On Racial Division and Love
In 1968, I was 13 years old and living where I grew up in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. One summer day my mom sent me to Puglia's Supermarket to buy a $100 money order for her.
On my way to that store, seven men, all about 18 years old or so, jumped me because my skin color was different than theirs. They were prepared to do this to someone as they were all armed with short pieces of sawed-off broom sticks.
Earlier that year, someone had murdered Martin Luther King for having a different skin color than his and these young men were “honoring” this peaceful Christian man’s tragic death by finding solitary boys of my skin color and beating them.
In the process of trying to steal the radio I was carrying and trying to get me onto the ground where they could have taken everything I had and perhaps even stomped me to death, they beat me in the head with those sticks. I was somehow able to keep my radio and the $100, AND knock two of them down.
I broke through the circle of these people and they chased me, hitting my head and back with those sticks - taunting me all the way. I tend, to this day, to get kidney stones thanks to the scar tissue they left in my kidneys. Luckily, I was able to hop a fence with one hand (I was 13!!!) and I found myself in a yard that had two dogs who apparently thought they were dog food. The dogs protected me and I was safe.
When my dad came to get me, he handed me a big wrench and said, “Let's go find the people (he used a racial slur) who did this to you.” He wanted to take revenge.
My eyesight was blurry. My head hurt. I was exhausted. Even in that state I knew that we'd never find them. EVERYONE back then was wearing the same thing I was wearing: white t-shirts, blue jeans, black high-top sneakers. EVERYONE looked pretty much the same.
I knew I’d never find them. I also knew that my dad didn't care. He was angry and wanted to find any kid of that skin color about their age and do to them the EXACT thing that was done to me. That sounded perverse to me.
Martin Luther King, Jr. died trying to promote the belief that God made ALL people equal. Having people of his own skin color treated like “them” in a nation that was built on the premise that all legal citizens were “us” seemed wrong to him...and it was. He hated the division based on skin color.
Despite all his human faults, M.L.K. was a Christian minister. Whatever the man got wrong...he was definitely right about this idea. And someone murdered him for it.
The young men who were angry at his death and beat me in the name of Reverend King actually dishonored him by doing that. They saw me and themselves simply in terms of race and skin color. My dad was doing the same thing.
Today people are marching and rioting and, basically, doing the same thing. Someone dies and what matters most to them is his skin color and the skin color of the person who killed him. If their racist conditions are met, they get up in arms about it; if not, they accept another violent death.
It doesn’t seem as if it matters to them that a LIFE was taken or that other LIVES are harmed by their reaction to whoever it is that dies. All that seems to matter to them is the skin colors involved.
When a person, even if he or she does so in support of a race different than theirs, holds up a sign that says “This skin color life matters”, that person is basically saying, “I see and evaluate people by their skin color.” This is the core of “racism” - seeing a fellow and equal human being just in terms of their skin color whether the person is for or against any specific racial group. Its still inherently racist to live this way.
Can you imagine what Martin Luther King, Jr. would think about this? He would be ashamed of all the people who are doing this - regardless of their race or skin colors. He would speak against the shallowness of regarding people in this way.
Still, M.L.K. was just a person.
What does God think about all this? After all, it is He who chose each individual’s skin color.
"...You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb." (Psalm 139:13)
I have to think that since God made people…all people…and, since God chose for them to have different skin colors and tones and, since God is good…the skin color of a person is also good. I didn’t get to pick my race or skin color or earthly heritage; God chose that for me. The people who attacked me because of my skin color didn’t choose their own skin color for themselves; God did that for them.
The same Father sent His Son to die for the sins of ALL people – no matter what color skin they have.
“For the death that He died, He died to sin once FOR ALL; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” (Romans 6:10)
“For such a High Priest (Jesus) was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for THIS HE DID ONCE FOR ALL when He offered up Himself.” (Hebrews 7:26-27)
Now, their idea to hunt down people of my skin color and to beat me because of that…THAT idea came from satan. He LOVES division between people groups. He LOVES bringing pain and loss to human beings.
The idea my dad had to do the same thing to others of their race came from satan too.
Why did he have that idea? The REASON he searched for an idea was that he loved me and hurt that someone had hurt me. But, the source of that particular idea was the devil, twisting my dad’s love for me into something ugly and harmful for us all.
So, I sat in that car with a wrench in my hand and thought, “I don’t want to do this to someone else.” I wasn’t afraid. My DAD was with me and I thought he was invincible! And I had just fought back to defend myself. So, it wasn’t fear.
It just seemed WRONG. And, the idea…noble as it was from my dad’s viewpoint…WAS wrong. He wanted me to go hurt some other innocent kid just like I had been hurt, just because he was from another race. I knew what that felt like and I didn’t want to do it to someone else. It seemed wrong to 13-year-old me and it still seems wrong to 65-year-old me.
I didn’t hate them for who they were or how they looked or even for what they did to me.
I hated what they DID to me. I had no problem at all with the idea of fighting back against them while they were doing it but taking revenge against those very individuals who hurt me would not un-do what they had done. And doing the same to other innocent kids would only have served to make me as guilty as they were of doing it to me.
