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As we finish our series “Can You Relate?”, Todd teaches us about our relationship with race. Being prejudicial is not always bad. We are all prejudiced to some extent; sometimes that is good, and sometimes it’s bad. Regardless of any prejudice, we are all different shades of one color. We are all one race, we are all brothers and sisters, and it has been that way since the beginning of time.
How We Relate To God
We are at the very end of our series called Can You Relate? and we're going to talk about an unbiblical idea today: race. It's not a biblical idea in the sense that there are a bunch of different races out there. There's one race. It's the human race. Scientists would call you a mitochondrial Eve. You go, "What's that?" That means there is a thread of grain. That's literally what the word means. There is one thing moving all of us.
The Bible doesn't ever use the word race. Some of your English translations will insert it in there. It should be there in 1 Corinthians 9 when it talks about running the race of faith, but it should not be there in other places when it talks about different races. There is one race. There's one God, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is one kind of Homo sapiens made in his image. So we're going to talk about race today and how we relate to people groups, to use a biblical term. Let's pray.
Father, help us relate to people groups. Help us to relate to one another. Make us ministers of reconciliation. Would you open our eyes and our hearts? Would our view of you change our view of one another? May we know, Father, the great commandment that to know you is to know life, and then if we know the life that is in you and the way you sought us, someone who is not at all like you in your holiness…
We are sinners, and you sought us, and with great longsuffering and lovingkindness, taking on the justice of wrath that needed to be poured out on us on yourself, in humility giving us life. I pray we would be, Father, the same kind of people. Thank you that you've told us what it is you require of man, that we do justice, that lovingkindness marks us, and, Lord, we know we can only do that as we walk humbly with you. Teach us now. In Jesus' name, amen.
Much to my wife's surprise, I'm a hard guy to be married to. I knew I was going to be. That's why I needed a godly woman. I was committed to finding a gal I knew wasn't going to look to me to fill her cup, because I knew that at times I would relate to people in a way that would damage the oneness we want. No one gets married going, "You know what I need? I need somebody I live with all the time I can fight with." That's never the goal.
But what happens so many times in the context of our relationships is that we all of a sudden start to act in a way that doesn't lead to the oneness we all want, the oneness that is peace. The reason we get married is we go, "Man, I would love there to be somebody not just who I could love in my youth but who I can grow old with and richer and deeper in unity with, who I can share all of the delights God intends for me."
Certainly, in the context of marriage, all the physical intimacy and emotional and relational intimacy we can have as spiritual people; that God restores us so we can love one another. The truth is we don't love one another that well all the time. If you hang out with us here, we talk a lot about why our relationships don't work so well, and we talk about what happens often in the context of conflict.
One of the things we teach people to do is to not be a WENI. What do I mean by that? Well, that's an acronym for four things. First, when you have conflict with somebody, what you don't want to do is withdraw from them. "You know what? It's not worth it. I think I'll just move away. I think I'll just go my own way. You go over there and start your own new group, and I'll stay over here and just be my own group." Maybe there's a clash of cultures. Maybe there's a clash of sexes.
The Bible calls us specifically in marriage to "live with your wife in an understanding way," which means, "Hey, she might not be exactly like you. In fact, I created her to be different than you, and I want you to love her and pursue her and not use your physical power, maybe your verbal skills, maybe your ability to wall off certain aspects of your life in order that you can just move on while she suffers. Don't withdraw from her; pursue her."
The Bible tells us to "Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness," not just go where fruit is low hanging and we can easily pick it. Withdrawing from conflict is never, ever a biblical response. I'm not one who typically withdraws from conflict. The people who know me… That's not what I usually do with my wife.
The second one, though, sometimes is one of my favorite tactics. That is, "When you hurt me, I'm going to hurt you more to teach you not to hurt me," which is escalation. "I'm going to make it so painful for you to have conflict with me you're going to learn you don't want conflict with me, so you'll just behave and do what I want."
This is the tactic that "If you punch me, I'll shoot you. You kill one of me, I'll kill two of you, and you're going to learn not to do that thing that causes conflict." That doesn't work out really well. The third one is negatively interpret. My wife recently did this to me. We were having a few days when we were kind of withdrawing from one another, moving away from each other a little bit. Maybe I had escalated a few times when she said something to me.
Instead of living with her in an understanding way, I would use some incredible tactic like this, which is basically, "Hey, the problem right now is that you feel the way you do, and if you didn't feel the way you do, we wouldn't have a problem. So just stop feeling the way you do, and we don't have a problem, because I don't feel like we have a problem." Brilliant leadership. Great way to pursue oneness. But my wife had been around some aspect of that, probably, at some level.
It was a Wednesday. Wednesdays are a day when, obviously, my kids are at school. My wife comes up here. She's part of the leadership of our women's Bible study and serves there and is encouraged there. So Wednesdays, I typically start my day at home because I have a house that's quiet and I can get some extended reading and catch up on some different times that I can spend time alone in a unique way I can't even when I'm up here. So I stay at home.
I knew I had been drifting from my wife a little bit, so I said this to her. She was getting ready to walk out the door. I go, "Hey, sweetie, before you leave, what time are you going to be back today?" Now what I was wanting to do was say, "Maybe if it's going to be…" Sometimes she stays after Bible study. She has a leadership meeting or she goes to a lunch with some friends.
My thought was, "Hey, after your leadership meeting, if you don't go to lunch with some friends, maybe you and I could reconnect in a way that we need to and sit and talk, and I'll delay. I won't schedule a lunch right now that I have today. I'll just leave that open, and maybe I wait and eat a late lunch with you before you go drive carpool." That was what I was communicating to her. I didn't say all that. She was walking out the door.
