Race Relations: All We Need is…Wisdom

By: Jenni Walker and Beth Doohan

“This is My commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you…You didn’t choose Me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit.” ~John 15:12, 16

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” ~James 3:13

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We know racism is a sin. Period. Its forms, victims, and historical contexts may vary, but it all grieves the heart of God plain and simple. As Wholehearted Women, we should all care about race relations because our Creator does. But what do we need to be effective in this area as members of God’s kingdom in a fallen world? James 3:9-18 offers us some insights:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

What is mentioned in this passage repeatedly? The need for followers of Christ to avoid the danger of reliance on earthly wisdom and to, rather, live according to “the wisdom that comes from heaven.” This must be at the forefront of our minds and hearts for God’s people when navigating sin and brokenness throughout our time on this earth. Specifically regarding racism and ungodly partiality, what can we do for the next generation to teach a godly perspective about race relations? We must build a foundation of unity and understanding for starters and model to them how Christ treated EVERY person with agape love. Let’s respond to the heartache and mistreatment of others with a listening ear and stand up for them as a friend stands with you against a bully. To do so requires both love and wisdom.

As Christians, it is important to be the body of Christ by loving and encouraging people of every ethnicity and racial background. However, let me tell you that, sadly, racism itself will NEVER be fully obliterated in this world because racism is sin, and apart from Christ, the human heart is what Jeremiah 17:9-10 calls “exceedingly corrupt.” This passage continues by asking, “Who can know [or understand] it? I, Jehovah, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” There is hope of opening eyes and reaching hearts with God’s truth, but we must also wisely remember as believers that what we are really fighting is the spirit behind racism: Satan, the enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

Jesus most certainly fought the spirit of racism in His day, as did the early church. The Jews and Romans hated one another, as did the Samaritans and Jews. Even amongst His own people, the Pharisees looked down upon sinners, tax collectors and others who did not keep all their religious demands. Jesus modeled love and care for all these people, which was countercultural and shocked the people around Him. The early church, too, struggled to accept Gentile believers after they received the Holy Spirit, until they realized Christ had united them through the salvation He offers. In Acts 13:47, Paul told the Jews he would now preach to the Gentiles, “For the Lord gave us this command when He said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’” Christ and His church are the great unifier of races, ethnicities and cross-cultural backgrounds.

Below the Surface

My (Beth’s) sons and I went to our local library recently. This topic of race relations and racism has been heavy on my heart, so when I found a book full of children’s shining smiles called “Shades of People,” I decided to check it out. Once we were home, however, I found myself uncertain about how to read it to my almost 4-year old and 20-month old. Each page had delightful photographs of children smiling, running and hugging friends and family. Each page modeled a wonderful union of children from every race and ethnicity playing together.

But what was troubling my heart was that the language focused solely on the surface, light, dark and other descriptive wording for a person’s skin tone. While I do believe it’s important to enjoy differences, I didn’t want my sons to become overly focused on a person’s appearance, so much as their heart, character and love of the Lord. We regularly interact with families from every race and ethnicity at our multi-racial church (our pastor and his wife are actually first-generation Americans, with their families from the Bahamas and Panama!), while playing at parks and even just in our neighborhood or local grocery store. We seek to be on-mission with all whom we meet in that we make eye contact and smile, give a warm greeting and seek to uplift the other party with godly care and encouragement. So how could I discuss physical differences in a healthy, wise, and celebratory way with my young boys?    

Well, about a week after our library visit, God helped me find an answer. We were reading the story of Jesus and the little children (one we LOVE in our household) in which Jesus calls the children to Him, puts His hands on them and blesses them. After reading this, I sought out our “Shades of People” book and, while going through the wonderful pictures, I said “See all the children that Jesus loves? Look at this boy’s precious smile! Awww, this girl has curly hair like you do! Look how happy they are playing together!” We found pictures of children doing things we enjoy, like playing at a splashpad, riding on a bus, playing with a brother or sister, and talked about how Jesus loves them.

The final page showed eight different shades of little hands in the sand. My oldest son observed aloud, “There are many different colors!” with a delighted smile and a heart of understanding that this was something special – that God had made each child unique and wonderful. This brings my mama’s heart joy. And as my boys grow, we will help cultivate maturity in them with the help of the Holy Spirit and through biblically-based discussions about racism and mistreatment, with the purpose of empowering them with wisdom, confidence in their identity and that of others around them, and discernment to care for others who may need healing or advocacy from mistreatment.

