The Sin of Racism

A couple weeks ago when Donald Sterling’s racist comments were front page news, a man in our discipleship group asked me to preach on racism. “I’m a racist,” he said openly. “I need help.”

“Where in the Bible does it say racism is wrong?”, he continued without a hint of rancor or defensiveness. “You should do a sermon on racism.”

It was a teachable moment given to me on a silver platter, but my mind went completely blank. I could think of nothing to say. The truth is I almost never think about racism. I live in a middle class white world. Someone has said that to be white in America is to never think about race. But to be black in America is to think about race every day.

That’s me. It may be a stereotype, but it fits me perfectly. I’m white. I don’t think about racism. Over thirty years ago I was eating lunch with a young black man in a youth correctional institution where we both worked. We were both Christians. I don’t remember the conversation, but suddenly he blurted out, “You’re a racist!” I was shocked at his words and oblivious to why he said them. I felt strongly I wasn’t a racist, but at the same time I was completely ignorant of what it was like to walk in that fine young man’s shoes. I had no idea of the difficulties in his world which were inherent in the color of his skin. In that sense, I was an extreme racist. Decades of life experiences have made me more aware of the big picture, but even now I live a very sheltered live in Clarkfield. I still don’t think often about racism.

So when my friend asked me recently where the Bible condemns racism, I was stunned into silence. Finally I stuttered, “I don’t really know what to say. I’d have to do some digging.” We went on to agree the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn slavery. We noted slavery was rampant in the Old Testament, even in Israel. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul commanded slaves to serve their masters faithfully (not fight for freedom). And masters are told to care for their slaves properly (not set them free). Clearly, slavery is the wrong place to start a biblical case against racism.

I was stumped at his question, but immediately I decided I had to preach on it (hopefully with prayer and study first). This morning it hit me while I was in the shower, of all places. Here’s the big idea: The root of racism is pride. Suddenly I knew this would be the answer to his question. I remember a sermon I heard decades ago in which the preacher outlined four kinds of pride: pride of race, pride of face, pride of place, and pride of grace. Racism is pride of race.

Pride is the root and racism is the fruit. The Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn racism because racism is only the fruit. We need to dig deeper to the root of racism – pride. The Bible has a lot to say about pride! We might start with Luke 18:9-14, where Jesus tells a story about two men to went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector….

It looks like there’s a strong biblical case against racism after all.

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Growing Grass, Killing Weeds

Last fall a roofer came to our house and tore up the yard with the scaffolding. Then the power company came in and tore up the yard even more with their monstrous equipment to relocate a pole and move our service box. The yard was a mess all winter after the trenching and digging. Now it’s time to clean up. That means planting grass. Quite of bit of it, to be precise.

Our housing was in slow transition for three years until we bought a house last August. At our old house I worked hard to take care of the lawn. I mowed it very neatly, bagged the clippings, and deposited them in Carol’s garden. I dethatched every year or two, pulled buckets and buckets of dandelions, sprayed for anthills and applied a series of seasonal fertilizer/weedkilling treatments to the lawn.

But rarely did I plant new grass. Now I have to do it. I’m learning that planting new grass seed requires conditions quite different than simply caring for an old lawn. When I bought grass seed last week, there was a stern warning on the bag: DO NOT APPLY WEED KILLER FOR SEVERAL WEEKS AFTER PLANTING. Killing weeds is my specialty. But apparently I can’t do that if I want to grow new grass. It seems I must choose between planting new seed and killing weeds, especially if I want to do both at the same time.

The same thing is true in the church. There are times and situations when we have to choose between killing spiritual weeds and growing new spiritual grass. In our older established church, we are expert weed killers. We can spot doctrinal error or moral deviance with ease – and we immediately move to condemn it. Those who are already established in Christ seem to thrive in that weed-killing environment. But it doesn’t provide a healthy soil for growing new believers. So we rarely see them. New Life Church is not doing a good job of producing new believers.

If we want to produce new grass in the church, maybe we’re going to have to lay off the weedkiller. There might be a time later for killing weeds. But if we want to produce new, tender plants, maybe we must create a completely different kind of environment.

Jesus’ story about the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30) illustrates the spiritual environment needed for growing new seeds. It’s right there in the text. We can’t grow a new crop by killing weeds! But that’s what do. While we’re busy trying to identify weeds and rip them out of the ground, Jesus’ concern is to protect all the good seed. We routinely ignore Jesus’ warning and keep trying to separate wheat from weeds. Tangled roots in the ecclesiastic soil make this a confusing and futile task. Good wheat invariably gets uprooted in the process and the harvest is lost. Good people get hurt. Lost people become cynical – for good reason. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I’m the best weedkiller in the church. But that’s not what I really want to be.

What do we need in the church instead? How about spiritual sonshine, water, and fertilizer in proper proportions?