She just goes, "I don't know," and she walked out, got in her car, and started to drive away. She goes, "How selfish is he? He has kind of been distant from me these last couple of days, and now he wants to know what time I'm going to be home so he can be sure and leave before I get home at 1:30 so he doesn't have to see me until later tonight?" She was negatively interpreting what was going on. I was clueless until later that night when we talked.
She just said, "I have to tell you something. I was driving down the alley and just couldn't believe you asked me that question." She goes, "But you know what I did? I just went, 'Lord, I want to believe the best about my husband.'" She didn't pick up the phone and call me and say, "Why did you ask?" She just prayed for me, and we worked that out that night. We just talked about how sometimes negative interpretation because of historical realities can hurt our oneness.
We withdraw from people groups we have conflict with. We sometimes escalate. Your people group hurts mine, I'm going to just drive this thing up a little bit, instead of not returning evil for evil as we're instructed to do. We can negatively interpret what the motivations are if somebody is saying something or thinking a certain way or we can invalidate. I already told you this is my favorite to do.
Typically, when my wife is feeling certain things, I go, "I don't feel that way at all. I don't get why you feel that way. You're just an emotional black hole of need," or some other really loving comment that usually creates other kinds of problems. I just go, "If you would just not feel that way, we wouldn't have a problem. Okay, so in the past I haven't been the perfect husband, but I'm here now. Get over it."
By the way, often what people do when they sit there and somebody is talking about how they're feeling is they go, "Hey man, I'm sorry." "I'm sorry" is, frankly, a biblical way of saying, "What you're saying about me is true, and it is a sorry way for a human to act." When you say, "I'm sorry," you should always follow it up with something else, and it's this: "You know what? What you're describing, the way you're feeling, whether it's real or not, the perception about how you've been treated… I see why that creates sorrow in you, and I'm sorry I've been a part of the pain you're experiencing."
So what do you do when you think you've been a part of the pain somebody else is experiencing? You do what the Bible tells you to do. You don't just say, "I'm sorry" and move on and say, "I already apologized, and if you're not okay with that, then that's your problem." No. You say, "Will you please forgive me? Would grace in you restore the relationship I have hurt because of my behavior? Or maybe it's not even me. Maybe it's somebody who looks like me.
Maybe it's some of your family of origin issues. Maybe your dad sexually abused you. Maybe your dad always withdrew. Maybe your dad escalated. Maybe your dad did things you had to always negatively interpret. Maybe your dad told you to shut up and not speak unless spoken to, and maybe I look like your dad. I'm a male, and maybe some of that is coming to me. Would you forgive me that I'm doing anything to make you think I might be like that? I want to be a lover to you. I want oneness between us."
Do you see that? This isn't just a problem in marriage. Let me just insert right here, this is a woman I chose to love who brought me delight in so many ways that we came together, and we have to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It's not a problem that we need to reconcile. Do you sometimes get tired of people saying, "We have to talk about racial reconciliation"? You're like, "Are you serious? Again? How many times are we going to talk about this?"
What would it be like if I told my wife, "Hey, sweetie, we've already reconciled. We did that back in 1996"? Sometimes there are things that keep happening that make us do what Jesus says we should always do, which is to be diligent, which means to give steady, constant, consistent work and focus toward preserving the unity Jesus wants for us because it will bring us joy and great gladness.
We have to do that in marriage. How much more do you think we have to do that with not just our wives but with our world? So I don't get worn out when people say, "We have to work through this," because I realize we're not home yet. This is earth, so there are still broken aspects to all of our relationships.
What the Bible wants us to do is to not withdraw, not escalate, not negatively interpret the motivation, and not invalidate somebody else's feelings. It is true that feelings are real but not always reliable, but it's not a great way to start to try to tell somebody they shouldn't feel that way. Empathize with their feelings, and let them know you're committed to doing whatever you can that they might feel grace and love and commitment from you.
Race is an unbiblical term. People groups or tribes are not. Let me walk you through a little bit of why I say that. Where did the races come from? I want to just throw out some stuff that might blow your mind a little bit. There is no question that there are different people groups, so people ask, "Where did the people groups come from?"
Here's the deal. Most of you have been raised in schools that taught you we have evolved. In fact, you probably didn't read it, but you were at least introduced to Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Does anybody know what the subtitle to Darwin's On the Origin of Species is? This is the book, and this is the original subtitle: On the Origin of Species…or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
All evolutionists aren't necessarily racist, but racism, without a doubt, took off with the introduction of this evolutionary idea. It's right there in the subtitle. Stephen Jay Gould, who for 30 years taught at Harvard University and was one of the leading spokespersons for evolution theory, essentially said, "Darwinian evolution was (and still is) a racist philosophy. It teaches that different groups or races of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their ape-like ancestors than others.
For years, Australian aborigines were considered to be the missing link between an ape-like ancestor and modern man. Biological reasons for racist ideas may have been common before 1850, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory." That's an evolutionist saying that.
It's interesting that racist attitudes in general fueled the thinking that had Ota Benga, who was a Congolese African pygmy (he was 4'11" tall), to be displayed at the World's Fair as the "missing link" and then later be displayed at the Bronx Zoo. A human being was at the Bronx Zoo alongside an orangutan in 1906. No surprise, as he was eventually freed from his bondage, he never really got over the way he was treated. He committed suicide as a very young man.
Race is a social construct. This is a statement not from me as a theologian, although I'll say it and have said it already. This is from the Advancement of Science Convention that was held in Atlanta in 1997. A guy named C. Loring Brace said, "Race is a social construct derived mainly from perceptions conditioned by events of recorded history, and it has no basic biological reality." It comes very close to being something of an American manufacturing.
