while doing a weekend meeting on racism at the Twin Cities Church of Christ in College Station. I have also had the opportunity to share it in different meetings in Lewisville, Texas and in Bartlett, Tennessee. As you read about his journey, I want you to see what we can learn about racism from him and how we can overcome it. What you are about to read are the comments my brother in Christ shared with me.
“My mother grew up in deep southern Louisiana, where most blacks were former slaves. Blacks were considered less than human. I grew up in a small East Texas town, and my mother taught me to be racist. Blacks stepped off the sidewalk when they passed a white person. They had their own schools and lived in designated areas of town called ‘quarters.’ A drive-in burger place would have a service window marked ‘white’ and one marked ‘black.’ No black restrooms were provided. Blacks could only go to the back door of a restaurant to eat. If a black came to your house, he had to come to the back door. I was taught a black was unclean, and you had to wash if you touched one and could never drink after one. This was the normal way of life in the 1940s.
When I went off to Texas A&M in 1955 (class of 59), there we no blacks at the school. The student assistant at one time sent former students a letter telling them if they sold a used car to a black to remove the A&M stickers off. This was so people would not think that blacks attended school. Life was the same during my college days.
When I went into the Army as a 2nd lieutenant, my commander was a black captain to my shock. He seemed like a fine fellow to my surprise. I endured this as best I could. This was one of the few black officers in the old segregated army making a slow race change.
When we moved to Beaumont Texas, race was at a troubling point, and blacks would go as a group to church services to show they had the right. The old Pine Crest congregation had a business meeting about how it would handle the situation if faced with it. Some wanted to close services, some to ask them to leave, etc. Shortly after this, the schools were integrated, and all manner of problems existed. It was very unfortunate that the black teachers that were now teaching the students were unqualified. This was the result of the equal but separate failure created by the whites and little education for black teachers or students. The high schools had police walking the halls and doors were locked. This started the white flight out of Beaumont in all directions.
After this period, I was working with over 100 black men, and I started to have an understanding about their lives and problems. I found them always interested in studying the Bible, but almost no sound black churches existed in the area. I brought a black to one of our meetings, and one member was so offended that he quit coming to church. He would later repent.
During this time, I became a company commander in the reserves and found the 100 plus men under me were my responsibility wherever we went. I was responsible (for blacks and whites) for their care, food, health, clothes, pay, and discipline. Later as a battalion commander, I had a greater responsibility for over 500 men black and white.
You learn from the scriptures and in the world; you must treat all men equally. Many years of studying dealing with the issue of race teach us that all men are equal. When serving as an elder, this is something in God’s word you must master and apply correctly. I sometimes think that after going to Africa and helping those brethren in eight trips and 20 years maybe my penance for my attitude about race in my early life.”
Question: What stood out to you in this story? Write your thoughts below.
What can we learn with respect to racism and overcoming it as we seek to do the will of God? Let’s consider a few thoughts.
What is the problem?
Understanding racism is the first step to ensure that we avoid it in our lives.
How would you define racism? Write your answer below.
Racism can be defined according to dictionary.com as:
- “A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”
- Another definition is “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a brother in Christ, Craig Roberts. He shed some insight about this subject. I respect Craig very much. He is a big reason as to why I am preaching the gospel today. What you are about to read are his thoughts he shared with me.
“We all stereotype based on ethnic groups, sexes, races, or other groupings. When those statements are based on skin color, are derogatory, and extreme, it could be called ‘racism.’ When not extreme, I would call it ‘implicit bias.’ There is white-black bias, black-Hispanic bias, urban-rural bias, male-female bias, northern-southern bias.
Implicit bias affects our actions, words, and feelings, though we are often unaware of it. When I see race-based implicit bias acted out, I see it among my white colleagues. It usually involves white people assuming less of black people. In these cases, whites might see blacks as prone to crime and teenage pregnancy, poorly educated, and athletic instead of academic. This bias, completely unintentional, is in our brotherhood at various degrees. It is caused by historical events and statistical data. From my experience, biases are less frequent in the congregation than in the world, assuming the congregation is strong. What is a concern to me is the lack of understanding of life for the black person versus the white person. Even lack of interest. Whites in the brotherhood do not know how to sympathize with their black brethren. They believe the mistreatment of blacks is similar to the mistreatment of whites. They deny the concepts of white privilege and microaggressions. Instead of investigating these concepts, many white Christians become angry at their mention and consider such concepts as part of the liberal agenda. In my experience, the lack of understanding, listening, and sympathy is commonplace among whites in the church. Even among elders. Very common and heartbreaking. When blacks protest, whites believe they are overreacting (unless the KKK is involved or a Rodney King type of video is provided).”
Craig’s comments have helped me understand this issue more. Also, I have had the opportunity to sit in a lecture at the University of Missouri that discussed the topic of microaggression (a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype) to help me to have a better understanding of this topic. While not everyone is racist, many can struggle with implicit-bias and microaggression.
