722BC is the year that the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrian Empire led by Tiglath-Pileser. The northern kingdom was conquered but many conquered remained and intermarried with those who conquered them so that over time, the ethnic Hebrew people were a blend of Hebrew and something else. The nation after having been conquered was called Samaria. Israel was destroyed, but eventually Judah, the southern kingdom, which was allowed to continue by God’s patient grace was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire around 586BC and many were deported to Babylon, though some were allowed to stay in occupied Judah. The Persians allowed the exiled Jews living in Babylon to return to their homeland 70 years later. Then, the Persians were conquered by the Greeks, and the Greeks were conquered by the Romans. By the time Jesus was born, many years had passed since 722BC, but something had changed in those of the once northern kingdom who intermarried and those of the south, later Judea, who returned from exile. A great pride for one’s nation, nationalism, sparked in the years between the times of the last of the prophets and the birth of Christ. With this “perfect storm,” the Jews despised the Samaritan peoples and considered them “lower than dogs.” Racism grew after the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel and by the time Jesus came into the world, the hatred of Samaritans was nothing new, but an accepted reality that ‘the true people of God were those with pure blood, not those northerners with commingled bloodlines to the north.’
Racism has been around for a long time. It has existed since sin came into the world because sin divides people whereas God in Christ reconciles people.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28-29,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Paul was making the point that the long-held belief that ethnic Jews who kept the Law of Moses, which Christians today call the first 5 books of the Bible, was flawed in that God’s people are not children of Abraham by circumcision but by the promise of God given to Abraham in Genesis 12, a promise that would be through Abraham but would come in one Offspring who would be a blessing to the nations. The Law was a mere guide or custodian meant to take care of God’s people until God’s salvation would be revealed to all people. So, the promise of God to Abraham was not to Jews only by means of circumcision, but to all people by faith in Jesus Christ who is the Promised Offspring of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The division of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female no longer apply to those who have faith in Christ. It doesn’t mean one’s Jewishness is an evil or one’s Greekness is an evil, but rather the idea that Jews are better than Greeks, the idea that slaves are less than the free, the idea that a male is better than a female. There is freedom from the abusive, hierarchical divisions created by sin in the world.
Now, as anyone who has sought to introduce change knows, change takes time. The divisions between Jews and Samaritans didn’t likely go away overnight after Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan or when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Galatia, change takes time. One can imagine how ingrained a division could be if over 722 years went by before anyone heard differently.
Now, fast-forward to the colonization of America, later known as the United States, a time when Western Europeans settled the east coast bringing with them African slaves, and the Spanish who explored the south and west, bringing with them slaves, and both groups enslaving Native-Americans and Native-Americans enslaving other Native-American tribes. Like I said, slavery has been around for a long time, but the African slave-trade was outlawed but slavery itself was not which made for a more lucrative slave industry in the United States. Then, slaves were proclaimed free by Abraham Lincoln, however, the mindset of slave and free wasn’t changed overnight and segregation persisted. It wasn’t until many bold writers and activists took a stand for their rights as human beings that in the 1960s, just 50 years ago, that The Civil Rights Acts was put into law putting an end to legal segregation. However, the damage and hurt of segregation didn’t go away overnight either, and as strides have been taken to move beyond segregation and segregation is gone on a public level, there still remain problems on a larger level and the hurt/damage caused by such cruelty and evil remain.
It is 2014 and we find ourselves dealing with race problems. One side says, “Enough is enough! How many people have to be killed until someone will notice that something is wrong.” The other side says, “What’s wrong?” This is the situation we find ourselves in today in the United States. Segregation is a thing of the past in the United States, but is the mindset of segregation gone? What do I mean?
What I mean is this, “Why do ghettos even exist at all?” Why do police follow “suspicious looking” people around who are usually minorities? Why do rich white people give looks toward minorities who walk into their communities? Why is it easier for white people to excel in our culture than for African-Americans? Why is it “okay” for the poorest neighborhoods in cities around the country to be places where minorities lives and where crime exists? Why do more police patrol the wealthier neighborhoods than the poor neighborhoods? Why do Mexican-Americans like my stepfather get stopped in a Uhaul truck with an Arizona license plate because the state trooper in Indiana thinks he is a Mexican drug-dealer, trafficking drugs when my stepfather doesn’t know Spanish (only English), has lived in Kansas his entire life, and has never been to Mexico? Why do department store workers follow African-Americans around as if they are going to steal something? Why do we accept that to be an African-American means that there likely is criminal activity at all?
