“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 24:30-34
“If you knew me, like I know me: You would hate me, and disown me. I'm just trying, to be different: For my wife, for my children.” "Difficult" by Gawvi
If you are wondering why I have decided to start this post with Bible verses from Proverbs and lyrics from Gawvi’s Heathen album, it will make sense shortly. Due to the recent death of George Floyd, I have emotionally felt great turmoil as I weep with the black community. I prayed for many years for a heart that breaks and feel empathy for the oppressed, and now that I have one, I almost want to give it back. I am a conflict averse person who hates tension. In all honesty, I get tired of carrying the cross that Christ has called me to carry. Still, God has been doing a large renovation project on my heart recently. Through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, I have come closer and closer to terms with just how sinful I am and just how good God is to forgive me. I have also learned how jaded, angry, and depressed this world can make me. This world is dark, and ever day it feels like it is getting darker and darker.
But in light of all this darkness, the love and radiance of Jesus Christ has shined even brighter. It is hard to believe that Jesus knew all the chaos and depravity that humanity would cause and yet he still chose to love mankind enough to die for us so that we could have a relationship with him. We all play a part in this depravity which shows its ugly face in many ways. Today I will be addressing how that depravity has shown its face in my own life through my own acts of racism. I want to repent and confess of my own racism.
We all must turn from our sins and remember the Gospel. We all must share the Gospel. We must all place our ultimate hope in the Gospel. It is our only hope. We all must turn from our sins and turn to the loving arms of our heavenly father. This is called repentance, and that’s what this post is all about: repenting of my sin, and turning to the one who died for my sin to give me His righteousness. God always seeks to clothe his children in robes of righteousness. So today, I plan to take the filthy rags of racism out of my closet and lay them at the foot of the cross. This post was conceived at 11pm one night when I could not sleep due to thinking about George Floyd and all that has come out of his murder. This won’t be my most composed, best written, and most thorough piece but it will be realer than you and I may like.
You see, I was born in sin. In my sin I was complacent and apathetic. I always sought the easy way out of conversations about race and I never wanted to wrestle with the idea of racism. Eventually, I met Jesus and I was saved. Over the last few years of having community with people of color (POC), through the guidance of Christian rappers, and through reading Christian perspectives on race, I have learned a lot about race and racism. The Holy Spirit has dug through the debris that I had let accumulate in the field of my mind and has transformed me more into an image bearer of Jesus. The field of my mind has been seeded with biblical truth that is bearing fruit and seeks to bring justice to the oppressed. The process of growing to see racism in a biblically and historically accurate mindset has been long. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:22-24:
“22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
This has been a process for me. I have taken off a lot of sinfulness daily, as I fight to put on righteousness. The process of taking off the old often baffles me as I come to terms with how sinful I am. I thank God that my inconsistent works are not the things that save me.
So, I want to talk about my sin because it has been on my mind since the murder of George Floyd. I have a lot of complicated opinions regarding all that is happening with George Floyd. The murder of this man shakes my soul. The fact that black children live in fear that this could happen to them one day, or to their father today, shakes me to my core. My heart also breaks as I see the protest, riots, violence, and oppression. This is not written for applause nor due to add fuel to anyone’s political agenda. This is written to Glorify God in spirit and truth by showing love to his creation through repentance and confession. Soli Deo Gloria.
There are so many things I could write about that pertain to George Floyd. The theological, political, and cultural responses to this could keep me writing for years. But, before I address the speck in any of my brothers eyes, I want to address the log in my own. (Matthew 7:5). With all humility, I admit that I see myself as a leader to a lot of people around me. I believe that people trust me for having intellectually, theologically, and emotionally well balanced views. However, before I speak out and say anything, people need to know the real skeletons in my closet. Neither my race, nor my sin disqualifies me from speaking the truth, yet I want to address the truth about my race and my sin before I say another word.
My History with Racism:
When I think about the act of being “woke” I think of being someone who is aware of the suffering of people of color (POC) in America. I think there is a right and a wrong way to be “woke”. I think that the Bible speaks to racism, oppression, and morals with all final authority. This being said, we can not use the Bible to circumvent conversations about racism because we see racism, oppression, and the depravity of those in authority all throughout the bible.