We Need a Bridge

The most difficult challenge for a parent’s heart is when your child is on the receiving end of racism, persecution, bullying or misunderstanding. When this happens, this child must be uplifted, defended and advocated for. It’s important to recognize the hurt, and explain that the other person was not acting like Jesus in the way they treated them. It’s important to validate standing up for what’s right and against what’s wrong, to pray for those who hurt you, and to remember that Jesus understands persecution and hatred better than anybody, for He received unthinkable prejudice and suffering in our place. As we respond to our children’s hurt, mistreatment and unjust suffering, “May God equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him” (Hebrews 13:21). This means He will give you wisdom to navigate. He will empower and strengthen you for doing His will, despite the ill-intentions or ignorant attitudes of others. He will be with you, and will shepherd your child, too, with His mighty love.

In another children’s story from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” Daniel meets Prince Wednesday’s cousin, Chrissie. He is happy to meet a new friend, but is surprised to find out she wears braces on her legs. Chrissie calmly explains to Daniel that her legs don’t work like his do and the braces and crutches help her to walk. Daniel is amazed and a bit standoffish at this knowledge, but then Queen Sara Saturday explains, “In some ways you’re different, but in many ways you’re the same” (“A New Friend”) Daniel feels comforted hearing this and soon discovers that Chrissie enjoys many of the things he does! In connection with our discussion on race, I think this lovely tale brings home a powerful message of familiarizing young children with people who are different from them. Of modeling as adults how to love others with God’s love and care warmly and openly, not withdrawing or ignoring. As Christians, we represent the most powerful unifying force across the nations: Jesus Christ. He is the One who makes a person halfway around the world my brother or sister. He is the One who makes me have compassion and understanding for the persecution of others. He is the One who bridges cultural, socioeconomic or racial differences through the work of Christ to say, “You are created in My image and likeness. You are My children. Now love one another as I have loved you.”

This powerful reality was something the Lord worked lovingly and powerfully in our friend BJ’s heart. She is a wife, mother, and a connector of people to God’s heart and each other. She also spent time in student ministry, which was a season the Lord used to birth something inside her. She says of that time as being a “challenging, honest, spiritual space. I thought… if I keep my head down and teach the children, I would find success in God’s will.  I did find success in His will, however… He wanted more. I discovered a discarded me in the process. A me that had been abandoned, by me, for acceptance from others.”

She shared, “God said, It’s time for YOU, to LOVE who I created…the YOU who I created YOU to be…brown skin and all. God began to birth in me a stance for spiritual justice of others that look like me. He spoke to me to create a safe place. A place where those who look like me can express their beauty. The beauty an ugly world had shut them out of, in so many ways.”

But what would this look like? The Lord already knew where He was leading BJ.

“As this stance was building inside me,” she explained, “the death of George Floyd occurred. I was heartbroken. I looked for other leaders to speak out for me, to defend those who looked like me. God cradled me in His arms and gently said, You do it. You speak out about the injustice that is happening. It was a big step to present the discarded me, risking the acceptance of friends, especially those who did not look like me. Out of that step of faith, Race to the Finish was born.  Race to the Finish is a candid conversation about humanity’s colorful differences. How beautiful those differences are to our Creator; how beautiful our differences are on earth if looked at through God’s eyes of love instead of the world’s eyes of hate. 

“The goal of Race to the Finish is to provide ongoing opportunities for ‘an honest talk about race relations in our nation.’  But what is unique is how we make this happen: With honest conversation and the expression of Christ’s love.  1 John 4:11–12 says, ‘Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.’  We are bridging the gap with love.”   

Bridging the gap with love takes courage and the wisdom of God!  As BJ points out, talking about real issues with others and with the next generation, confronting the ugliness of sin, and seeking to grow in understanding, unity, and wisdom about race relations in our country and in the body of Christ only happens through His work in us, and how transforming it is!

James 3:13 challenges us to pursue God’s wisdom, asking, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” I hope that you will take all this to heart today, reflecting on ways you can model racial harmony and understanding with a wise, biblical perspective – to those among whom God has placed you and as a bridge to the next generation. Take time to pray for others who are hurting, or talk with a trusted friend about what is on your heart. Choose good deeds of humility: Learn about the people in your community, church, and neighborhood, warmly reach out to them with the care and hospitality of Christ, and go below the surface. Stand up for what is right with godly courage, seek to love one another as Jesus has loved you, and be on-mission in your world as He would call you to. (Check out last week‘s post to learn more about God’s mighty work in this area!)

The body of Christ is beautiful and transformative as it is the only community that draws together brothers and sisters in Christ of every ethnicity and race around the globe. Ephesians 2:19-20 declares, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” What joy we share in fellowship with Jesus!