I’m no stranger to racism. In the 70’s the animosity many of my family members had toward Hispanics in our North Denver neighborhood was palpable. It often boiled over into fights, complete with fists, bats, knives and, yes, at times, guns. My body-building, bad-to-the-bone uncles were ready to deal with “them” anytime, any where and for any reason.
It was a racist reality all across North Denver at the time. We lived in a neighborhood that teamed with racial hatred (going both ways.) Mexicans hated whites and whites hated Mexicans. The Italians who lived about 10 blocks North of us were their own entity. In the 70’s North Denver was a truly segregated part of the city and we lived right smack dab in the middle of what many considered a Mexican neighborhood.
My five uncles and mom (the only girl in the group) would grab bats, brass knuckles or steak knives when they saw gang members they hated trolling our neighborhood. They would rush outside and meet them in the alley beside our house, the lot behind it or the street in front of it and handle their bloody business.
Once my Uncle Richard jumped in the window of a car full of guys who were driving by slowly and taunting my family. He literally jumped through the driver’s side open window and started punching away. The car wrecked a half block down the street and my uncles (and mom) caught up to the scene. They pulled these guys out and started wailing away until the cops finally showed up and broke it up.
Although I was a little kid at the time I remember witnessing true violence and sensing the deep racial hatred that flowed down the streets of North Denver at the time.
But I also witnessed something that changed my life. A church in the suburbs reached out to the city and one by one reached my family members for Jesus. And there was something about this church, although it was located in the primarily white city of Arvada it was comprised of a surprisingly large percentage of Latinos.
Soon my rough and tumble uncles were worshipping side-by-side with a members of a race they formerly hated. Instead of throwing fists they were handing out gospel tracts together. Instead of yelling racist epithets in each other’s faces they were singing worship songs by each other’s sides.
I’m not saying that racism was completely obliterated in one fell swoop when my family members put their faith in Jesus. But the power of the gospel began to strip it away in large layers.
Witnessing the transformation of my family as a child convinced me that only the gospel can obliterate racism. Because only the gospel can conquer evil in the human heart.
The roots of racism lie in a twice-bitten piece of forbidden fruit. From the fall of Adam and Eve “my” has ruled the day… “my stuff”, “my life” and “my people.”
Racial tensions have been the rule, not the exception throughout human history. What’s happening right now in Ferguson is a microcosm of the racial prejudices that have saturated humanity since the beginning of time.
And the ultimate solution is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Thoreau said, “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, one strikes at the root.”
Racism at its core is a sin problem. And this kind of spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution. That solution is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died to break the power of all sin (including racism) and unite his people as one body. As Galatians 3:28 reminds us, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
My friend Derwin Gray reminded me that we often stop too short when reading Ephesians 2:8-10. Most of us are familiar with these classic verses but are we familiar with what comes after them? Check out Ephesians 2:8-16,
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)–remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
If Jesus can break down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile he can break down the dividing wall of hostility between any races. This should be the inevitable result of the Gospel as demonstrated through the church. For more on this check out Derwin’s powerful blog on the church’s central role in this whole situation.
I’ve seen the Gospel obliterate racism in my family, break down the dividing wall of hostility between races and unite us all as one in Jesus. It is this same Gospel that can lay the groundwork for transformation in Ferguson and every community boiling over (or just simmering) with racism.
Of course we need systemic change. We need communication between cops and the community. We need to address the injustices in the justice system and make sure everyone gets a fair shake. But all of these are merely leaves compared to the root issue. And the root issue of sin can only be obliterated by the power of what Jesus did on the cross when he payed the price for our sins with his blood and paved the way for unity through his resurrection.