ABC News had this on their science page: "More and more scientists find that the differences that set us apart are cultural, not racial. Some even say that the word race should be abandoned because it's meaningless." These aren't theologians. It went on to say "we accept…putting people into broad categories, frequently to suppress them. The most hideous example was [Hitler's Nazi Germany]." Well, I have some friends of color in this country who might say, "I have another one that was rather grotesque."
Let me tell you something that might surprise you a little bit. I believe it's still there. If you go to London to the Natural History Museum and move into the Darwin exhibit there, you're going to see… This is why we think in terms of races, and we shouldn't. If you walk into the Darwinian exhibit in the Natural History Museum in London, you're going to see a sign that says, "Before Charles Darwin, most people believed that God created all living things exactly in the form we see them today; this is the basis of the doctrine of creation."
You go forward a little more and there's a second sign that says, "But Darwin supported the view that all living things have developed into the forms that we see today by a process of gradual change over long periods of time; this is what is meant by evolution." And, as his book subtitle says, certain races have been favored. This, by the way, is a straw man. It is not what we believe. People who understand God's Word as revelation, showing us what we can't know, don't argue with adaptation, don't argue with changes within species. We completely see that consistent with Scripture.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever thought about Noah's ark much? Do you start to think about what was on Noah's ark? When the animals came to Noah, what kind of animals were on the ark? Let's just take dogs for example. What dogs were on the ark? Were poodles on the ark? Your dachshund? How about dingoes? Were coyotes on the ark? How about your Cockapoo? Of course not.
Let's just go back to Genesis, chapter 1. In Genesis 1, it tells us the laws of creation, and this is so key to understanding where I'm going to take you and helping you understand some basic things. I want to move through this very quickly, because we have to get to the meat of what we're talking about.
Genesis 1:24 says, "Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind'; and it was so." What he's saying is that he built into certain animal groupings a kind, and out of that kind there were all kinds of genetic possibilities. So there is a familial relationship. There is a race of dogs. We call them breeds, but they're really dog groups. Believe it or not, your poodle is related to the Arctic wolf, and the African dingo is related to your golden retriever.
Noah didn't have to have all of them on there. So how did we get the different races? It's easy. Scientists look and go, "There is a thread of strength, a thread of substance that runs through every human." The genetic difference between the most diverse humans comes down to what is less than 0.2 percent of a difference. That means the difference between Ota Benga, that African pygmy, and me (a 6'5" European Caucasian and a 4'11" Congolese pygmy) is less than 0.2 percent.
Do you know what differentiates us ultimately? It's things like melanin. Melanin is the amount of pigmentation in our skin. Most humans today are still what is called middle brown. It's probably what Adam and Eve were. Most people in the world today, our human race, are middle brown people. There are some who are darker and some who are lighter, and there are reasons for that.
I'm going to show you where it came from. But there is a direct connection with all of us. We didn't evolve as one favored race over another. That is an unbiblical idea that white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan and other uneducated, untheologically informed, unscientifically studied people hold to. We are one race with one blood.
The things that make us different, like almond-shaped eyes in what we call Asian people groups… The only difference between their eye and mine… Their eye isn't really a different shape; there's just more fat around an Asian eye. There are probably reasons for that, as we were divided from one another, and we'll show you in a second where that came from and why different parts of the human race began to pick up certain attributes that always existed from the very beginning in the genetic makeup of Adam and Eve.
Melanin is not, by the way, something you're born with. You are born with it, but what really makes a difference between the people groups is the ability of your body to produce more and more melanin that keeps you dark. That's why some light-skinned people tan better. They have more melanin. That's why others who don't have much don't do well in environments where there's a lot of sun. That's why some people are albinos. They have no ability to produce melanin.
But only 6 percent of the 0.2 percent that divides us makes up those things we think are the outer differences. That means 0.012 percent is what separates Ota Benga from me. It's why if I need an organ transplant or some tissue in the midst of some surgery to bring healing I'm just as likely to find it in Ota Benga as I am another European Caucasian, because we're one blood created in the image of God. For different reasons, we have now become different people groups. I'll show you why.
Genesis, chapter 11. This is after the flood. Sometimes my kids have been given assignments in school asking them, "Go home and talk to your parents and all come back tomorrow, as we get to know each other, and I want you to come back and tell your class who the most famous relative in your family tree is." My kids have come home at different times and asked, "Hey, who's your most famous relative?"
I always say, "I don't know. Just go back and tell them Noah. I promise you we can trace it back to that at least." So my kids every time have gone back to school and went, "Noah." People go, "What? You're related to Noah?" And they're like, "Well, we're all related to Noah." Noah is my most famous relative, but we move on from Noah and the flood and get to Genesis 11. It says, "Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words."
In other words, there was just one people group and one language at this particular time. What had happened is that different parts of the people group that was, rebellious now against God, came together and said, "Let's build us a city, a tower whose top will reach into heaven. Let us make our way to glory. Let us establish glory for ourselves. To heck with what God said that we should fill the earth and subdue it. Forget the idea that we should obey him. We will do what we think will make us great."
So God comes and says in verse 7, "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." Because God was going to spare them. He's going to say, "This is not going to lead to life for you. You can build the tallest tower in the world, and you're still not going to be people who are reconciled to me, and you're still going to have enmity between one another."
So in order to accelerate humankind's understanding that life apart from God is no life at all, there was what is called the dispersion of the nations. What happened is he created different languages inside this group of people. Because they couldn't talk to each other, they started, obviously, to gather within those different languages, and they probably dispersed and went and got different lands they settled in, which caused a reduction in the gene pool.
While you were in that reduced gene pool and began to live in certain places, there were certain attributes of individuals within that people group you were now a part of that probably caused you to thrive that would cause you to choose to have relationships with those people, and slowly, over time, there was a reduction in the opportunity for there to be this middle brown. We moved into areas that needed more melanin. Those people thrived.
