The Elephant in the Room

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Can you imagine living in the 16th century and hearing for the first time that the earth is moving around the sun? What a preposterous claim! Every morning you woke up and watched the sun rise over the eastern horizon, move across the sky, and finally set over the western horizon. 

How can the earth be moving? Doesn’t the Bible say that “the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” (Psalm 96:10; see also Ps. 93:1)? What was claimed real contradicted your experience. This incident has much to teach us today.

All over the news media, social media outlets, and now the NFL are conversations about systemic racism that doesn’t match our experience in Whitley County.

“There’s not systemic racism in our country because there isn’t any signs of it here where I live, work and play.” Or maybe we aren’t representative of much of America. 

According to the 2010 census, 97.6% of our Whitley County is Caucasian. There isn’t systemic racism against African-Americans where we live because there isn’t a large sampling of them! I suggest we exercise a little bit of caution before weighing in on what is and what isn’t real in other places. A lack of something “here” doesn’t mean there isn’t any “there.”

The book of James gives us Christ-followers the prescription for the present dialogue about racism and racial inequality in America. He says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (1:19-20). All sides of the conversation seem to be violating James’ explicit command to do more listening and less talking, being filled with more compassion and less anger. 

We should expect those without the Holy Spirit to not want their rights infringed upon and to “have to win the argument.” But those who follow Jesus march to a different drumbeat. Jesus said, “You know [those in power] lord it over [others]…Not so with you…whoever wants to be first must be slave to all” (Mark 10:42-44). Then Jesus gave up his own life so that we could have forgiveness of our sin and a reconciled relationship with God and others. 

Notice how Jesus didn’t ask us to do something he himself didn’t do. He sacrificed himself and then told us that we’d change the world if we did what he first did for us. That hasn’t changed for 2000 years. What has changed is the idea that being a Christian comes without a cost to those who dare follow the King. And the world is unsurprisingly not impressed.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” It is hard to listen to the pain of an African American and realize that my skin color prevented my feeling the same kind of pain. It is scary to realize that I may need to give up something so that others may gain from my sacrifice. That is one of the “untried” ideals of our day. 

I suggest we do more listening and less minimizing others’ experiences. I suggest we replace anger with compassion. I suggest we stop insisting that the sun revolves around the earth just because our experience is limited to what we see and not what is real in other places. It is not our fault that our county is overwhelmingly Caucasian; it is our fault if we refuse to look again at what is happening in other places and contribute to the solution. Slavery may have been abolished a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean racism is gone. 

“Lord, help your people to listen to the message that we need to hear even when we do not appreciate the method used to communicate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”