When I got saved my primary source of Christian content was Christian rappers. Many of which were biblically sound black people. Their perspectives on race and the Gospel started digging up the soil of my mind and allowed me to better understand racism. I was on a promising trajectory towards being “woke” from the offset of my faith walk. Which was necessary, because the road towards being aware of my racism was shockingly long and difficult which meant I needed all the help I could get. God has always had me on the right path, but little did I know it would be a very hard one to walk.
I became a Christian my freshman year of high school. At my school there was a white girl named Ramsey. She was in the same grade as my friends, but none of us really knew her. During my Junior year, I went to a Young Life camp with my friends where we met a guy named Ramsey. He was black, and he became one of our best friends. Whenever we’d mention him we’d call him “Black Ramsey” in order to differentiate him from the other Ramsey. Though we hardly knew her, we decided this was a necessary nickname. He was black so we figured. “Black Ramsey fits”. We would call him that to his face as a nickname, and in conversations with our parents. When my parents questioned the nickname I ignored them.
Ramsey is a brilliant, beautiful, musically inclined, faithful man of God. His piano skills alone are enough to make a grown man cry. But, rather than use any of those applicable descriptors, we figured “Black Ramsey” sounded fine. We figured it was okay since we did not intend for it to be a racist remark. I look back at it now and grimace at what I said. Calling Ramsey “Black Ramsey” seemed to simplify who he was to the color of his skin. It ignored the rest of his uniqueness and made him into an “other”. Some of you may think this is innocent enough, but imagine if it happened to you. If I had a group full of black friends who called me “White Gianni” I would not appreciate it. I would feel like so much of who I am was being ignored.
Ramsey was my first real black friend. My sophomore year of highschool we slept over at a friend’s house and we slept in the same room. He started sharing things with me that were personal to him. We were becoming better and better friends. After an hour or so of talking, I went to go to sleep and I remember thinking to myself, “this is the first time I’ve slept in the same room as a person of color”. That was weird to me.
On another night Ramsey, my friend Logan, a few others, and I got pulled over on our way to a party. Logan’s car tags had just expired which led to the cop pulling us over and all I could think was that this was a big misunderstanding and a massive bummer. I did not want to be late to this party and this delay was a big inconvenience. My response was mild, whereas Ramsey was in a state of total panic. He was terrified of being pulled over. Not because he was a conspiracy theorist, nor because he was anti-cop, but because he was black. I was shocked although I didn’t really do too much to comfort him. I was concerned about whether the officer would let us get off with a warning all while my brother Ramsey was worried about much bigger things.
This brings me to a term that often has divided people: White Privilege (WP). I want to tell you, I have White Privilege. This means that I have privileges that others do not, some of which are based on the color of my sin. I think it is important for some people to hear this definition of White Privilege. WP does not mean that my life is not hard. It’s the fact that the color of my sin does not actively work to make my life harder. In that police car I did not have to worry about anything but a fine from the police officer. Ramsey and I were equally innocent and yet he was in a much larger state of fear. I did not have that fear because of my privilege.
I do not live in shame due to my white skin. I recognize that I have been blessed abundantly to not have the burden of my skin being a source of problems for me. I can jog in a hoodie at night without having the police called on me and I am never pulled over for looking similar to a suspect the police are looking for. These last two things may sound like fabricated media narratives that you may doubt are real but in reality, I am not sure if there’s a black male I know that hasn’t experienced both of these.
