When I heard today’s Five Minute Friday prompt was fear, I wrote an entire post on a mother’s fears, prayers, and how God comforts us. But those aren’t the words I’m supposed to share with you today. I know this because even as I was editing a beautiful image with a sharable quote, the Spirit would give me no peace.
This, below, is what I’m supposed to write today. These words are straight from my heart and riddled with fear:
We have a racism problem in the United States. And we need to talk about it.
Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, and this past week Charleston, and so many more that didn’t garner media attention but destroyed lives all the same.
I’m stunned by these horrific displays of racism but also paralyzed by the fear of saying something wrong.
And I’m not the only one.
What Difference Can I Make?
“I usually avoid posting controversial topics on Facebook,” I admitted to her, referencing the increased stories about racism-tinged crimes in my newsfeed.
“Yeah, me too,” she agreed. “It’s like you’re labeled or put into a box just because you share what you think about the stuff going on.”
“But we can’t keep silent anymore,” I contended, gathering courage. “We need to start talking about this. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and proclaim ‘It’s such a tragedy,’ but do nothing.”
“And what exactly can we do?” she asked, pondering. “What difference can I make? If 50,000 people marched in downtown Akron in protest, then yes, maybe the mayor would take notice. But a post on my Facebook page? What good will that do?”
And I said nothing. She had put into words what only churned in my soul.
A Personal Encounter with Racism in the Church
I first experienced racism while working alongside my parents on the Romanian mission field. Romanian friends and family told them they were crazy to leave the comfort of America to share the Gospel with Gypsies. “Who cares about them?” was the underlying message. Well, clearly they didn’t, but God does.
My own grandparents treated Gypsies with disdain, setting aside plates that were only for “hired help” for fear of contracting some mysterious disease. They ate at separate tables and were served stale bread and watered-down soup while we, the white family, ate the freshest food.
One day I saw my dad with shoulders slumped and face downcast. He had just received the crushing news that the church in town would not lend us their sanctuary for a baptism service to celebrate the repentance of several new Christian Gypsies. Let alone that we had nowhere else to go and it was the dead of winter. They couldn’t imagine “those dirty Gypsies” sitting in their pews and tainting their holy baptistery. (The irony that this “Baptist” church denied their brothers and sisters a proper “baptism” was not lost on me.)
That’s the day I came to realize that racism lived within our church walls. It was no longer a “them” issue out there in some obscure Southern city or a “then” issue relegated to the pages of history. It was an “us” and “here and now” issue, right in the heart of our towns and churches.
We ended up filling a tin tub with hot water and holding the baptism service in the frigid cold, dunking beautiful men and women under water into the death of Jesus and raising them up into the resurrection of Christ.
The Reconciling Power of the Gospel
Racism, at its very core denies the power of the Gospel to reconcile man to God and people to each other, and its a stench in the nostrils of the Father who sent His Son for this very reason.
In common parlance, there is neither Romanian nor Gypsy, African-American nor Caucasian, male nor female, rich nor poor, inner city nor suburban for those who are in Christ Jesus. For we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
The entire town watched the Gospel transform drunkards and thieves into men and women who loved God, loved their families, and loved their neighbors anyway. Police officers asked my dad how he managed to “solve the Gypsy problem” because nothing they had tried in the past worked. Just a few months of preaching the Gospel in the streets accomplished what years of threats, beatings, and imprisonments hadn’t. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).
But most remarkably, that Baptist church experienced a change of heart as it watched the Gospel move in the lives it had so easily dismissed. Later that summer their brass band joined us on our march toward the river for another baptism, joyfully proclaiming God’s power to transform lives and heal racial divides. And years later they’d invite Gypsy pastors to preach the Gospel from their pulpits and lead their congregation in songs of praise, their favorite being Evanghelia, evanghelia, evanghelia are putere mare! “The Gospel has great power!”
The Fear That Keeps Us Silent
We celebrate the progress made over the last 50 years, both in the United States and in Romania. But we dare not downplay the work that has yet to be done.
I’ve seen the ugliness of racism first hand, witnessed it in my own extended family, and yet I said and did nothing. And even now, as these senseless racist acts rock our world, I’m tempted to hide behind my screen. Why?
It comes down to fear.
I fear saying the wrong thing.
I fear being misunderstood.
I fear upsetting anyone at all.
And so I keep silent. Brooding over the ugliness and devastation of it all, but saying nothing out of fear. What good can one person’s words do anyway?
And then I remember this:
There is no fear in love. For perfect love casts out fear.
1 John 4:18
Jesus Christ Himself compells us to break the silence. We are called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God and each other. And the Gospel moves us toward forgiveness and conversation, as the Charleston victim’s families so beautiful demonstrate here and here.
Let’s begin this conversation here, in this safe place:
- In what ways have you witnessed racism in your own life and neighborhood?
- What keeps you from speaking out against the racism you see in the media and in your backyard?
- Do you find it easy or difficult to call racism by name when these hate crimes occur?
- How does Christ’s love compel us to speak up? (2 Corinthians 5:14)
- Do you feel powerless to make a difference? How might we overcome that fear?
I’ll be waiting for you in the comments or on our Facebook page. Let’s overcome fear with love and break our silence on racism.