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Lines by Lee

Race and Grace


When I was 18 years old I did something for the first time. I became friends with a black man. In fact, in my freshman year of college there were two African American guys who I got to know. The one was on the basketball team and planning to become a pastor. The other ran against me for class chaplain. He won. While we had little in common they were really sharp guys. While we never became close friends, I have positive memories of them. I also got to know an Asian girl. Even though my college was predominately white, I was getting a glimpse of people who did not look like me but lived a lot like me. They loved God just as much as I did, if not more.

Up until I met them I do not think I was racist. I still am not prejudiced against people of other races. I just grew up in a small town that was very white. There was no opportunity to form negative or positive opinions about people with different skin. I did not know any.

As a child of the '60s and '70s I had heard much about race relations and inequality. I knew that big cities had protests and riots for the cause of racial equality. I knew there were small towns where racial prejudice was a way of life. Yet it never made much sense to me as a young person. If it was related to slavery, how could people still look down on a race over 100 years after the terrible practice had ended? What did one's appearance have to do with who they were and how they should be treated? Why such a tendency to be biased based on outward looks? Could we not be more like the Lord in that regard? The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Many years have passed since I was in college. Recent weeks have reminded us that in those years while perhaps some progress has been made on race relations, there are still many issues. There is in our country a great divide. The riots, looting, rallies and protests may have subsided but the problems remain.

There is never any way to justify race-related violence or discrimination. I cannot imagine being on the receiving end of it. Yet many blacks, Jews, Asians, Hispanics, and others have faced being looked down upon from birth. In extreme cases people have died because of their skin color. While they may not deserve hero status, their deaths should not be in vain. Changes should come.

When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947 one would have thought that it would have made life easier soon after for players of color. Over 10 years later Roberto Clemente was in the minor leagues seeking to cope with the prejudice of being a dark skinned Latino. He and others in the '50s and '60s had to sleep in different hotels or homes and eat in different restaurants than white players. They heard unimaginably foul language and threats just as Robinson did years before. If they spoke out against how they were treated they were seen as trouble makers. So, often times they endured racism silently. In Clemente's biography a Pittsburgher was asked why he was not listening to the big game on the radio. "The team is too dark, if you ask me" was his reply. In 1971 Clemente's Pirates would make baseball history by fielding the first all non-white line-up. A few months later the team that was "too dark" was celebrating a World Series championship.

There is little to celebrate in America these days as it relates to ongoing discrimination. My wife's grandfather moved from the area in the mid-1970s to Alabama. He had some black men who worked for him. Sometimes restaurants would refuse to serve them. The workers said they could not go in with him to eat. The elderly white man told them, "You can if you are with me. You are just as good as others"

If only more people could see things the way he did and would take a similar stand. Some people would say God created all the races with their distinctions and everyone has to deal with it. Actually God created one race – the human race. God created Adam and Eve as our original parents, made in God's image. Eve "was the mother of all living" (Gen. 3:20). Genesis 11 speaks of human rebellion in the form of the tower of Babel. So God confused their languages and spread them all over the earth. As they became genetically isolated certain physical traits and pigment changes began to occur based on their location. They were still people but they eventually began to look distinctively different. (For more on this complex issue, go to Of course they were equally loved by God and their sin problem remained until Jesus came along. "Instead of giving glory to God for the differences between us, we fallen human beings use these features as an excuse to judge our fellow man" (Dr. Tommy Mitchell).

And he has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings (Acts 17:26). According to the Bible there are "tribes" and "nations". There are clear differences reflected in the "red and yellow, black and white" that we used to sing about. Yet they are all precious in his sight. Jesus loves without distinguishing. We all have the same blood and Jesus shed his blood for all (1 Corinthians 15:22; 45).

The deep seeded issue of racism has gone on for centuries. Sin cannot be altered by government programs. As Cal Thomas said, "A changed heart is the key; something the government lacks the power to achieve". Since the middle 1960s we have spent $22 trillion on anti-poverty and racial justice programs according to the Heritage Foundation. The results have been minimal.

In 1988 I was in a rough neighborhood in southern California leading a ministry team of high school students. Our group of white people in matching shirts were in a black neighborhood picking up trash. A gentleman approached me and shouted, "What is the purpose?" I told him we were sharing God's love by serving in the community. He walked off, satisfied with my answer.

Politicians and protesters have a right to make statements and speak up. Ultimately they do not have the solution apart from people learning to love one another through Christ. The key to "solving" the problem of racism is being in Christ and loving others as God loves us. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). We must take a stand against racism and be on our knees for God to do a work in changing hearts and minds. May people of every race know God's grace!


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