Pentecost Sunday and Racism

A few years back I had a young black man in our congregation text me about the pain he was going through. Every time he turned on the news, it seemed like there was another person of color who had died for no good reason. He didn’t understand it and he didn’t know what to do, nor did I. But unlike me, a white middle-class pastor, he was afraid and wanted advice. 

It was his fear caught me off guard. While I had been following the news and speaking up about the stories in my church messages at the time, I had viewed these stories as—well, stories—and they were stories that were happening “out there” somewhere. I had yet to realize that for many of my dark-skinned friends, these stories were rather, cautionary tales—they were stacks of evidence of what might happen to them beyond what they had already experienced. 

And so as I texted with my friend that night, I realized that what might be a horrible story to me, was a part of a wider narrative that my friend had surely already experienced and had now internalized on a deeper level.

Within time I started to notice racism in my own thinking. For example, you know that feeling in your gut that you get when you speed by a cop? I got that once and then noticed the neighborhood I was in and suddenly felt like my whiteness would protect me from getting pulled over. When you stop and take every thought captive like that—trust me—the Holy Spirit will convict you.

When I can see the racism in myself, I can more clearly see the racism in others. And the world needs us, more than ever before, to see it in ourselves so that we can put a complete end to it and see people of all races as Jesus sees them—for Jesus extended salvation not just to the people of his own race and nation, but to every single person and race on the face of the earth. The book of Revelation takes great pride and joy in the fact that people of every race will be found in Heaven.

In fact, that’s what Pentecost Sunday—today—is all about! We focus so much on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this passage that we forget that when the Holy Spirit manifested on Pentecost Sunday, He empowered the church to go reach people of all nations with the ability to speak in their languages! Pentecost Sunday is the celebration of God’s love for diversity! And so we must follow God’s heart and continue to break down the racism around us—first in ourselves, and then in others. 

When I’m looking for answers on this difficult subject, I don’t turn solely to any current or past leader or organization (though there are plenty of great ones to turn to). Instead, as a Christian I turn first and foremost to Jesus, and particularly to the Sermon on the Mount, which teaches us to fight injustice with the backwards politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and to stand strong in methods that make little earthly sense. I encourage you not to trust fully in any other framework than that of “God-in-flesh” Himself. His tactics are not outdated, nor are they too weak. He is the way, the truth, and the life. And may His way be used to convict both ourselves and others.

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