Thou Shalt Love thy Neighbor,,,Unless

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Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I’m too idealistic, or as my black brothers have often implied, I just don’t get it because I’m white. So I went to the local Christian bookstore to buy the White Bible.  Couldn’t find it-maybe they were just out of stock,  So I looked instead for the Black Bible. Same thing. I asked the clerk to check stock for me and she laughed at me. “I’ve never heard of the Black or White Bible”, she exclaimed. “Why would you believe there was such a thing”, she asked. “There has to be”, I replied. “We aren’t all reading the same thing”.

My heart aches over the rhetoric of hatred being spewed on both sides of the recent Ferguson shooting. I’m not shocked by the violence of those who don’t live a lifestyle of brotherly love.  Hell, cities burn when a major Sports Championship is won. What saddens me most is how some of the religious leaders have, in lieu of taking a stand against hate and reminding their congregations of the words of Christ, turned their pulpits into platforms that have only served to widen the barriers between races. Love thy neighbor, unless they are a cop, unless they have a different skin color, unless they have more money or drive a nicer car or attend the wrong church or have the wrong political sign in their yard. I’m amazed at the disclaimers we have added to God’s word because surely He must have accidentally left them out.  In many of my dialogues with my black Christian brothers, many of whom are clergy, I have been relegated to an unsympathetic and out of touch white man who couldn’t possibly understand discrimination or challenges because of the color of my skin.  There will always exist an element of racism and hatred because of sin-I can’t deny the ugly existence of racism and I would never intentionally dismiss as foolish the incidents made known to us that display blatant racist behavior. But to dismiss my concerns because I’m too white to understand is by very definition, racist. I too have had my share of issues because of the color of my skin.  While I don’t wish to draw comparisons, allow me to share some of my experiences.

I grew up on the west side of Indianapolis during the onset of bussing kids into school districts for racial balance in the 60’s and 70’s. I was always the tallest white boy in the school, so naturally I became a target to the blacks who wanted to show superiority, especially since I was, well close, to their girlfriends. On a specific day it was made known to me that I was going to “get me ass kicked” after school off premises.  I asked a few of my closer friends to have my back but all declined. True to their word I was jumped about 4 blocks from the school by a gang of black schoolmates wielding bricks, masonry blocks and belts. When the police arrived I was put into the back of the squad car because I appeared to be the aggressor.  I also took the blunt of the punishment by the school because an example of “fairness” to the entire community needed to be displayed.

In High School I was the starting center on our basketball team and third leading scorer. I lived and breathed basketball.  In my Junior year I was cut from the squad and replaced by a black student who couldn’t dribble out the side of his mouth or hit one free throw out of 20 attempts, because the Catholic school needed to show some “diversity” on the squad and to the teams we played on our schedule. I was devastated and to this day remember the feelings of being cut to make room for someone else because of skin color.

In my early adult years I had decided to pursue my dream of becoming a police officer in Indy.  The testing process was hard but I studied and passed the test with flying colors, only to be informed I wasn’t going to be accepted.  Chin up, I took the test again when open hiring was announced. Same scores, same results.  I went through this process one more time only to be told by the recruiting officer that I was wasting my time. Affirmative Action required that racial quotas be established in law enforcement departments and that I, being white, did not stand a chance of being hired as a result. Once again I was discriminated against due to my skin color-sounds familiar.

Upon moving to Las Vegas with my young family we rented an apartment on what turned out to be the wrong side of the city. We always tried to look out for our three sons.  I was informed that there was a drug pusher working the apartments giving out free drugs to kids and teens.  One day I spotted them, just feet from our oldest son and I gave chase to them, a truck load of blacks who in turn fired back at me with loaded handguns. Luckily for me their aim was much like that of many metro officers-they missed.

Most recently as a business owner in Las Vegas dealing with the largest gaming corporations in the world I was once again discriminated against in bidding on large contracts.  Seems just like I experienced in the 80’s, racial diversity needed to be displayed in vendor selection, and even though I had the best products, the best pricing and established relationships, my company was overlooked in favor of minority owned companies. I was too white.

Are these fair comparisons-maybe, maybe not.  What is common is that I was targeted because of the color of my skin and have legitimate reasons to be biased because of that discrimination.  The difference is that I have not let these incidents define me or my character.  Am I just a good Christian-hardly.  Most who know me will say I’m a gentle giant but my wife will tell you I’m an angry and impatient man with many issues. But I can’t escape my knowledge of the things written in scripture that deal with love, hate and true faith. Regardless of your individual life experiences, the Word of God is very straight forward and transparently clear when it comes to love and forgiveness:

1 John 4:20 ESV 

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 3:15 ESV 

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

Leviticus 19:17 ESV 

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

John 13:34-35 ESV 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 John 2:9 ESV 

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness

 

“But Joe, you don’t know what we’ve been through.  You can’t understand how I feel and how I’ve been wronged”.  Well maybe you are right.  All I can do is defer to Scriptures regarding forgiveness.