Folks who didn't need as much melanin or that all their melanin would cause problems in a sunless culture because it would lead to rickets with a lack of vitamin E and D that would come into them through a lack of sunlight… There was a narrowing. Not an advancement of the human species, but a narrowing in different areas.
And obviously, because sin was in us, we became very tribal, and tribalism took on a whole new power. We withdrew from one another, we escalated when there was conflict, we negatively interpreted the motivations of folks who came, and we invalidated the feelings of other cultures, and we have been at war. God wants us to reconcile.
He'll do that, by the way. You read Revelation 7, and it says there's going to be a day when every tribe, every nation, every tongue will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and together we'll acknowledge the source of our glory and hope is our understanding of God, which then allows us to be reconciled to him so we can love one another as he intended, so we won't try to establish our glory; we'll just live in the goodness of his.
Races are not biblical ideas. People groups are. There is one human race. But sadly, over time, we have not treated each other that way. There's a rather famous illustration that has been used at different times. You'll find a number of these on YouTube. If you go home and Google "$100 race," you'll see something like this. The $100 race starts with a bunch of college-aged students from different people groups who are all lined up there.
The concept is that whoever wins the race in a 50-yard dash is going to get this $100. If you're a college student, you want the $100. So they'll stand at the end of the line and say, "But before we start, just to help you understand this race isn't fair in our land, I'm going to let you take some steps forward if certain things are true about you."
Play this in your mind. Let's just say I put $100 up here, and we're all back there against the wall, and I say, "You can take either two or five steps forward every time one of these things is true of you." I say, "Take two steps forward if both of your parents are still married." How many of you guys just took two steps forward to the goal?
How about if I said, "Take five steps forward if you grew up not with two parents who are still married but your father was present in the home, loved you, was never abusive to you, dealt with his own sin, and cultivated a relationship with you that was a blessing in your life. Take five steps forward for that."
How about if I said, "Take two steps forward if you never wondered where your next meal was coming from, if you never experienced any food insecurity. Take two steps forward if you had access to private education." How many of you guys are moving forward? "Take two steps forward if you never had to worry about your cell phone being shut off.
Take two steps forward if you were given access to free tutoring and help with your education because somebody else paid for it for you. Take two steps forward if you never had to help your mom or dad with bills in junior high or high school." How are you doing? Are some of you getting close to the stage?
Let me tell you something. There are still a lot of folks in our world who are against that back wall, and there happens to be in our land a certain people group that predominately makes up most of them. Want to move them? "Take two steps forward if because of your athletic ability you didn't have to pay for your college education." A very, very small percent of that people group move forward, and maybe none of you all did. Do you see where you are in the race?
One of the things I did this week as I was thinking about what we were going to talk about is I just emailed a bunch of my friends who are people of color from other people groups and said, "Hey, I need your help. I want to talk about this topic, and I don't want to do it just from my perspective. I want to learn from you, and I want to hear what you have to say," because "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind." That's Proverbs 18:2.
So I emailed my friends and just asked them, "Hey, what do you wish your white friends understood about being a person of color?" I asked them, "What's the biggest thing your white friends miss when they talk about racial reconciliation?" I'm going to read you some of their answers. I do that all the time.
How about this? Do you know what's going to make my marriage better? Do you know what's going to bring peace into my home? "Hey, sweetie, what do you wish your husband understood about this marriage? What do you wish I understood about reconciliation day by day, meal by meal, that I'm missing?"
Do you want to improve your marriage? Just work those questions into your marriage. "Hey, baby, what do you wish I understood about you? How are you feeling? How am I making you feel? What do you wish I knew that I could fix that you've gone through? Because I'm your man." This isn't a race problem; it's a sin problem. It's a human problem, and the gospel is the solution. Let me give you a few facts. I've already covered some of these.
Here's a fact: we are all different shades of one color. Here's a fact: there is one race among men; it is the human race. Here's a fact: there are more genetic differences within people groups than between people groups. Here's a fact: we have not all been treated the same way because our shades are different. That is a fact. Let me say that one again. We have not all been treated the same way because our shades are different.
Can you handle that? Does that even surprise you? Do you see where you are in the race? Jesus is not fond of the injustices we have committed against other people groups, and we need to wake up. There's a little expression that is used often within certain people groups when somebody else understands how they are feeling. "Bro, you're woke." "You're white awake. You understand how I feel." I wish more people were woke.
This is what the Bible says in Ephesians 5:14: "Awake, O sleeper." Quit being unaware of how your sin affects others. "Awake, O sleeper. Arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." One of the things I did this week is I read again this amazing… If you haven't done it, I encourage you to do it again. I was supposed to do it in high school, and thankfully Wendy Wyan did, in front of me, so I looked over her shoulder and did okay on the test.
Read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." It's a letter Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a jail in Birmingham to five pastors of moderate white churches in the Birmingham area who had come out publicly and said a number of different things about Martin Luther King Jr. and some of his civil rights activist friends when they came to Birmingham. They called him a bunch of different names. He wasn't this celebrated figure. One of the names was he was an extremist. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an amazing response to that.
He basically said, "Let me just say this about being extremist. On one hand, I don't like that label, but it depends on what kind of extremist you are. On the three crosses that were on Calvary there were three extremists. Two of them represented a certain kind of extremism in response to the oppression they had been experiencing, and another one represented an extreme commitment to reconcile. So being an extremist isn't necessarily a problem. My Savior was an extremist, and I am here not to raise the sword against injustice, but I am here to do what I can to solve it."
He essentially said, "I had hoped my white moderate friends would see the need I see. Perhaps I was too optimistic." This is the answer to the question, "What do I wish my white friends understood about what it's like to be black?" "I wish you understood my world ain't like yours." He says, "I was too optimistic. Perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action."
