I grew up in Memphis, TN, where Rev. King was shot and killed. While I can’t blame my hometown for my own struggle with racism, I can say that I was surrounded by racism in that place. Friends would joke on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that it was “James Earl Ray Day.” And I would laugh. When I lived there, racial prejudice toward people of color was palpable.
Since that time, I’ve lived in several other places around the country. But the one that exposed my racism most was Birmingham, AL. While visiting the Civil Rights Museum there, I remember walking through exhibit after exhibit–seeing how people like me had caused such atrocities against black men, women, boys, and girls–and I felt a great weight.
That weight was not white guilt. It was not feeling bad for the sins of my hometown. It was not me atoning for slave-owning forefathers. That weight was conviction for my own sin. The foolish laughs, the angry words, the judging thoughts. There in Birmingham my sin was exposed.
I was reminded of all this today, as I was reading Romans chapter 3. The apostle Paul said this:
Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one…
That phrase “of Jews only” really jumped out at me. We’ve all seen the signs (if only in museums) that were placed by water fountains and restrooms that read the exact same way. What is Paul getting at here about God and about race?
Yahweh, the God of Israel, is One. His love extends equally across every racial and cultural divide. And when we transgress that tenet of His character, it is sin. It is an offense to God to speak against, to deride, and to fail to love those whom He loves. In Birmingham, I first realized my sin. Today, I continue to see it exposed. And so I continue to grieve my sins of racism today. And at the same time, I celebrate the grace of Christ that is enabling me to overcome my sin.
Why is racism a sin worth repenting of? Here’s the reason:
God loves. He loves with no attention to racial and cultural barriers. And He wants us to love in the same way. Through the Gospel of Jesus, He seeks to undo racism, bringing Jew and Gentile, black and white together into one family. This is His desire and it should be ours too.
I hope you consider these things deeply today.
And for what it’s worth, if you know very little about Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d strongly recommend this book to you. It’s been a real encouragement to me in the last several years.