Thank God Almighty, we're free at last!' " Who could forget those ringing words of Martin Luther King, Jr.? He was addressing the cheering crowd at a massive rally for freedom in Washington, D.C. Many consider that Wednesday afternoon in 1963 to be a landmark in the history of the United States.
Christians can especially appreciate the memory of Martin Luther King, since the truth in Jesus sets us free from bondage to racism. I've noticed, though, that some in the body of Christ are not enthusiastic about honoring King's holiday. A few years ago, when I proposed an article for a Christian publication about Martin Luther King Day, a blunt rebuff bounced back.
"Why would you want to write about that man?" the editorial assistant chided. "King had some character deficiencies."
"Who doesn't?" I argued. "But despite whatever faults King may have had, let's remember what he stood for. By advocating nonviolence he made America a better place, even for us White people."
"Besides," I continued, "the day that bears King's name transcends the man himself. It provides opportunity for all Americans to celebrate cleansing from slavery's dark chapter in our national history. The Martin Luther King holiday also gives us time to search our hearts and repent of any racism still lurking there."
A good argument, I thought, but my article never made it to press. God knows I tried.
As we look around the world, who could deny that religion is actually fueling the fires of hatred and prejudice? Atheists point to places like the Middle East, Ire land, and India as proof that belief in God has been more of a Grand Canyon than a Golden Gate Bridge in human relations. (Unbelievers seem less eager to discuss the damage done by godless Communism.)
To find relief from racism we must turn away from mere religious theory to the person of Jesus Christ. Our Lord on earth waged war against prejudice sponsored by the religious establishment of His day. He shocked friends and foes alike by extending Himself to the despised Samaritans and the outcast Syrian woman. Today it remains true that only the warm love of His gospel can cleanse the proud heart of racial hatred: "He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us" (Eph. 2:14, NKJV). "Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God" (Rom. 15:7, NKJV).
"Wait a minute!" you may be thinking. "This is a journal for Christian leaders. We already follow Jesus. How can we benefit from a discussion about racism?"
The sad fact is that racial prejudice has slithered under the doors of churches and even coiled behind the pulpit. You might question my assessment if you have the same color of skin I have. But if you take the time for a heart-to-heart talk with a veteran Black or Hispanic leader, what you hear may bring you surprise and grief.
Several I have spoken with have baptized more souls than I ever will, even if I last a century. These leaders have a right to be heard. But they face a dilemma. If they speak out, it appears they have a bad attitude. Yet if they keep quiet and try to be team players, they worry about betraying their racial heritage. So most of them have learned to pray a lot, entrusting everything to the Judge of all the earth.
Thank God people are praying, but we must also work together in Christ's name to confront this demon of racism. First we must understand the depth of the problem. Where are Christian churches falling short?
Usually racism in the Christian community is subtle. For example, many minority leaders believe there is a glass ceiling in church organizations above which they cannot be "promoted" (except in token instances). Church administrators I've discussed this with express frustration, believing they are already working hard to achieve proportionate minority representation in leadership. Churches around the world have made significant progress in equal opportunity employment. We need more.
In my opinion, the greatest example of prejudice in the Christian church is the low priority that we assign to racism on the list of sins to avoid. Most of us seem to regard racism (when we become aware of it) as more of a social misdemeanor than a spiritual felony. We don't under stand that' 'man's inhumanity to man is his greatest sin."
Sin involves more than the violation of a written code. Actually, evildoing is basically a violation of relationships. Consider the Ten Commandments, the biblical foundation of morality. The first four address one's relationship to God, and the rest primarily deal with interpersonal relationships. No wonder that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10, NKJV).
No, sin isn't wrong because of the naughty pleasure it promises the indulger. Sin is sin because it destroys our relation ships by ruining our capacity to love and be loved.
Take tobacco, for example. Smoking is bad because it threatens my body, which is God's temple and His instrument to serve people. Since racism causes greater harm to my relationships than addiction to tobacco, it is a more serious sin. So prejudice toward my brother or sister creates smoke in God's nostrils worse than a stinking cigar.
Much more could be said about racism. We need to remember that White people are not the only perpetrators of prejudice. Many people of other colors also seethe with racial hatred. Ironically, victims of any kind of abuse frequently learn to emulate the behavior they have suffered. Molested children often them selves become molesters. And victims of racism often themselves become racists unless they know the love of Jesus.
What a witness this world would have if believers of all colors and cultures would have humble hearts and love one another as Christ has loved us. Christian leaders ought to lead the way, and Martin Luther King Day seems like a good time to start.