Do you see that? Strong, persistent, and determined action. That is continual reconciliation. It's why I'm married now for almost three decades, because I have given my wife strong, persistent, and determined action to be one with her and not withdraw, escalate, negatively interpret, or invalidate, as a rule, but just go, "Baby, how can I love you? What's going on? How do you feel? I realize you're still sometimes treating me the way you responded to your dad, who you lived with for two decades. Of course. That's normal. But I don't want to be your daddy. I want to be God's man in your life." Patience. Longsuffering.
It's the biblical idea in Ephesians 4:2-3. "…with humility and gentleness, showing forbearance for one another in love, being diligent…" That is, patient, determined, strong action. Now listen to these words. Martin Luther King Jr. writes, "There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Wherever the early Christians entered a town the [people in power became] disturbed and immediately sought to convict [the Christians] for being 'disturbers of the peace' and 'outside agitators.'" One of the names called of King and his people. "But [the Christians pressed] on with the conviction that they were 'a colony of heaven,' [called to] obey God rather than man [who didn't want their way of doing things disturbed]. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be 'astronomically intimidated.'
[By their effort and example, the early church] brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest." And they did. "Things are different now," he says. "The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust."
When the people abandon the church as its mother and God as their Father, they are left as orphans, and there is someone evil always willing to adopt them, and they rise up, and it's not pretty. Those prophetic words are just as necessary today as they were then. Let me just throw this out, because some of you are like, "Todd, I'm not a racist. I've never been a racist. What do you mean I have to reconcile with somebody? I've always been against the slave trade."
Well, let me give you something from history, and then let me walk you through a little exercise, and we'll talk about this some more. Here we go from history. I could take you all over the Bible, but I'll choose to take you to Nehemiah. I'm not going to do Daniel 9. I'm not going to go to Jeremiah 14. I'm not going to go to 1 Kings 8. I'm not going to go to different places I could go, but there's a normative behavior amongst leaders.
A lot of us think only in terms of individual sin, and we don't often enough think in terms of corporate sin. It ought to absolutely drive you crazy when you stop and think about a land that is so proud of its Declaration of Independence, when we proudly said, "We believe that all men are created equal," while we treated certain people groups like chattel. And by we I mean men who looked like me. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that.
Just like if you're married to a wife who maybe suffered horribly at the hands of men, like more and more women are going to do because of our pornified culture… Men have always been oppressing women. My wife asked me with this whole #MeToo thing, "Are you shocked at all this stuff that's coming out?" I go, "Absolutely not. Men have been objectifying, abusing, raping, manipulating, and dominating women sexually and every other way for generations. I get why women don't want to follow men. I'm seeking to love and serve in a way that changes that."
Let me just say this real quick, because this is one of the things we hear sometimes around here. They say, "Todd, you need to get more diversity up there." I don't believe diversity is a biblical idea in the local church, as a rule. I think God calls us to something much more beautiful and much more difficult, which is not just the appearance that we're getting along but real relationship with one another.
You shouldn't need to see women, people of color, people not of color, somebody who looks like your tribe up here. You want to find somebody up here who serves your King, because you could have people who are part of your tribe… If they don't serve your King, there will be abuse to you. I can show you all around the world where some of the most racist places are made up only of people of color, because tribalism exists.
That's why I've said things in the past like, "My goal is not to look like a Target ad." Target doesn't care a lick about Asians, Caucasians, blacks, or now they've put a Down syndrome kid on the cover of their catalog. When we take pictures around here, we don't go, "Let's get some people of color so we can look diverse." No. I don't want to look diverse; I want to love people. The more we love people, the more diverse we're going to look, because we live in a diverse town.
Do you guys know, by the way, that 40 percent of our town is middle brown people? Hispanic. So you see more and more Hispanic folks here because we live in a town with them. Do you know we live in a town that's the number-one spot refugees from around the world come to? Guess what? There are now 90 different nations of origin of people who are members of Watermark. We're starting to make it look that way. We have work to do, though, and I'm going to talk about this in just a minute.
Nehemiah wasn't a racist. Nehemiah wasn't even a godless individual. He was, by and large, a righteous leader, but when Nehemiah had a chance to realize the reason there was suffering and the reason there was an exile and the reason there was a consequence of God's hand of judgment being poured out on the people group that was Hebrews, Nehemiah said this. Nehemiah 1:5: "I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant [who's longsuffering and strong in a persistent seeking after us] …" That's what that means.
"…let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You…" See the pronoun? Nehemiah was not part of the godless rebellion. He was a sinner, but he sought reconciliation with God by grace through faith.
He said, "…I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You…" A little bit later, in chapter 8, they call a solemn assembly together where there are the nations gathered. After a time of fasting, Ezra reads the Word, and one more time, all of the people, even those who themselves weren't rebels against God, said, "Lord, we know as a people we've done this."
It blesses some people groups when we acknowledge that churches and countries that were led by men who looked like me… John Adams wrote to King George about the time of our Revolution and said, "We ain't going to be your Negroes. All men are created equal (except them Negroes)," while he went to church. That is why if there's a problem in the land there's a problem in the pulpit. You've been influenced by Darwinian evolutionistic theory.
I've never really thought of myself as a person who struggled with race. I grew up in a multiracial world. I had black friends who would spend the night. I'd spend the night with them. I remember wanting to take a black girl to prom. She wouldn't go with me because I was a buck-toothed skinny kid. But I just never had a problem with the idea. I would sometimes go, "I don't know what the big deal is."
I can remember I could choose any book to read when I was in sixth grade, and for some reason I chose the book Black Like Me, which is about a Gonzo journalist who took drugs to make his melanin make his skin darker, and then he went first through the South as a black man and saw his experiences, and then he let that cleanse his system and went back as a white man, and he wrote about it in a book called Black Like Me.