 

Ephesians 4:32 ESV 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Mark 11:25 ESV 

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Matthew 6:15 ESV 

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:21-22 ESV 

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Luke 6:27 ESV 

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Colossians 3:13 ESV 

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Luke 6:27-36 ESV 

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 

Maybe my friends are right about me.  Perhaps I’m too naive in my beliefs that Christians should be the torch bearers that heal racism instead of the fuel that keeps the flames of racism burning bright. Maybe the deep seed of prejudice is just too much for the common man to overcome, even in Christ. And most assuredly there is too much water under the bridge of racism to believe that somehow some way Christians can begin to live in a Kingdom fashion while still inhabitants of earth. But of all the words that have been used to describe me, stubborn stands out.  I will continue to hope for better, pray for better, live for better and speak up for better while it is within me to do so. None of us can play God, but none of us can deny God’s words or His commands because our life experiences justify our disobedience. Christianity isn’t a black or white man’s religion, but God’s word is clearly Black and White. Peace.

 

Racial Harmony in a World Out of Tune

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble-l Peter 3:8

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Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

These are the lyrics to a song written and performed by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder many years ago.  Black and white keys on a keyboard being played together to create amazing sounds and beautiful music not possible if any of the keys were missing.  Sounds like a simplistic approach to the races living together in love, even naive given the recent events making news headlines.  Is racial harmony attainable in our society or are there powers at work to keep us at odds with each other, trapped in the sins of our past?  I wish I knew the answer.

Let us not beat around the bush.  Two weeks ago in Ferguson, MO a black and unarmed youth was shot and killed by a white police officer during an arrest.  While we are still waiting for the facts to come out, we know from the autopsy report that the youth was shot six times resulting in his death.  Not long before that a white officer applied a rear choke hold to a black man, who stated several times that he couldn’t breathe.  The man died of asphyxiation. And in a case in Texas a man with his hands cuffed behind him allegedly shot and killed himself in the chest while in the back seat of a patrol car.  I am in now way attempting to jump on the “white police are looking for black men to shoot” band wagon message being marketed as common practice.  Being a graduate of the local citizens police academy I have much respect for the police department at large who risk their lives everyday and have the right to return to their families at the end of their shifts.  But when these incidents happen, as isolated or exploited by the media as they might be, they serve to open up old wounds that in all honesty, never healed.  And even those who are siblings in our Lord tend to get caught up in the momentum and the new life breathed into the social demons of hate and bigotry.  It’s a cycle that is like a True Blood vampire-it just won’t die!  How do we love our neighbor and promote peace in ignorance of racial history?

In Luke Jesus tells a parable about the man we refer to as the Good Samaritan;

Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan was not only a hated man by most Jews but he was also of a different race.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known as The Way of the Blood due to its history of robberies and murders.  Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife traveled this road when they were in the Holy Land.  I love MLK’s synopsis of the travelers.  The first two upon approaching the man in distress must have thought to themselves, “what will happen to me if I assist this man“, while the Samaritan thought ” what will happen to this man if I don’t assist“.  Jesus had just stated that we should love our neighbors and used this story to show that brotherly love extends beyond the races.

I am a white man.  I was born that way.  Many parts of my character and preferences are more black than white but that’s another blog.  But even I have been criticized by many of my black brothers of  “not understanding” or being to white to get it.  My genuinely good intentions of trying to insert Christian love into the solution and response has been summarily dismissed as a “just get over it” attitude, not my personal stance at all.  I firmly believe that when Christians perceive injustices they have not only a right but an obligation to acknowledge and address them, just not in the same way as the hate mongers given our national spotlights do.  In the widely accepted “Love Chapter”, l Corinthians,  it is stated “…love barely notices when it is wronged“.  I know how tall an order that is to the parents of a youth unjustly shot by an officer, or another the victim of a terrible rape or murder.  The indignation that is the human spirit trumps the divine nature of Christ that should be indwelling us at all times.  Our response is always “yes, but”.  Loving our neighbors and those who persecute us is not turning a blind eye, as I have been accused of, but rising above the existence of hate.  Even scripture tells us that if we only love those who love us, how are we different than the world.  Applying Christian love in situations of hate does not mean we don’t peacefully protest, it does not keep us from seeking justice for all, and it does not render us inactive in seeking resolutions to social ills.  However it does compel us to approach these issues with the mind of Christ as His disciples and as a voice of reason and compassion, seeking restoration, not chronicling all history’s sins against mankind and pouring salt in the wounds.

It is high time that the leaders in the church, black and white, come together and raise their voices in harmony against injustice at every level and set the example on a national platform visible to all, tackle the tough and obvious questions, identify the ugly beast and raise the standard of peace as Christian brothers and sisters who are not of this world, and by doing so draw attention to the ultimate peace keeper, Jesus Christ.   I am convinced with all my heart that there is an attainable solution to this once all parties agree to come together, “forgetting what is past and pressing on” to acquire harmony and balance in our earthly domain as we prepare for and wait in eager anticipation of our Heavenly kingdom and reward.  At the throne of judgment there will be sheep and goats.  I wonder if there will also be peacekeepers and and war mongers.  Label me as you will-I will use what little influence I have for peace and pray every day that I will see it manifested in my world.