Can you see the cunning lies interwoven in the idea the devil gave my dad? He would have actually caused us to be JUST LIKE the young men who attacked me because of their own racist beliefs. Or, maybe they did it to somehow take revenge for the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. (an idea M.L.K. would have despised.)
“Repay no one evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17a) “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
To this day I can honestly say I do not hate anyone. There ARE many ideas and many things people do to themselves and others that I DO hate. In fact, I hate the fact that I myself have at times taken my own revenge and had other ideas and did other things that I knew were wrong to do.
I believe and practice the philosophy that who a person is and what he does are two very different things. While it IS true that the Bible speaks about some people, labeling them by their behaviors, this is only because they are so saturated with some sins that they typify and identify themselves by their sinful actions, such as murder or theft or rampant sexual immorality. It is certainly NOT because of skin color or race.
It is possible for us to love a person and, simultaneously, hate their ideas, beliefs and actions. It is also possible for us to love someone and disagree with them and, even, move to stop them from doing something destructive…like trying to burn your house down or pull you from a truck and beat you to death.
God loves every person. He HATES their sin and their sinful thoughts. Why? Because these are damaging to them and to others.
God didn’t hate the young men who attacked me that day. He surely hated what they did to me because it hurt me and, really, it hurt them too. Sin ALWAYS hurts everyone involved. And, God hated my dad’s well-intentioned plans to take revenge. That too was hurtful to me and to him…and would have been hurtful to whoever we might have attacked that day.
When I was 34 I forgave those seven attackers. They left me with lasting physical wounds – I tend to develop kidney stones. However, I refuse to allow any wounds in my soul to remain in me. Satan cannot have that power in my life.
Even before I forgave them at age 34 I have had many friends of all sorts of skin colors and races. I refused to let the sinful actions of 7 people cause me to be cheated of knowing and enjoying people of various races in my life. At my current age of 65 I don’t care about such things as skin color…even my own; I care about PEOPLE, hopefully like Jesus does.
As our ministry formed and we put together a Board of Directors one of the first members was my friend Ray who just happens to have a skin tone similar to that of those who attacked me in my youth. His skin color never occurred to me when I made that decision; that didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was his integrity, honesty, Christian service and who he is. Ray served on our board for many years.
Today, our ministry helps all sorts of people. I’m aware that different people groups have different cultures but to me, people are people. Our ministry belongs to Jesus and He loves em all.
Currently, there are people in our nation who are doing their very best to separate people based on their skin color. They are using this as their jumping off point to bring anarchy to our nation. They are, basically, USING people of color – just like the slave owners of old did.
How should we address this? How about not helping them further separate people by REACTING against them?
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
Whenever we react to anything we give control to whatever has happened to us because it sets the tone for our thoughts and behaviors. That’s why it was wrong for me and my dad to go out hunting for people of a different skin color; we would have been REACTING to someone having done the very same thing to me. We would have essentially given control of our souls to the people who had hurt me.
It IS good, though, to RESPOND to things that happen or that people do. This is not mere semantics or word-play. Reactions are almost always emotion-driven and, therefore, are not logical in the least. Responses require thought. When we respond to things we do not surrender our God-given right to make decisions in our lives; we remain free to live sovereignly as humans.
I have chosen to respond to any crisis by deciding that I WILL honor God by defending myself, my family, my neighbors, home, or community should anyone try to harm any of these.
At the same time, I have chosen to respond by seeing people as humans, by seeing behaviors and beliefs as just those, and by seeing us all as equals – not evaluating anyone by something as shallow as skin color. I have chosen to not allow the offenses of my own past drive my thoughts, ideas and behavior today. I choose to love God with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself, neither of which has anything to do with race, color or creed.
I choose to do what I can to bring people together in Christ and NOT allow the devil to further divide us.
I’ll close with this true story I heard this weekend.
This past Sunday there was a protest on the town square where we live. A hundred or so people of various skin colors were protesting what they perceive to be racial discrimination. Some held signs and chanted things that highlighted a specific race…basically, (perhaps unwittingly) practicing racial division just by doing so.
Across the street were many, many more people, also of various skin colors, who opposed these “protestors”. I’m told that at one point both sides were shouting inflammatory remarks designed to heighten the emotions of those on either side of the street.
The street between them was a symbol of the division between them. They were, for the most part, all members of this community – divided by ideas of racial origins, perceptions and reactions to those.
I’m told that a teenager from a tiny town just a few miles north of here stood holding a sign that read, “ALL lives matter to Jesus Christ.” Some people from the protest group began to shout mean-spirited things to the young man to which he replied, “I love you.” At first, that just caused them to shout more mean-spirited things at him but he continued to shout back, “Well, I love you.”
What happened next is a testimony to how the love of God can break down barriers between people. Some of the people from the group that was shouting at the teenager began to shout back, “I love you too!” and then some of them crossed the street and hugged the young man.
That young man’s love caused the divide between those people, symbolized by that street, to be erased.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 10 Dec. 1964)
“I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. - “The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream" and Other Great Writings”, p.205, Beacon Press)