I remember reading that and going, "What is wrong with this world we're in?" Yet in 2016, when the Dallas five were murdered by a young man who did not understand how to deal with the conflict within him, and because he didn't know Jesus, he struck out the way the two criminals on either side of Christ did and brought sadness to our city…
When I went and spoke that night, along with other pastors and leaders in our city, I talked about my growth and understanding of when people say, "Black lives matter." When I first heard, "Black lives matter," I was like, "What in the world? That's the most racist statement you could ever say. What do you mean 'black lives matter'? Why are you saying that? Why are you trying to draw a divide? All lives matter. Every people group matters. Hispanic lives matter. Asian lives matter. Caucasian lives matter. Quit saying that."
That was my initial response. But guess what I did? Instead of negatively interpreting that, that there were more racist people in that people group than in mine, I picked up the phone and called a friend in that people group. I go, "I need some help here." He said, "First of all, Todd. You have to ask who's saying it, because some people are saying it in a way that isn't going to be helpful. But how about if I told you they were saying this? What if somebody was running down the street and they go, 'Hey, my house matters! My house matters!'
You would look at them and go, 'Hey, you know what, man? All houses matter. You think you're the only one who needs a house? Of course your house matters. What house doesn't matter? Quit acting like your house is the only house that matters. We're not going to come paint your house. We're not going to come roof your house. We're not going to come do your lawns. We all have our own lawns and roofs and hot water heaters to take care of. So quit saying, "My house matters" like it's all about you.'
But what if, Todd, that guy's house was on fire and everybody in the neighborhood was just out front playing Wiffle ball, driving past him to go to the zoo, driving to Home Depot to improve their house, and he was in the front yard going, 'My house matters. Does anybody else see that my house matters? Can anybody else tell my house is burning down, what I'm experiencing here?' Would that change your perspective?" I go, "Absolutely it would change my perspective." He goes, "Some people are trying to tell you they don't feel like you love them."
It was so interesting. I spoke that night, and I shared that and just talked about, "Hey, there are certain things that people who look like me have not really dealt with that have been true of a people group that looks like you, and I need to tell you again that I see that. I've seen that. This is what I'm doing to try to correct some of those injustices. This is what I'm doing myself to speak up in a way that won't look like you, when you speak up, like you're self-serving or angry. I want in."
I couldn't believe the number of my friends who were people of color who came up with tears in their eyes and went, "Todd, you have no idea how much we needed you to say that." I go, "What? You needed me to say that? Don't you know me? Haven't you been watching me? Don't we eat together? Aren't we friends?"
He goes, "I know, but I needed you to say that out there. You say it to me, but I don't always hear you say that. I'm not everywhere you are. I don't hear you say that a lot, and I wonder sometimes if people know you know and you're doing what you can with your platform to help other people understand what I've gone through."
You're like, "What have they gone through?" Let me do this quickly. Dallas has a history. Dallas was called at one point the most racist city in America. This is Dallas now. We're not talking about Montgomery. We're not talking about Birmingham. Let's just talk about our city. In 1923, you could have been hanging out in downtown Dallas and seen this little activity going on. By the way, the largest Ku Klux Klan in the country was right here in good ol' Dallas, Texas.
In the 1920s, the police commissioner, the police chief, the district attorney, the sheriff, judges, doctors, lawyers, pastors, and public utility officers were all members of the Ku Klux Klan. All of them. They had a Ku Klux Klan Day at the State Fair of Texas, which if you were a person of color you couldn't go to, by the way, until the 1960s, except on the last day of the fair when we celebrated Negro Achievement Day. That's just a few years ago, folks. That's during my lifetime. That's during a lot of people's lifetimes who are still in this city.
Here it is. October 24, 1923. "The public is invited to come and witness the largest initiation of the Klan class in history. There will be fireworks. It'll be amazing." Then on the back side of this little flyer handed out was this. It's an application if you want to join the Klan. One out of every three eligible citizens of Dallas was a member of the Klan.
If you were a woman, you couldn't be a member. If you were a kid, you couldn't be a member. If you were a minority, you couldn't be a member. If you were a Catholic, you couldn't be a member because you served the pope and not America. You didn't serve the elite race and the elite country. This is Dallas.
Now watch this. Here's what you ought to do when you fill this thing out. Send this in. Name of applicant, residence, business address, all this. I cut it off right here, because what do you think shouldn't be below this? People always want references. Right? Well, look what they need on the references.
"We want to know where your daddy goes to church and where your mommy goes to church. We want to know who your pastor is, because we want to get a reference from him." Right here. "First Presbyterian. First Methodist. Church of Christ." If there were such things as community churches back then, I'm sure some of the pastors of them would have been a part of the Klan. Crazy.
All of us respond differently to things. Let me just walk you through this. I'll give us a chance to have some grace with one another. I'm just going to put some pictures up here. We're going to move kind of quickly. I don't think of myself as a person who is prejudicial. I don't think of myself as prejudiced, but the fact is there's some part of me that makes certain reads.
When you see a picture, I want you to imagine… What do you think of when you see this? What's your first response? Like, "Oh man. That brings so many happy memories of my childhood." Or you're like, "I'm a mother right now, and that voice wears me out. But he does love me and I love him, and we're a happy family."
What do you think of when you see this guy? Do you see a real talent? Do you see a lost kid? Do you see a burgeoning pastor? What do you think of when you see this picture? Now if this next one is in a sewer you might be horrified or you might go, "I have a lot of happy memories when my dad took me to the circus."