How familiar are you with the idea of implicit bias? What about microaggression? Think about if you have ever struggled with biases toward certain people. Think about if you’ve seen microaggression in action. Write your thoughts below.
Understanding and working through these terms and thoughts is an important task to do. It reminds us that the issue of racism is a heart problem. It is learned behavior. Remember the story I shared earlier from our brother in Christ? He said he was taught to be racist. Young children don’t have this problem. Just watch how they all play together after worship services. They are not concerned about who is black or white. They just want to play. Racism is a terrible heart condition. One could take away guns, social media, the government, and flags, and racism would still exist. It’s a potential problem for everyone. Racism is sinful! Why?
Reading the following passages will help answer this question. Read them and then write out what you can learn from them.
Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”
Luke 10:27-29: And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Matthew 7:12: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Racism is wrong. It is sinful. Let’s avoid it at all costs.
What is the solution?
The solution to this terrible heart condition is Jesus Christ. God has always loved all men. The book of Jonah provides us with an excellent example of this thought. This book also helps us to see how one’s view of people (even spiritual individuals like a prophet) don’t always line up with how God wants us to view people.
Read the book of Jonah. How did Jonah’s view of the people in Nineveh differ from how God viewed them? Write your thoughts below.
God loves all men. Jesus loves all men. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
When we understand Jesus died to deliver us from our sins, it should change the way we view everyone. God the Father loved the world so much He sent His Son to die. Jesus is the one that can change the hearts of men. Mark 7:21-23 teaches, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
He is the solution. Jesus was the solution that brought both Jews and Gentiles into one body. Ephesians 2:11-18 explains, “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
If He was the solution in the first century, then He is the solution in the 21st century. While Jesus is the solution, it took a lot of time for Jews and Gentiles to come together. It didn’t mean they didn’t have challenges and even setbacks. They did. It took time for their hearts to change. One of the best examples of this was with the apostle Peter. Acts 10:28 records, “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”
Further, Acts 11:1-3 continues, “Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” It took a lot for Peter to go to the house of Cornelius. Even when he got to his house, it was uncomfortable for him. But in the process of time, he would learn that “God is not one to show partiality.”
Peter and others in the first century help us to see it is possible for hearts to change. Acts 11:18 records: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” If they were able to change, people can change today.
How should we respond?
We know all of the right things to say. We know racism is sinful and that Jesus is the solution. Yet, if not careful, racism or implicit bias can still get the best of us. There are some things we all need to consider and do. They are not always easy but should still be done. Here are some suggestions.
Examine your heart. Acts 10:34 teaches, “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.’” As Christians, we should always be doing this. We need to take some time and really consider if we have some blind spots that have been causing us to treat or view our brethren and people in the world the wrong way. Think about the following:
- How we talk about other people: Are we using inappropriate speech in our homes as we speak about others of different races? If so, why? We should repent if so.
- When someone brings up an issue about, am I truly listening, or am I preparing what I am going to say as they speak?
- Am I “lefting” or “righting” the issue (MSNBC vs. Fox News) when it comes to race? Or am I really trying to look at it and understand what others are going through with the proper vision?
- When I hear or see others acting or speaking in a sinful way, am I too afraid to say anything?
- Have I allowed past experiences to get in the way of me being sympathetic towards others now?
- If you see a black man with a white woman or a white man with a black woman, does that make you feel uncomfortable? If so, ask yourself why? It may help uncover some things you have not considered.
Have any of these been a challenge for you? If so, what action can you take to change? ____________________________________________________________________________________________
Be a pioneer. Acts 9:26-27 reads, “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”
I love the phrase, “Be a pioneer.” When I was a part of a race forum a few years ago, one of the speakers used this language. It has stuck with me. Be like Barnabas. Remember what he did? When the saints were afraid of Paul, it was Barnabas who helped bridge the gap. It is a good thing he did! He was bold and courageous. This is the mindset we must have. Be a person that unites people. Be a person that fixes a situation. When it comes to race, there are so many things we can do.
One could start a study in their home discussing this very issue. I think one of the best things to do is to open our homes more. Acts 10:48 illustrates, “And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.”
Remember when Peter and the other Jews stayed at the house of Cornelius? Can you imagine all of them sitting down for breakfast the next day? I wish we had some details about those conversations. Have some genuine conversations about race with others. Talk about what terms may be appropriate or not appropriate to use. Truly seek to understand the struggles and challenges others have been through.
A few years ago, during a meeting, I went to one of the shepherd’s house for lunch. He shared with me that it was the first time a black person has been to his house. I appreciated his honesty, and we were able to have a great conversation about race.
Learn about different experiences those in your congregation may have experienced in the past and in the present. I believe too many brethren will vent and try to have a conversation on Facebook about this topic. I do not believe that will work. It often creates more problems. Disconnect and then connect. Less talking via social media and more face to face conversations are needed. This will require courage, time, and effort. Make it a priority. The more we talk about it and focus on Jesus, the more things will improve. Teach a class on this subject. Preach a sermon on it. Be bold!
