My dad loves to tell the story about a time when I was perhaps 4 years old and I wandered into the den on a Friday night while he was watching a boxing match. He said that I stood there for several minutes observing the boxers and then turned to him and asked, “Daddy, who are you for? – the man in the white trunks or the one in the black trunks?” He said that the question caught him completely off guard because the difference in the boxers was not limited to their shorts. One of them had white skin and the other had black skin. My dad said it was the first time he considered the possibility that racism was not necessarily a natural instinct. Perhaps it was something that society taught us.
A Visit from the KKK
He knew that Becky and I had not been overtly taught to see the differences in skin colors because he and my mother were adamant about not treating anyone differently. My mother had told us that she was taught to never use disparaging terms or language when speaking to or about someone of a different race. She had been raised on a farm in a small west Tennessee town where her father’s hiring practice for field hands was to pay all workers the same wage, regardless of skin color. That did not “sit well” with some members of the community, and my mother told of a night when the local Ku Klux Klan members showed up in her front yard, garbed in their standard sheets, threatening to cause trouble if her father did not cease paying all of his workers an equal wage. Her father, a teacher and a well-respected man in the community, calmly looked each of them in the eye, told them that he would continue doing as he had always done, called them by name, and told them to go on their way……and then they left. The courage of his convictions was evident that night.
My family was in church every time the doors were open, and the admonition to treat everyone the same was naturally part of our religious training there too. Growing up and singing the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” was for me a testament to the truth that God loves everyone; “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” We know that the Bible has taught us about God’s love and how each of us is the child of a loving Father who expects us to love others as He loves us. John 13:34 states, “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In Mark 12:30-31 we read, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important. Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
Fear Versus Love
While we know that equality is what God expects from us, we also know the reality is that society teaches us a very different ethic. People have always sought ways to erect barriers between groups, usually based on superficial issues such as skin color, language, cultural practices, etc. It’s obvious that fear is one of the main contributors to this type of thinking. We don’t want to trust people who are not just like us. We fear what is different, unknown, and uncomfortable. Our current national and local situations are so disheartening because the fear that drives racism always promotes violence and anger. We have seen this vitriol erupt time and time again. It is so wasteful of our God-given lives to spend our energies thinking up ways to fence ourselves off from our fellow man. This practice of constantly drawing lines between ourselves and others is also egotistical, exhausting, and the very opposite of what God desires for us. He created us for better things, for love and service to others. I believe we were created with differences to produce fertile ground for learning and growing as individuals as we show respect for others. My hope is that we all resolve to start each day with the promise to live up to God’s plan for our lives by focusing on our love for God, for ALL of His children and His creation and that we will greet each person as a child of God, loved equally by God.
“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”