What about this picture? What do you see? Do you see a person here with some self-inflicted wounds or do you see somebody who's bludgeoned by the history of social injustice, maybe sexually abused by a dad, maybe strung out on drugs to numb her pain because that uncle was cruel to her? What do you see? See, you're prejudiced. You see something. You make a judgment initially.
What godly people do is they push through it. Don't beat yourself up that there are visceral responses to pictures. What about this one? You might go, "Oh man, I've got to be careful when I walk by that guy." A guy named George Zimmerman walked by a kid in a hoodie just like that, this kid, and he had a certain opinion about what that kid in the hoodie was going to do, and it ended up costing that kid his life.
How about this guy? What do you see? Do you see a comedian, a guy who's at the center of your favorite sitcom ever, or do you see a racist? What do you see here? Do you see another comedian, a great guy, the way most people of color should act, or do you see a serial sexual abuser? How about this guy? What do you see? How about this guy? What's your first response? How about this gal? What do you see?
We're just human, right? How about this guy? What do you see right here? You go, "I want to see more. I want to know what's behind that. That little Arab sitting there loaded with all that stuff. He might be smiling with his thumbs up, but I don't know who took that picture." That happens to be a friend of ours. He used to be part of our team here. He now works for Homeland Security. I could tell you where he is, but he'd have to kill you, so I can't. How about this one? What do you see?
Let's just say you're a leader of King Arthur's court and you're out there and you're trying to get the Holy Grail and somebody told you there's a great evil out there. It's a killer who's going to take you out, and you see this picture. Are you bothered? Now some of you guys have no idea what I'm talking about because you either got saved early in life or you've never watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but you might be prejudging. "What? That's just a bunny rabbit!" And the guy goes, "No, it has these fangs like this."
This is what would have happened to you if your prejudicial thought was that it's just a rabbit. Okay, we can't show that. PG-13. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you a little understanding very quickly. This is why we need each other. I want you to imagine you're a deer. I want you to imagine you're a 10-point buck. It's November in Texas. You're coming out through the clearing, and you break through the brush and look out and see this. Nope, nope. We see a rabbit. We see this.
What do you do? You go, "All right." You're going to put your head down and eat. You made a judgment that that thing over there wasn't going to be a problem to you. King Arthur's knights made a mistake. You go, "I'm good. I know what I'm doing." What if you see this guy, though? What do you do? You make a judgment. "That guy is evil. He's after me. He's looking through a scope."
Well, he's there with the Texas Wildlife Federation. He's taking a census to make sure the food is correct and that there's not an overpopulation. He's going to do what he can to move you, but you don't know that. You made a prejudgment about that guy. Why? Because sometimes even people who come out… Look at this next picture. Here's a guy. He comes out.
That guy looks really scary, right? But he's the same guy doing the same thing. Do you know why you're scared of that? Because sometimes there are people who pop out who look like this. Let me just give you one more. Imagine you're walking down a city street and three people come out looking like this toward you. You're that guy. You're carrying your little boxes right here.
Are you thinking, "Oh man, this is a tough part of town, and I'm so glad those guys are here, because they're going to protect me. No one is going to come and grab my stuff and take it and run away"? Or are you like, "Oh crap. I guarantee you I'm going to get hassled. They're going to ask what I'm carrying. They're going to ask where I got it. They're going to ask where I'm going, what's in those boxes"? Do you see how our experiences…?
By the way, this is what I wanted to tell you. Not all initial reactions are wrong. If you're walking down a secluded area and you see somebody who comes out in a black hoodie kind of working in the shadows, you'd better be on a little bit of an alert, but this is one of the problems, by the way, of our prejudicial stuff. We taught kids a lot about stranger danger. "You be careful about strangers, guys who offer candy out of white vans."
But sometimes, most of the time, it's an uncle who takes you to the zoo, a coach who's helping you make the Olympic team. Folks, we need to be really gracious with each other. There are a lot of people who have been hurt because folks who looked like you or did what you do felt some way for a long time, and we need to help each other.
I asked my friends, "What do you wish I understood? Why do you respond the way you do when you see me walk up?" One friend said, "Todd, I wish my non-people of color friends understood that racism is a constant reality for us; that they understood the historical reality of white supremacy in our country and that we're still living under some of the effects of that.
I wish they understood how race affects my world, that people of color always start behind the majority culture. I wish they understood that privilege is a reality for most folks who look like you and they assume it's normal for the rest of us. Do you want to know what the biggest thing is that my white friends miss when they talk about it? They miss systemic racism. They miss the educational and the justice."
Do you guys know what redlining is? The economic suppression. Long after slavery was abolished in the 1860s, we continued to have racist policies that suppressed people groups. They took the form of Jim Crow laws and segregation. "Yeah, all men are not created equal. You're not chattel, but you can't go to my fair. You can't sit at my counter and have a cup of coffee with me." This thing is not long ago and far away like some Star Wars movie. There are people who have been hurt today.
Do you know what redlining is? Remember how I told you the Klan influenced a lot of what happened in our city? This isn't just in Dallas, by the way. This is all over. In Dallas, as in other places, redlining was a practice that went like this. It's basically when you divest in a certain community. What you do is look at what people groups live there, and you're going to rate them and say, "Hey, we're only going to give you certain kinds of loans at this rate or this rate or this rate," all the way down to "We're not even going to give you loans for economic development."
What happens when you redline and say people who live over there aren't going to get stuff… There is a divestment. There's a housing decline. There's predatory lending. Folks go, "I'll give you a loan, but it's going to make you a slave." Because you don't have any money to keep your house up, all of the houses in the neighborhood are going to go down, so there's a property value loss. There's going to be foreclosure and vacancy. There's going to be asset and wealth loss that's systemic over generations.