As a Christian this is important to understand. Galatians 3: 26-28 says that male, female, slave man, free man, Jew, and Greek are united as one in Christ. This does not mean that we are all uniformly the same. We clearly see the Bible show us that men and women are different, and that Jews and Greeks are different. But instead it tells that we are all united. We see the Bible call the rich, or those who have privilege to be generous and ready to share with those who are poor. (1 Timothy 6:17-19). We see the Bible tell us to learn to watch our mouths and to love those who are disadvantaged. (James 1: 26-27). We are told to be loving and forgiving as we bear one another’s burdens in the love of Christ. (Colossians 3:12-13). Lastly, we are told that we will see a unified and diverse body of believers glorifying God when he comes to restore the Earth (Revelation 7:9). This is God’s plan for racism: for the Church to be unified in all its diverse beauty in the uniform truth of the Gospel which is true for all people. The Gospel compels us to seek justice and to plead the case of the oppressed even though, ultimately, this world is falling apart. The church is called to be an everlasting light in the growing darkness until Christ returns.
I learned most of what I know about race when I went off to college at UNC Wilmington. My church “The Bridge”, was multiethnic and not afraid to discuss race. We discussed race based issues because we focused on biblical Christianity. When you read the Bible you will see justice is on almost every page. So, I slowly began to learn the importance of how God shows his manifold wisdom in the unity of his diverse people, and the importance of seeking racial reconciliation and working to fight systemic racism in America.
I do not know whether the Church can fully, or at least mostly, fix racism in this fallen and broken world. But I do know that we can make amazing progress if we use the Church as our starting point. Unified in the truth of the Gospel, the Church is designed to show the love and mercy of God. So, we must partake in God’s Kingdom by loving and helping one another. Perhaps our light will shine over a lot of darkness around and outside of the Church. On the other hand, perhaps the world has reached a point of no return in its sin of racism. Perhaps Christ is coming any day. This is possible, but it should not be used as an excuse. I believe that Americans often overesteem ourselves and that we arrogantly assume that Jesus would come back before he asked us to fix our country. For it is also possible that Jesus comes back in 3000 years, and that America could have 2000 great years as a country led by the church that has racial equity and diversity glorifying God in spirit and truth.
But I digress from my main point… back to the history of my racism. I was discipled in college by a black man who truly glorified God with his life. Julian, a staff member with the campus ministry Cru, may be one of the smartest and strongest leaders I know. He speaks with purpose, leads with wisdom, and loves God’s Word. He profoundly impacted my walk with God and he taught me many things about the history of racism within the American Church. He was patient and forgiving any time I said something racist or stupid. He was caring, considerate, and he profoundly molded me into the Christian I am today.
I asked Julian for a recommendation on a multi-ethnic Church I could go to once I graduated. I was trying to dig deeper soil to grow bigger fruit of righteousness in my mind when I decided to go to a multi-ethnic church. But in my preparation of my mind’s soil, I hit a lot of rocks. Once I graduated I spent 3 weeks in a church that Julian recommended to me. I was by far the minority in the room. The teaching, worship, and the people were great. I, on the other hand, was not.
What I may say here may not sound like a big deal to you. But it is a big deal to me. I was invited to a community group at the church I went to at an address 20 minutes from my home. Given that the church was 90% black, and that I was one of two white people present, I figured the community group would be meeting at the house of a black person. Which I was totally cool with when I got invited. When I started driving to that address. I thought to myself, “What if it’s in a bad part of town?”, or “What if they don’t have a large house and things are awkward?”. I remember saying to myself “Why would you say that? Dude you’re being racist.” Julian always told me to take my thoughts captive. Whether it was when he was working with me in my bouts with depression, working with me to fight pornography, or really anything else. He also always told me to practice “spiritual breathing”. This when you confess your sins to God and breathe in his promises to forgive and love you.
You see, my main identity is not that of a racist. My identity is rooted in the fact that I am a believer in Jesus who is a forgiven and loved sinner and sometimes my sins manifest as racism. So, when I have a racist thought I often need to take it captive and interrogate it. Tie it to a chair and smack it around as I ask where the thought came from and what business it thought it had demeaning an image bearer of God. The problem is that these thoughts came from my own sin so I am the one who is sinning against God. In order to not simply beat myself up in the chair, I practice spiritual breathing. First, I confess outwards my sin and then I remind myself and affirm to myself that God is forgiving, loving, and merciful. In the light of that truth I continue fighting my sin daily.
