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Life / Society

Ignoring racism won’t fix it.

Ignoring racism won’t fix it.

When I was six, I lived next-door to one of the most bigoted people I have ever encountered. There was a public field behind our houses, and if we walked through his yard to get to the field, he would come outside to yell at us. He even put up a one-foot high garden fence between our houses to show us the division.

One day I made the mistake of walking through his yard. I was headed toward the field, where my friends and I had built a treehouse. But once I got about half way up the treehouse ladder, I felt something pull my leg so hard that I fell flat on my back. It was my neighbor. I was completely shocked.

Each time I tried to stand up, he pushed me back down. And he kept saying the same phrase over and over: “I thought I told you to stay out of my yard, nigger!” Each time he spoke, I could smell the whiskey on his breath. This went on until I made it back to my yard. I think he only stopped at this point because he thought our yard was too dirty for his boots.

“Do we really need to talk about racism in America?” As a black, bi-racial, pastor in a predominately white church body, I get this question pretty often. Not in a malicious way, but in a “this topic is so completely uncomfortable, let’s talk about anything else” way.

But this is exactly why we need to be talking about racism. People have been avoiding the conversation since the Civil Rights Movement came to its “completion.” But pretending something doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Otherwise my wife and I would never change a poopy diaper. Tweet: Pretending something doesn't exist won't make it go away. Otherwise my wife and I would never change a poopy diaper.

People that I speak to also hope that it’s a generational thing. “Times have changed,” they say. “Young people are more accepting of differences. We’ve come a long way in our society since the days of slavery.” But if you’re paying attention to what is being said around our country you would know that this isn’t the case. If anything, it seems to be getting worse.

The thing about racism is that it’s not caused by genetics. Nobody is born thinking people with a different skin color are niggers, crackers, or whatever derogatory word we can think of. It’s an ideology that is passed down from one generation to the next. So if we aren’t actively teaching that racism is a problem, then racism will continue to be perpetuated in our country. In our country racism is also an issue that affects minorities. So, why talk about it?

Unfortunately it also exists in churches and in Christian circles. Now I’m not saying that there’s a gang of white pastors who get drunk and push me back within the borders of Ferguson while calling me a nigger. But if we look across the landscape of Christianity in America, it’s still extremely segregated. People go to church with people who look like them. We can do the easy thing and say “Birds of a feather…” But is that really acceptable? Is that the approach that would be pleasing to God? Or should we be doing the difficult thing?

I’m a firm believer that true reconciliation only happens within the Christian church. I do believe people who aren’t Christian can overcome differences—ironically in my experience they tend to accept differences more readily than Christians do. But Christian reconciliation isn’t determined by my attitude or what I do. Christian reconciliation is determined by what Jesus has done for us. Romans 5 in the Bible tells us that we were reconciled to God through Christ, while we were still his enemies. The only condition for this reconciliation to take place is God’s love for us. He didn’t reconcile himself to people with the right skin pigmentation. He didn’t even reconcile himself to people with a particular nationality. God calls himself the God of all nations. He also created all men in his image, so if we say that we hate people with different skin color, then we are saying that we hate what God has created. Instead we should be trying to find how we can love one another, and be reconciled to each other.

The challenge with racial reconciliation is that it’s difficult. It isn’t simply a change in attitude. It’s a change in lifestyle. It requires us to look at and engage with people who are different from us, and do it from a position of love and empathy. It requires us to say and do something when we see people being victimized because of what they look like. And if we do these things, then we expose ourselves. We expose ourselves in a way that isn’t always becoming in society–in a way that society says is foolish. We put someone else’s well-being before our own. We tell people who look like us that we care for people who don’t. And that’s terrifying.

Let’s have this conversation. Lets talk about the amazing and beautiful diversity that God has created for us to enjoy and marvel at, because this post only scratches the surface. We have a lot of history to work through together before we’ll see a difference.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on racism from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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Pastor Micah Glenn is a missionary in his hometown of Ferguson, MO. In his free time he enjoys taking his family Dorothy (wife), Jonathan ( son 3 years), Talitha (daughter 1 1/2 years), and David (4 months) to find sweet local playgrounds for afternoons of fun.


  1. I’ve never found anyone who can define the term “race” in a way that I can understand it. Does it have to do with skin color, facial or body structure, nationality, ethnicity – that’s another word that is unclear to me – or something else? While, at one time, I thought I could distinguish differences in people from different countries, I now find that all countries have a varied population. Due to wars and rape as well as trade and sexual urges, people of all cultures have a varied background.

    What I do witness – and what is often attributed to racism – is that people often fear or mistrust people who are in some way different from themselves. This difference may have to do with appearance, language, eating habits, or something else entirely. Such fear is only encouraged when someone from the other group presents a defiant persona as a defensive mechanism thus giving credence to the argument that they are dangerous.

    There are those who promote such fears for their own purposes. These purposes may be financial or simply as a way of gaining notoriety and apparent popularity with others who they convince to share their views. It is much easier to judge someone on their appearance than on their individual beliefs and actions. When we place a label on someone, we can easily judge them by what others who are called by the same term have done or espoused rather than examining more closely the individual before us.

    It is often interesting to watch someone’s attitude change when you calmly respond to their tirades by asking them to explain why they feel the way they do. A calm questioning tends to lessen the tension of the situation. A calm questioning tends to get the person thinking about what they are doing rather than simply acting emotionally. When a person actually thinks about their behavior, I often witness a change in such behavior.

  2. Don, I really liked your comment when you suggest that we ask people who use racial slurs why they feel this way. I was in a store once, and a man spoke in this way about another man. I was so stunned, I was speechless, but I did not know what to say. I wanted to defend the other person, but this was the first blatant racially biased behavior that I had come into contact with. I do agree that our asking the question would help to diffuse the tension of the situation. Granted, maybe some will respond in anger to that, but on the whole, I found your comment very helpful. Thanks!!!

  3. Harsh comments are more often motivated by emotion than reason. The emotion may not even be directly related to the present circumstances. Asking someone why he or she made the comment can often help the individual begin to think about the rationality of the statement and, hopefully, motivate the individual to consider how it may effect others.

    Asking the question in a confrontational manner, however, may further stimulate the emotions rather than getting the individual thinking of his or her actions. It helps to remember Proverbs 15:1 which states: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

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