There's a huge racial wealth gap in our city, and we start to say, "Why don't those people figure it out? They have all those self-afflicted wounds." Have you done your work? Here's the truth. Let me show you one other deal. This is the city of Dallas. There were all kinds of red lines drawn below the Trinity River in certain parts of our city, where all men were created equal but were not treated equally.
Here's what I want you to do. I want you to be gracious to one another. I want you to answer the prayer Christ gave us that we would all be one, that we'd be perfected in unity. One of the things I was told by my friends… One of them is a young boy who lived down there south of the Trinity. When he was in fourth grade, with our partner Mercy Street, we said, "We're going to take you in."
His brother is in jail. His daddy is gone. His mom is filled with addictive traits that don't allow her to be as present as a mother should be. We just invited him into our world. That was eight years ago. He's about to graduate from high school with a grade point average well over 3.0. He and I took a college visit. He's going to be the first young man in his family ever who's going to go to college.
I want to just say this. I hate talking about racial reconciliation. I hate talking about lost people. I hate talking about the poor. Do you know what I want to ask you to do? I want you to love somebody of a different people group. You don't have to stop and reconcile… Listen. This is earth. There's always going to be the poor among us, but Jesus says just make sure the poor who are near you you're loving and doing what you can with.
Just make sure the people of other people groups who are near you… You can't fix every conflict and tribalism in Africa. You may not be able to fix what's going on in Birmingham. How are you doing right here in your city? Do you guys know a lot of the Community Groups at Watermark are very segregated?
For reasons that allow you to get together, we put you in groups where there are certain life stages and certain geographic areas so you can be around each other on a regular basis. But do you know we have people in Community Groups here at Watermark who have so much money they'll never run out? Their kids won't run out of their money. Their grandkids won't run out of their money.
And do you know there are Community Groups made up people here who are food insecure, who can't make rent month to month? I'm not talking now about us in South Dallas; I'm talking about us. Do you know that some of you guys have Community Groups filled with intact, loving families, and do you know there are entire Community Groups made up of single moms where there isn't a man present? Right here at good ol' Watermark we have systemic injustice.
I'm asking you and your Community Group to find a Community Group that's not like you and not have some idea out there about how we have to fix this single dad problem. Just fix one. Just find somebody and go, "Tell me what it's like to be a single mom. Tell me what it's like to be an immigrant. You're here and you don't even know the language and you're a member of my church? What can I do to love you and be the hands and feet of Christ to you?"
Find somebody who doesn't look like you and go, "Let's go to lunch, man," and when you go to lunch, don't make the conversation about race or people groups. Make it about relationship. Just pursue them. "What I wish my friends knew," they said, "is that black peers grow up in less fortunate worlds than they do." This young man I had a chance to pour into with my family said, "The biggest thing my white friends miss is that when they talk about reconciliation it's more than just befriending a bunch of black kids; it's about actually building a relationship with them."
A very well-known leader in the black community said, "Todd, I wish my non-black friends understood it takes serious study and dedication to unearth and comprehend how racism has established so much of American Western culture. Both directly and indirectly, it affects every aspect of the lives of my people group.
The biggest thing my white friends miss with racism is it can't be understood in a single conversation or a single message, it can't be remedied without commitment, and that reconciliation assumes there was once a conciliatory relationship that unfortunately has never existed. Blacks have been treated horribly by whites since their forcible entry into this country. I wish they understood that. That's why you catch an attitude from us sometimes."
I asked one of my friends, "Hey, what do you do when somebody says, 'You can't relate to me in your little white majority world'?" He said, "Don't return evil for evil." First of all, that's not helpful when somebody says that. If you're a follower of Christ, it's not helpful when you say that. I'm asking you to help me understand.
He said, "What you need to do is respond in empathy and go, 'I understand people maybe have asked this and come down for a lunch so they feel good about themselves and moved on. I want to move in. We're brothers. There is a thread of grain that runs through both of us that takes us back to the throne, and I have to deal with the injustices you've experienced, maybe from some people who look like me. I don't want to be a part of that. Will you forgive me for the corporate sins of people in my group, and would you forgive me that I have not been a voice for you?'"
My wife and I have to work at this all the time, and there is a history of a conciliatory relationship. Why am I surprised it's going to be hard with somebody that there's no history, that we've redlined them right out of unity? Let's go, church. Let's be gracious. Do you see the opportunity we have? Let's start right here.
People don't want you to go and take them to lunch and find out what they need and pay their rent. They want you to be friends with them. Guess what you do when a friend is hurting? You help them. It's called love. We have to lose racial reconciliation as an idea and relate to one another, and we're only going to do that with the help of our Jesus. Amen? Let's go, church.
Father, I pray that you would start today with this conversation that would lead to more, that we'd have empathy, and that we would pursue and love and help one another understand how we've been hurt and heal the hurts we have not understood. Father, forgive us that sometimes we just want to fire money in a certain direction and say, "Figure it out."
Forgive us that we sometimes go, "All your problems are self-inflicted" and that we don't always want to look at the historical perspectives that have added to that, some of which I've been either ignorant of or party to because they didn't affect me. Will you forgive us? Would you make us your church?
I pray, Lord, we wouldn't be diverse in here, that we would be marked by love, we'd be one, reconciled to one another under the cross; that we'd be extremists of love and understanding, gracious, empathetic, and kind. O Lord, I'm so grateful you told us what to do about this problem. You've told us what it is you require of us, that we would do justice and love kindness, and we know we can only do that as we walk humbly with you.
I pray if there's anybody here today who has never been reconciled to the great King that they would see the lovingkindness of the cross and the justice poured out on Jesus, that they might be, through your humility, God, reconciled to you, that they might join us as instruments of peace. We love you and we thank you for what you're doing in us. Grow your church, Father. Make us more like Jesus. Help us to love one another. In Christ's name, amen.