The day I went to that community group, I was humbled to pull up to a big house where a police car was parked. A beautiful house, owned by a beautiful black family. I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that even if they were poor, what difference would it have made? James 2:1-7 challenges us to have no partiality in who we have fellowship with. If I am afraid to have fellowship with people due to their income then I may not have wanted to have fellowship with Paul or even Jesus. Economic poverty does not often lead to spiritual poverty. In fact, those who are poor often love the Lord better because they understand that he is all they have, and he is enough to satisfy.
2 weeks after the incident with my community group, I got on a plane headed towards Inner City Chicago where I would be on a mission trip with a Cru. I flew into O’Hare Airport and yet another Godly black man drove all the way up from the southside of Chicago to get me. If you have sat in the Chicago traffic that surrounds O’Hare, then you know this man left the 99 to get me. This man, Eric, discipled me and kept me sane while I was in Chicago. Another stellar man of God doing amazing work for the Kingdom of God.
I learned a couple things while I was in Chicago which I think need to be shared. First, I learned about systemic issues that I grew up denying. Where I stayed in Chicago, it wasn’t safe to go outside. I couldn’t walk around the house after a day of service to stretch my legs. The only time I went outside was to see if I could find the raccoons that lived in the abandoned house next door. The local Target closed down and the only grocery store was about 15 minutes away. I started to see how there was a lack of safe exercise opportunities outside and a lack of access to healthy food. I heard about the lack of proper school funding, and the abundance of single parent households. I noticed how all these things played a role in the shaping of systemic issues. These are things you don’t really see in my home city of Raleigh North Carolina, so I didn’t really think they existed. I genuinely am privileged to have grown up where I did with the parents I had. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I have privilege, it’s only a shame if I don’t use it to help my brothers and sisters who don’t.
There were other subtler forms of racial preference in me that exist as well, that some may call implicit bias, and I would like to address those too. I say racial preference because I am not sure if it these are explicitly racist. If they are racist, even in a passive form, I still want to confess it as sin though it may come naturally. I started to realize these things when I left home for Chicago. In Raleigh North Carolina, there are not a lot of minorities. I may be able to look at a white person and guess their age but, realized in my first week in Chicago that I did not have enough community with POC to do the same. On a similar note, after having community with POC for the first time, I began to notice all their unique beauty. I went from someone who would always ‘theoretically’ date a black girl, to someone who now truly sees all the unique beauty of black women. I have noticed the unique styles of black men and their beauty as well. A lot of this transformation came with close community.
Dealing with my bias and preferences has helped me to love all my brothers and sisters in Christ better. The Church is called to be unified and to bear one another’s burdens. So, we can not hide in our tribes. We need to stop simply theoretically loving each other and start actually pursuing God together.
Theologically, the topic of Race can be tricky waters. There are plenty of secular theories that trips the Church up as it seeks racial justice that we need to be wary of. But I know a few things for sure. First, that I am a sinner and the world is broken due to sin. It makes sense that there is racism in the world and I am part of it. I see the racism in myself when I speed up to see if the person who is driving in a way I don’t like is a POC. I see this in how I choose to react when a black person wrongs me. I even see this in what assumptions I make regarding the theology of a POC. There’s more, but I don’t even know the depth of my sin.
Second, I know that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins and for the sins of all who call on him. He calls us out of our sins, and to love him. He calls us to stand with one another and plead the case of the oppressed. I would look at Isaiah 1:15-26 to see that God hates those who claim to serve him while they are actively oppressing others. He cares for the cause of those who are disadvantaged and he calls us to do the same. Our faith will bring forth works if it is genuine, and if it does not, then we may not actually have faith. So, we must work towards serving the disadvantaged.
Lastly, I know that overall, this world is falling apart. I’m not surprised by all of this chaos, but it still hurts me. I know that we are called to be a light, and so I’ve been learning so that I may educate myself about these issues. I can point you to resources, but I am also in the process of learning myself. I wanted to repent of my sin to you and address the racism in my heart. I want to create as much light and change that I can while I can. So, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Please bear with me. Please, may we bear each other’s burdens and remain in the love of God.
Grace and peace