Three weeks ago, our world was rocked as one man decided to act out his hatred by shooting several innocent people in Dallas, TX, killing 5 police officers and injuring many more. That same week, I was on a youth mission trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. There were 15 of us, acting out our love by working on someone’s house and also leading a VBS and summer reading program at a local church.
Although Micah Xavier Johnson and our youth group were both trying to make a statement, our intentions, motives, and actions were very different. He specifically targeted white police officers, out of anger regarding the recent police shootings of black men, stating he wanted to kill white people. We specifically targeted lower income families (through the help of TeamEffort – a ministry that runs youth mission trips), out of love, wanting to share a ‘hand up’ to whomever we were matched up with. His motivation was hate; ours was love, specifically God’s love.
The interesting thing to me about all this was that God matched us up with a precious black lady named Ms. Gloria. When she smiled, it truly brightened up the room. And the church we helped was actually the church she attended, Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church, where all the children we worked with were black. I never even thought about the fact that we were a stark white group of people working with an entirely black church and family. But when I woke up Friday morning to the heartbreaking news out of Dallas, I couldn’t help but think about our differences. How differences can make us hate, or how differences can make us appreciate.
When we allow differences to cause us to hate, I believe the main reason is ignorance – we just don’t know. And what we don’t know makes us fearful. And many times we end up hating what we fear.
When I married Scott, I knew he had not been a Christian for long. He did share with me that two of things that changed once he gave his life to God was his tongue and his anger. He worked construction for a long time, therefore his language was quite foul, and I’m not talking duckhunting! He also had anger issues, which I think lots of men tend to have. But God changed his heart, which directly changed his behavior.
One thing he never really mentioned to me is that he also used to be a racist. I didn’t really know this until after we were married and we met this super fun, outgoing, country-serving, Christ-loving girl named Kenya.
Below is a blog post Scott shared about 3 years ago:
I USED to be a racist… – August 2013
During a sermon a few weeks back, I made a statement that I was once a racist. I didn’t plan to say that. It was a move of the Spirit and I pray that it made a difference in the heart of someone in that place that struggles with that. But since it was not in my prep to bring it up, I left it open. So let me explain now what I was talking about…
I grew up in an all white town. Racist remarks were a part of everyday conversation. I also had not given my life over to Christ, so falling into this racist verbiage was too easy. But my racism was selective-my best friend was a Filipino named Ray. I think mostly it came from not only the culture I lived in but also from a place of fear of not knowing anyone who was black.
What’s more important to me is how God brought me out of that. I felt led by God to take a job in Birmingham AL as a young man and it was here that I fell in love with the One who loves me unconditionally. Shortly after this I met some friends who invited me to church. And that is when not only did my walk with Love begin, but also when I met someone who refused to let me hide in my past.
Kenya was the first African American that I considered a close friend. She helped out with the youth group with me. She was super nice, fun, beautiful, and full of love. This was not the black woman I had grown to fear as a kid. And her personality was infectious. Even if I had tried, I would not have been able to escape a relationship with Kenya. I quickly grew to respect her for the mom, leader, woman, and Christian she was. And one day I came to the realization that not only was Kenya a dear friend to me, but that I saw her with the same eyes I saw my white friends, loved her with the same heart as I loved my Filipino friend, and enjoyed being around her. God has healed my heart of so much garbage I brought into it from my past, but there is no healing I celebrate more joyously than when He allowed a African American single mom with a heart full of love to blow up my preconceived fears and set me free from my prejudiced heart.
I have several friends whom I love dearly from backgrounds much different than mine. I am a better person for knowing them, learning of their struggles, and appreciating their view on events around us. But the greatest thing to come out of this “conversion” is when I hear my little girls talk about their friends without the slightest conception of their race making a difference. They see their friends just as they are, just as God helped me to see Kenya. I am happy to know that the legacy I leave my kids has been shaped by Christ through me now rather than having been shaped by the me before I knew Christ. Kenya, you may have never known this, but you helped rescue me from me and have enriched my life tremendously as a result. Thank you.
I can honestly say I see with Christ’s eyes, love with Christ’s love, and seek everyday to be mindful of all those who are outcast, abused, belittled, and misunderstood around me, no matter their race. So, yeah there was a time in my life when I was a racist. But Jesus Christ freed me from that and opened my heart to love all people. I won’t go back.
As I stated above, ignorance is one of the biggest contributors to racism. Like Scott said, it ‘came from a place of fear of not knowing anyone that was black’. And thanks to Scripture, we have the remedy for fear:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… – 1 John 4:18
My story is very different than Scott’s. Growing up in Birmingham, there were plenty of black people that I grew up with. I had black classmates in school, black friends that I went to church with, black teammates that I played basketball with. Our youth worship leader was a black man. My school band director was black. I played AAU basketball, where I think I was the only white girl on the team. At Judson College, we had ‘families’ instead of sororities. My ‘grand big’, ‘aunt’ and many others were black. I even had a black boyfriend in Kindergarten who tried to give me his mom’s rings and perfume! And I never once had racist thoughts towards them – at least not that I’m aware of.
The reason I feel as though I’ve never struggled with this is because of my Dad. As I’ve said in the past, I was a daddy’s girl. He taught me many things, like how to throw a football, how to sing, how to pray, how to drive a stick shift, how to cheer for Auburn, how to play basketball, how to worship the Lord, but specifically, how to love people – all people, regardless of color.
I think it’s because my dad was actually a victim of racism. My dad’s mom was full-blooded Italian. From what I understand, during his growing up years, Italians were also discriminated against. He told me that there were men who wouldn’t let their daughters date that ‘whop’ and/or ‘dago’. He chose to teach his children differently, to be colorblind and to love everyone.
So because of my Dad, I was not ignorant. He instilled in me knowledge, teaching me that yes, there are many different people. But we are all equal. We all bleed the same color. And with that knowledge, I didn’t have to be fearful.
But it’s more than just a head issue. As I wrote earlier, I think ONE of the reasons people are racist is out of ignorance. Fearing what they don’t know. But the other reason is a heart issue. And there’s only one cure for that – heart surgery by the Great Physician Himself.
In Scott’s story, he mentioned his fear of not knowing someone that was black led him down the path of racism. He began to gain knowledge once he met Kenya who was not going to let him get away with not being her friend! His knowledge was then activated when God healed his heart and set him free from his prejudice. Only God’s love can change our hearts. As His love fills our hearts, the only thing it can do is overflow to others, to a world in desperate need of love. As 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. Sometimes loving is hard. For example, my friend Angela is the wife of a police officer. She shared last week some of her personal struggles of dealing with hatred against those who want to harm police officers. I truly appreciated her honesty and vulnerability. But what God is showing her and reminding her is that not only are those cops who were killed God’s children, but the ones who did the shooting are as well. That is a hard pill to swallow! But He’s teaching her to look through His eyes. This thought process does not come naturally to the flesh. But through God’s supernatural love, it is possible. Only His love can change our vision and the way we see the world. And only His love through us can change our world.
So the issue is two-fold. It’s a head issue, and it’s a heart issue. My challenge to those struggling with all the divisiveness going on in our world today is this: Get to know someone who is not like you. Someone who does not look like you. Get in the know. Then, make sure you know the Creator of all. The One who is love that can set you free from all cynicism and hate.