Thursday, September 10, 2009

“From within, out of the heart…”

Have you noticed all the fear, hostility and anger in the air of late? From the ongoing debate over national health care to the furor over the news that President Obama was going to address the nation’s schools, many Americans seem deeply upset.

I can imagine someone responding, “Of course, we’re upset! It’s because of all the [take your pick] liberal/socialistic/communistic/unconstitutional/anti-Christian/evil policies being forced upon this country by the Obama Administration!”

Apparently, it’s all the fault of President Obama.

Perhaps. But, I don’t think all this commotion is about policy. Whether at town hall meetings, on radio talk shows, at Internet blogs, or in reader comment sections in the newspaper, there is a level of public hostility, animosity and pent-up rage being directed at this President like I’ve never heard or read about before. Just last night, as our President was addressing a joint session of Congress regarding his proposals to overhaul healthcare, a congressman from South Carolina shouted “You lie!” Heckling directed at the President of the United States during a joint session of Congress by a congressman is simply unprecedented. That is, until now. No, this commotion is not simply about policy differences, conservative versus liberal, or because of a heightened sense of partisanship.

Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). All this contemptuous language that we are hearing and reading about daily is but a reflection of the contempt, hostility and anger that, unfortunately, resides in the hearts and minds of many white people in this country. Some may object to my singling out white people, but haven’t you noticed that practically all of these angry people all across America are white? I’ve not seen any black people on the news, ranting and raving at town hall meetings, have you? Predominantly, we’re talking about angry white people.

Which brings me to this unavoidable conclusion: I think what is fueling much of this rage and anger is nothing other than latent white racism. It’s not the only thing, but it is playing a significant role in the furor.

Latent—adj., “present but invisible or inactive; lying hidden and undeveloped within a person or thing, as a quality or power.”

Some people seem to believe racism is mainly a thing of the past. They think, sure, there may be a few hate groups here and there, out on the fringe of society but, for the most part, racism is a dead issue. Well, first of all, there are more than just a few of these “fringe” groups, and the number is growing. But, secondly, the 13th, 15th and 24th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and several Civil Rights Acts, only made certain overtly racist acts illegal, and helped to dismantle the various forms of institutionalized racism that we had in this country. Racism, however, was never eradicated from our country, because racism is not a law written on paper, racism is a sin which resides in the human soul.

Having been “black in America” for 46 years now, I think I know a bit about racism. For the most part, the racism that we see in old black-and-white newsreels is gone. Racism today usually doesn’t parade around in white hoods, burn crosses on lawns, or lynch black men for being with white women (although it still, on occasion, hurls the “N-word” at black people). Today’s racism is much more sophisticated than the racism of the not-so-distant past. Today’s racism is very subtle and, therefore, hard to define. Because it’s so hard to pin down, it’s also very easy to deny. But, my sense, as a black man in America, is that the election of Barack Obama—an intelligent, highly educated and articulate “man of color”—as President of the United States has caused many white Americans to show their “true colors”, stirring up what has simply laid “hidden and undeveloped within”.

White America, the primary beneficiaries of America’s legacy of racism, has never truly acknowledged the sin of racism and turned wholeheartedly away from it. That has been the ongoing problem in the United States. White society just want blacks to forget about “it” and pretend it never happened, while at the same time they continue their practice of sophisticated, subtle racism. The Bible speaks of repentance. To repent is to turn around and turn away from sin. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13). Until there is a true turning away from racism by white America, there will never be true racial healing, and God will not heal our sick nation.

Jesus spoke what I believe is a relevant word regarding the racial tension that exists between whites and blacks, tensions which have always been present in our country: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Black people in America, historically, have been (and, to a degree, continue to be) on the receiving end of racism. And, contrary to what some may think, the effects of racism on black people are real, not imaginary. My white fellow-Americans, when it comes to racial reconciliation, according to Jesus, the ball is in your court.

There is also a part that black Americans must play: We must be willing to forgive. Black Americans shouldn’t assume all whites are racist, because that’s not true. In every conflict with whites, blacks shouldn’t simply assume racist motives are at work. Too many of us carry around a racial chip on our shoulders. We have to let that go. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Personally, I’m not going to let white racism stand between me and God. If we black Americans are not willing to forgive, there will never be true racial healing, and God will not heal our communities.

I’ve stated it before: I do not believe that abortion or homosexuality are the greatest sins in America (they are sins, but not the greatest sins). For the most part, abortion and homosexuality are the sins of unregenerate or unsaved people (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Racism, however, is alive and well, unrepented of and without remorse, within the church, among those who profess allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. I firmly believe, next to unbelief, racism is America’s greatest sin because it is one of the sins-of-choice of far too many of us who claim to be Christians. It was so at the founding of this nation, and it still true today.

I’m not optimistic that racism will ever be eradicated. Until Jesus comes back and permanently rids this world of sin and all its evil effects, there will be racism. Nevertheless, there is something God’s people—Christians—can do: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The church should be the one place where there is no racism. Christians have no business joining in all the angry, hate-filled, contemptuous speech that is out there. Stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their ilk and, instead, get in God’s word. After all, we’re supposed to be followers of a “more excellent way”.
Photo: Bradley C. Bower/AP


Ben Stevenson said...

"I think what is fueling much of this rage and anger is nothing other than latent white racism. It’s not the only thing, but it is playing a significant role in the furor."

While I don't deny that racism is a big problem, I think the more likely explanation for the hostility is that politics in general has become more aggressive. George Bush, rightly or wrongly, was subjected to a lot of hostility. As this screenshot shows, evidently phrases such as "Bush should die" and "Bush should be shot" are commonly typed into Google.

It seems that in politics in general is a lot of hatred and anger, not just white people hating a black president.

wwdunc said...

Ben, I believe you're absolutely correct when you point out that politics has become far more angry and hate-filled and partisan. I've seen that, too, and I think it started, quite frankly, with President Reagan's run for office in 1980. However, I think the Democrats' hostility directed toward G.W. Bush was to some degree in response to the hostility Republicans dished out on Clinton. It's as if each party has tried to outdo the other in meanness. I don't think any of it has been good for our country.

Nevertheless, the hostility directed toward Obama has quite a different feel to it. I freely admit, life experience is informing my opinion. It would be foolish for me to ignore the lessons that experience has taught me. My gut instinct tells me racism is in the mix, and it plays a significant part in the political hostility we witness today.

John said...

I agree that racism is alive and well. I live in rural Texas, and I still often hear it expressed. It is a disgusting part of our nation's history, and I'm ashamed of it.

I also agree that it may be part of what is fueling the hostility. Actually, I'm sure that it probably is. However, it is not all of it.

I am a white man who is thankful that our country finally has a black president. However, I do disagree with most of his positions. I would disagree with them if he were white.

Issues like abortion and health care can become heated. However, the kind of behaviour we are seeing is not justifiable.