In World War II, the Nazi’s rounded up Jews and many others and forced them to live in ghettos, where they were separate from everyone else. This was by force, not will. Yet, today, minorities in the United States live in ghettos by choice. What would drive someone to live in a ghetto over anywhere else? There are nicer homes elsewhere, nicer restaurants, nicer schools, nicer neighborhoods, but something that doesn’t exist in ghettos is the type of fear that a minority would experience living a different neighborhood. Imagine what it was like for Samaritans returning to Jerusalem for Passover after over 700 years of racism. Today, the reality is that we live in a world surrounded by messages by the media, a veneer that has been pulled over the reality which is that race is still a problem in the United States. For a white person to deny that race is a problem when African-American communities all over the country are hurting and outraged at the recent events of multiple trials decisions where African-Americans were killed by white police is a failure to acknowledge the world and culture we live in. If a room full of people are hurting and in pain, but one person says nothing is wrong, does that make the pain and suffering of everyone else in the room less real?
Racism is real. It didn’t likely go away overnight with the Samaritans and the Jews. To think that 50 years is enough for everything to be better after one of the worst forms of slavery in the history of the world existed legally in our country, and the segregation that grew out of it is naive. Racism is not something that can simply be legislated to go away. Why? Because racism is not just a legal problem that pertains to human rights, it is a sin problem that is bound up with the human heart. Can one legislate the heart? Of course not. However, racism is a heart problem. There are some things that can change. There are things that we can do to make the world we live in and the country we live in a better place, a place where all are created equal. We need to stop pretending as if the legislation of The Civil Rights Act put an end to the racial problem and segregated mindset in our country, lest we forget that it wasn’t a mere law that was made but people died to get that law made and realized. From a systemic level, I don’t have the answers to the problems that exist in the United States and how things can fully change. However, on a heart level it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can free people from racism. As one first has to come to terms with the diagnosis of sin before one can receive the curing salve of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I believe we need to come to terms with the problems that exist in our country and be willing to talk about them with one another. Racial reconciliation over the evil of slavery and segregation will take time, but it is necessary and can become a reality.
Rwanda, which experienced horrible genocide is currently going through a time of healing where Hutus and Tutsis can live together, work together, and seek to rebuild their country together. It takes time to reconcile differences and it takes time to heal. Wounds don’t just get better, they take time. Deep wounds take more time. Slavery is an extremely deep wound of our country that remained untreated for a long time and was picked at repeatedly to prevent the wound from healing. It is time for our country to come to terms with the great evil that haunts our past so that itching of the wound in the present can heal and we can be stronger as one nation. There are practical steps that can help our nation to reconcile our differences and experience healing from our old wounds, but scars remain. The only transformative cure is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, where the abusive divisions of the world are no more by faith in Christ. However, if a belief in the Gospel is preventing churches from rising up and loving one another, we need to stop and ask ourselves if the Gospel we believe is the true Gospel if the resulting lives we live are not love for one another.
Race matters, if we’re honest. But it’s time to stop itching our old wounds as a nation and openly and honestly address the problems that exist in our country. Race problems are not something that happened in the past, but if we open our eyes, we will see that there are people in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our government, and all over who are experiencing REAL hurt and pain. We need to stop telling people to not hurt and stop asking, “What’s wrong?” and start listening to our neighbors who are hurting and in pain. We need to love them, even if we don’t understand the hurt and pain they are going through. How do we start to understand? We need to listen. As Christians, we need to show the love of Christ to our communities. This needs to be less about ourselves and our own interests, and more about how we can love others. Race matters, as Cornel West once said/wrote, but beyond that, what are we going to do about the hurt and pain going on in our country today?
Morgan Freeman once said, “Martin Luther King Jr isn’t a black hero, but an American hero.” (paraphrase)