All racism is dangerous. But there is one particular strain that is even more deadly than the rest. It does more damage than the Klansman in a white hooded sheet could ever dream of. It’s deadlier than the rich, young college student fighting over a statue.
The most dangerous kind of racist is the one who has convinced himself that he is not a racist. After all, he doesn’t like the Klan. He’s never showed up to a white supremacist rally. She loves that black running back on her favorite football team. She even likes a few Outkast songs.
But deep down in her heart, there is hatred. And it feels perfectly normal. As a result, her kids grow up never really being taught what it means to love their neighbor. In word and in deed, they are taught to look the other way when an entire race of people suffers. Even worse, they’re taught to blame that entire race of people for the suffering they endure. So the racist jokes told in the church parking lot aren’t really all that bad. It’s just humor. And the segregation of the last century is most certainly condemned but it’s replaced with a much more acceptable variety of segregation.
And it all feels perfectly normal.
I’m 42 years old. To put it another way, I’ve been sinning for over four decades. Sure, I’ve been a Christian for most of those years but that doesn’t change the fact that I desperately need the gospel. Without it, my heart is bent toward selfishness, pride, envy, lust, murder, and yes, even racism.
Not one person on the earth can truly say, “God, I thank you that I am not like that racist over there” (Luke 18:11).
Rather, we must prayerfully and honestly address our sin and repent. The answer is not found in self-righteousness or life-long, low-grade guilt.
Only when we pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” will we truly know what it’s like to be reconciled to God and one another (Luke 18:13-14).
In the book of Acts, we are given two examples to help us as we try to live this out in our day to day lives. The first example shows us the importance of repentance and the second the importance of discernment or critical thinking.
The early church was growing by the thousands. And they did it without giving out free iPads to the first 100 people to show up or by mailing out risqué flyers about how the next sermon series is going to be on sex. Imagine that! Their growth was the result of God’s work but everything wasn’t perfect.
Church leaders had to care for hundreds of widows without any assistance from a government welfare program, the Internet or even phones. They failed. But they didn’t just fail. They failed in a way that looked like racism.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1 (ESV)
Here’s a translation of the complaint that was made by the Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews.
“Hey, Peter and John. I know it’s hard to feed everyone but why is it that our people are always the ones getting left out?”
The response of Peter and John and the rest of the church leaders is one that we would do well to follow today.
“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty.” Acts 6:2 (ESV)
Notice what they did not say. They didn’t say, “Oh, you don’t understand, we have plenty of friends who are Hellenists.” And they didn’t tell the Hellenist widows to, “Pull themselves up by the bootstraps.”
Instead, they changed their system. For them, loving others was more important than saving face or doing it the way they’ve always done it. I pray that the same could be said of today’s church. May we be a people who are quicker to repent than we are to defend an old human system that hurts others.
This requires critical thinking. It means that the thoughtful Christian will not jump on every bandwagon just so he can be, “on the right side of history.” We need more discernment and less Group Think. We need to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17.
Paul had just been kicked out of Thessalonica for preaching the gospel and he found himself in Berea. The biblical description of these people is noteworthy.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)
God used Paul to write a majority of what would later come to be known as the New Testament. But when he preached to the Bereans, they still wanted to measure everything he said against the Scriptures.
Such wisdom and discernment isn’t only unusual these days, it’s not allowed.
Some on the right would have us to believe that daring to question a Republican president when he is wrong means that you are a “snowflake” who hates America.
And some progressives would have us to believe that if we question Colin Kaepernick’s affinity for Fidel Castro, we are somehow blind to the injustices of the world.
Both assessments are wrong and are the result of misplaced worship and a lack of critical thinking. Many Christian leaders have soiled their garments because they worship the idea of having a seat at President Trump’s table. They have forgotten that it’s more important to have a seat at the table of their neighbor who has a different skin tone than they do. Many Progressives care more about Colin Kaepernick’s next job after he walked away from millions from his former employer than they do their neighbor’s next job after he was laid off with nothing more than best wishes.
Navigating our way through these complexities requires less group think and more of the wisdom of Christ. It requires more repentance and less self-righteousness.
Before I see that they are the problem, I must see how I am the problem.
Before I condemn their hatred, I must carefully examine my heart for my hatred.
Otherwise, I’m much more dangerous than I think I am.