How else do you explain history? Even going back as far as Adam and Eve, they had an enemy in the serpent and chose to make God their enemy. Further, when confronted in their sin, Adam immediately turns on his wife and makes her his enemy rather than seeking to intercede and protect her. Look at how much of human history revolves around times of warfare. And when a common enemy is not found on the outside of a culture, how often those cultures descend into internal fighting and warfare. Even families do much the same. How often, after the death of a parent, siblings fall into internal fighting over who gets what.
Unless you have been living in a cave of late, we are once again facing the question of racism and hatred in our nation. According to Wikipedia, racism can be defined thusly:
“Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another.”
This plays itself out in many ways, and has over the years. It is the culprit behind the horrors that took place in Mississippi in 1964, it is the monstrosity that drove the Holocaust in Germany and founded the eugenics experiments in Appalachia in the earlier part of the 20th century — even the term “eugenics” breathes out the notion of racism, for if some genetic traits are good and desirable, that means that other traits are not and a hierarchy is formed. Regardless of your opinion of the validity of evolution, when such views are applied to humans, the end result is and must generally be a kind of racism, for if one group is further advanced on the evolutionary chain, that means other groups are not.
In God’s providence, I spent my seminary years in Mississippi. One one hand, I spent several nights a week, working with homeless men who stayed at Gateway Rescue Mission, downtown. On the other hand, I spent many of my Sunday mornings, preaching to rural Presbyterian congregations. In that context, I can say with integrity that I have preached to both Black Panthers and to Klansmen. Both were racist but both had the same need — the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During that time, I became close friends with an area pastor of a small black Missionary Baptist Church. He gave me the privilege of his pulpit one Sunday morning in the hopes of breaking stereotypes in his own congregation and it proved a very healthy experience for me as well (though it was overwhelming for my 2 year old son at the time). What struck me about my season in the deep south is that there were definitely pockets of racism present, but there were more people working hard to get beyond the racism that they grew up with as youth and who were trying to move on in the more integrated world in which they lived.
The principle, though, we see in other areas as well. As a pastor, I see much the same thing between churches and between denominations. Yes, there are some groups that pose as churches, but who are not, but even within the realm of what would be considered “orthodox” Christianity, this plays out all over. Funny, how much more work that the church could get done in our country if we were more willing to be co-belligerents with one another on critical issues — abortion being high on that list.
We see this also in people’s loyalties to their country. I am a child of the cold war. That means, growing up it was always the Soviets and the “Ruskies” that were the bad guys. As I write this today, I have spent 15 years traveling and teaching in a seminary in Ukraine and in that context, one of my closest friends grew up in Siberia. Go figure. We have both had fascinating (and sad) conversations about the propaganda that each of our governments fed us about the other. The fact that some of you were shocked when I said my friend grew up in Siberia (and considered it a beautiful place!), then that illustrates the fact that propaganda works both ways. Our history books were (and still are) full of it.
What am I saying? I am saying that we look for others to be our enemies. The sad thing (and the thing that leads to racism) is that we look in all the wrong places. Folks, let me say with clarity that from a Biblical perspective, there is one race. But let us not even constrain ourselves to the Bible. Scientifically, there is one race. The very fact that we can intermarry and have beautiful children whose DNA is a mixture of African, European, and Asian blood is a testimony to this truth. Given that we often pass along our best genetic traits to our children, maybe the truly “Aryan race” is that group of people who have a little bit of every ethnic group coursing through their veins.
Don’t get me wrong, that does not mean that racism doesn’t exist. Anytime you look down on someone because of their ethnicity, you are guilty of racism…and that is wrong and it is sinful. It is also mislabeled. We are one race (and we better be about the work of learning to live together and grow together). We are just so desperate for an enemy, it seems to me that we look at the easiest direction.
Who or what ought to be our enemy, then? Sin should be our enemy. The Devil is our enemy. Injustice is an enemy we should hate because God hates it. Pride, a lying tongue, hands that murder the innocent (think how the riots are working out!), wicked plants of the heart, those who pursue evil ways, those who bear false witness, and those who sow discord amongst brothers. Those our our enemies, folks, not those who look different than we do or speak differently or whose cultural expressions do not match our own.
“And the Sons of Israel dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites, the Hives, the Amorites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And they took their daughters to themselves to be wives and their daughters they gave to their sons; and they served their gods.”
And we are still doing the same today. How often our sons and daughters come to us with stars in their eyes because some young woman or man has won their hearts. And what of our response as parents? “Is he respectful?” “Does he have a good job?” “What are her plans for children?” “Does she come from a good family?” Yet, how often, as parents, we fail to ask the single-most important question: “Tell me, is he a born-again Christian?”
In America, we are a nation whose great strength has been augmented by the fact that most of us have the blood of many different cultures running through our veins. My own heritage, for example, is predominantly German with a healthy dose of Italian and English thrown in for good measure. Yet, whether you are Indian (Native American or from India), African, German, Mexican, Russian, Brazilian, Chinese, Philippino, or Aborigine in your heritage (or any combination thereof), it is a wonderful thing to blend our cultures, families, and traditions — there is only one race after all (and that is human). But the first question that must be asked regardless of one’s ethnic background, is whether or not the person is Christian.
Even in the Old Testament we find Boaz taking Ruth (a Moabitess) as his wife and Salmon took Rahab (a Canaanite woman) as his wife…but in both cases, the women had converted to faith before they were married to God’s people. Some will argue for what they call, “missionary marriages,” but most of the time, when intermarriages (of faith) take place, the result is no different than what the Israelites experienced. Paganism thrives and true faith wanes in the families. I cannot think of any grief that is greater for the Christian than to see your children or grandchildren depart from the faith of Christ.