Last week’s shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., exposed that the nation’s virulent strain of racism and racial hatred continue decades after the civil rights movement. What role should religion play in the ongoing effort to stamp out racism? And how, if at all, have churches failed in that effort so far?
The central message that God has given Christians to proclaim to the world is called “the Gospel” (literally “the good news”).This simple message to every ethnic group on Earth proclaims that Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.
When anyone has authentic faith in this message, which is proven by a changed life and a desire to follow Jesus Christ, God makes him a new person, with a heart to know and love God, and to love others as well.
The gospel message extinguishes racism in a number of ways. It relies on the truth that God made us all in his image for the purpose of knowing and loving him. It reaches back to when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, the parents of every human being alive today. It describes our common need to be reconciled to God because of our universal proclivity toward sin, which when acted on separates us from him. It points us all to one redeemer and mediator between God and mankind, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel describes how God so loved the world (that is, all people of all ethnicities) that he gave up his son for us all, a perfect and once-for-all sacrifice that pays our debt to him.
The gospel, properly understood and faithfully preached, eliminates racial hatred. Every person who receives it enters the family of God, where all are loved and accepted through Christ our Lord.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
During the past several weeks, shootings have occurred at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., a church in Kansas, and a military recruiting center in Arkansas. Each shooting was senseless and again has brought to the American public’s attention the struggles surrounding racism, abortion and religion in this country.
In fact, these shootings have filled newspapers, television, radio and the Internet with news, analysis and commentary on why they occurred and who or what is to blame.
As a country, we face many moral issues, some of which go to the very core of our country’s foundation.
Fanatics, whether religious or not, cannot justify illegal actions based on some type of moral justification that supersedes the law. We are a country of laws, and if those laws are abused or ignored, then the integrity of our legal system and our way of life breaks down.
Churches should, and must, play an important role in dealing with these moral issues. In doing so, churches have the responsibility to make sure that they do not cross the line and become political, or to cause their adherents to overstep the laws of this country.
Churches should better individuals and society; they should not detract from either. When they do, they fail society and themselves.
As to racism, it cannot be tolerated. The teachings of Jesus Christ provide us with a guide on how we should treat others. He said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13: 34, 35 KJV).” We should remember and abide by his counsel.
BISHOP FRED L. CARPENTER
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Let’s not give the actions of one, unbalanced individual the power to tip the scales of the collective consciousness that has made so much progress in establishing better communications, acceptance, peace and even love among the different races and religions.
The good efforts of those involved in the 1960s “peace movement” have done so much to influence our national attitude to one that is much more open-minded and focused on resolving our differences. Through the last 45 to 50 years, our country has encouraged political, business and religious leaders to find creative ways in which we all can work together for the highest good of all concerned.
Freedom from the hatred, racism and religious persecution of the past comes when we each take responsibility for our attitudes and learn to support one another, looking for the ways in which we are more alike than the ways that we are different.
At the close of each Sunday service at Unity Church of the Valley, we sing “The Peace Song.” The opening line of the song is: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”
It seems to me that living in peace is the life lesson before all of us.
PASTOR JERI LINN
Unity Church of the Valley
It is interesting that this week’s issue opens the door to the blame game. For example, virulent racism is back, so is the church somehow at fault?
Paul’s letter to the Romans mentions that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Chapter 3, Verse 23), so if we must blame somebody, let’s blame us all, believer and non-believer alike.
The trouble with most of the “isms” (racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, nativism, etc.) is that they are not rational. Some white-supremacy groups, for example, claim to be “Christian” — and yet the man from Nazareth whom Christians call the Christ was Jewish and inclusive of others who were “different.”
The good Samaritan story in Luke’s gospel (Chapter 10, Verses 25-37) has always been one of my favorite stories because Jesus turns his listeners’ preconceptions upside down. “Good Samaritan” would have been for his listeners an oxymoron: How could “good” and “Samaritan” possibly go together? Racial prejudice — in fact, any kind of prejudice — is antithetical to any person of faith.
The first letter of John says it pretty well (1 John 4:20): “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers . . . are liars; for those who do not love a brother . . . whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
The racist madman who killed the security guard in the Holocaust Museum was an irrational liar. No amount of reason could have changed his mind.
PASTOR CLIFFORD L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
La Cañada Congregational Church
As a nation, we have accomplished much in regards to civil rights — possibly more than any other Western country. The United States stands as a beacon of tolerance, understanding and justice to the nations of the world.
Nevertheless, vestiges of prejudice remain in our midst. The recent tragedy at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as a very painful reminder that there is much work still to be done. Religion must play a major role in the ongoing fight against racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.
I believe that religious figures have a unique responsibility to publicly, unequivocally and vociferously denounce bigotry whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Unfortunately, there are times when religious leaders fail in this obligation — and even times when the offenders are themselves members of the cloth.
Just this week, there was hardly a condemnation uttered when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — on national TV — blamed “them Jews” and a Zionist conspiracy for keeping him from talking to President Obama. How can we claim disbelief at the ghastly events that transpired at the Holocaust Museum when we don’t publicly condemn hateful words uttered in the public domain?
The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Our collective duty is to identify racism, expose it for the evil that it is, and fight against it in every way possible. Our failure to do so can lead to tragedy similar to what we recently witnessed in Washington, D.C.
We must also recognize that prejudice affects us all, regardless of our race, color, creed or religion. Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who lived during the Holocaust, famously stated: “In Germany, they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; and then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; and then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; and then . . . they came for me . . . and by that time, there was no one left to speak up.”
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills
My 7-year-old daughter asked me recently if everyone was our relative. I told her “yes.” Biblically speaking, every human being came from two initial progenitors named Adam and Eve. I believe that. Even the genealogy of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is charted back to them (albeit with many generational skips) and the purpose for his coming was to save humanity from the everlasting consequences of our universally inherited sinful nature begun by those great-grandparents of us all.
But because man has diversified and become distinct people groups, there will forever now be racism. Everyone prefers their own kind and culture, and that is why races and cultures continue. It’s when preference for our own turns to disdain for the others that problems begin, and our spiritual disposition ensures this will always be an issue.
I think the problem compounds when people disregard God’s explanation of origins for Darwin’s, and assume that those of other races are simply less evolved or even lesser humans, possessing no inherent, equally created value as images of God.
With or without the church, society will always have unstable and unreasonable people given completely over to hatred. Americans can limit racism at home by emphasizing common culture and cultivating patriotism, but the most powerful tool for breaking down racial barriers is knowledge of God’s perspective regarding nationalities, and that is found in the Bible: “From one man he made every nation of men . . . God did this so that men would seek him (Acts 17:26-27 NIV).”
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church