Decide where you will worship and place your membership-based upon what is being taught, and not whether the church is primarily black, white, or Hispanic. Years ago, there was a black sister who visited where I was formerly preaching at the Dowlen Road Church of Christ in Beaumont, Texas. The congregation there is about 50/50 with respect to blacks and whites. She looked us up on the internet and saw my picture. She assumed it was a primarily black church and decided to visit. She was shocked when she walked in saw so many blacks and whites. She eventually shared this story to my wife. She should have been more concerned with what was being taught.
While I was teaching a class on racism at Dowlen Road, one sister shared a story of a white couple who moved to a new city. There was a congregation that was made up mostly of blacks. They did not feel comfortable attending. They wondered how they might be welcomed. Instead, they drove about 45 minutes to a more mixed congregation. In the process of time, the price of gas became too much. They decided to attend the other congregation. They were no issues. They were welcomed and loved! Don’t assume! Be a pioneer. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with a congregation made up primarily of whites or blacks, this should not be the standard when it comes to us deciding where we will worship.
How might you be able to be a pioneer? List some ways below.
Don’t be a sellout. Ephesians 2:14-18 reads, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
What I mean by don’t be a sellout is this: Don’t sell out your faith in Jesus or your fellowship with brethren because of your families, your race, or your political views. We are in Christ. That’s a really big deal! Do not take it lightly.
Share the gospel. Acts 8:1-4 reads, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
As one preacher has said, “Our congregations should look like our communities.” The best way to do this is by sharing the good news of Jesus. Talk to everyone. This is what the saints did in the first century.
When I invite others to visit, I will often let them know where I worship is not a black church or a white church but rather a group of Christians striving to make it to heaven. I got this line from another brother in Christ. I will sometimes emphasize this because as a black man, there will be people who may assume I attend an all-black church, and they may not feel comfortable visiting. The reality is most churches are made up of one particular race. So, I use that phrase to help them know they are welcome, and it does not matter what their skin color may be.
Some people may say, “I don’t see color. I’m color blind.” I see color. I don’t know how one cannot see color. I recognize people have good intentions when they say, “I’m color blind.” But let us enjoy the diversity God has made and also be aware that others see color. Let others know it does not matter what color their skin may be; they are welcomed at your congregation.
I remember one Sunday after services in Beaumont Texas, a couple (the woman was white, and the man was black) shared with me how welcomed they felt. They had visited other congregations (I do not know where), and they were not welcomed because they were a mixed couple. That is really sad. I hope that is never the case where you worship.
Do you ever find yourself hesitating inviting someone to services or to a Bible study who may not look like you? If so, why do you think that is? What can you do to overcome it?
Be patient and forgive. Colossians 3:12-13 teaches, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
While the apostle Peter experienced so much when he went to the house of Cornelius, he still had room to grow. He was a hypocrite at times. Galatians 2:11-15 records, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
The brethren needed to be patient with him. It did not mean they tolerated his sinful behavior. What we see is that Paul corrected Peter. The same will have to happen to us and others.
We are all on a journey. We all have different pasts. I know a brother in Christ who saw black men lynched in the South growing up. That obviously had a deep impact on him. He has had to overcome a lot of things with respect to race. He and I are at different places when it comes to challenges to overcome. I have never experienced anything like that. Brethren will need to be patient with him and seek to understand what he has experienced.
There will be times when someone may say or act in a manner that is not Christ-like. During those moments, we will have to have some difficult conversations and be willing to forgive.
I often think about the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau was ready to kill his brother Jacob because of missing out on his birthright and blessing from his father Isaac, But, in the process of time, Esau came to forgive his brother. What’s interesting about all of this is the descendants of Esau did not respond in the same manner. They were filled with bitterness toward Israel. I think this can and still does happen. Yet, when one becomes an emotional hoarder and is not willing to forgive, it will not end well for them.
Has someone in the past hurt you? Has someone treated you in an ungodly way because of your race? How did you handle that situation?
Pray for all men. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 teaches, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
We do not hate those who are racist, but rather we pray for their souls. They too were created in the image of God. We seek to pray, teach, and provide a godly example for them.
Who might you be able to pray for who may be struggling with this issue? Who might you be able to pray for who has been hurt by someone else who was racist?
Remember, vengeance belongs to God. Romans 12:17 instructs, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
God is the righteous judge. We do not repay evil with evil. This can be difficult. Instead, we seek to be the lights in this world.
Respond with love. John 3:16 teaches, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” 1 Peter 2:17 commands, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
Let us view people the proper way. Let us love them just as Christ has loved us. As we approach this subject, let us do it with truth, compassion, and love. As we view our brethren, let us think the best of them. God required the most of Himself, and He demonstrated agape love. He loved us when we were unlovable. We must do the same.
As the people of God, let us shine our lights. Let us show people what God the Father and His Son have done not just for us but for the entire world. We have the gospel. Let us share it with as many people as possible. When we do, hearts will be changed for the better, and the devil will be defeated!