Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Am I A Racist, Now?

I am, in fact, more a racist than I had ever dreamed possible and I want to be rid of this sin.  If it’s in me, it is likely in many of us in Immanuel.  So I look forward to an educational and edifying, albeit painful, series of Bible studies on racial reconciliation in Immanuel and beyond.  I hope others will be brave and humble enough to attend and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord with me.

 

I am many things: a Christian, a PCA pastor (for 36 years), a husband (for 47+years), a father, etc.  I am also a white male who has, even before my conversion to Christ, sincerely believed that one thing I definitely was not was a racist.  Now I know better.  I came to know better only recently, and I can share how I did so best by citing the answer I gave to a church member who asked me why we should as a church study the matter of racial reconciliation:

The short answer to your question is that racism is not only a current reality that we do well to understand in the light of God’s Word as a phenomenon, but also because it is a sin that is condemned by God’s Word, and it is a sin that has plagued our nation from its beginning, and the Church from the days Moses. Miriam and Aaron manifested racism when they spoke against Moses on account of his Cushite wife (Num. 12: 1-16).  Although Miriam and Aaron dressed their opposition in a religious guise, Scripture makes clear that their real animosity was due to the nationality and race of Moses’ wife.  Then there is the massive issue of the relation between Jew and Gentile in the early church that was not only a matter of nationalism (another sin) but also racism.  

I’ll also add a word of testimony from my own discovery of the fact that I am a racist.  My family through my father’s line came to this country on the Globe from England in 1635 through an indentured servant named Thomas Harwood.  He had changed his name from Harrell because he came as an indentured servant to work for Richard Bennett, the Puritan plantation owner after whom Bennett’s Creek in Suffolk is named. Thomas gained his freedom and was granted some land by Bennett and he married and had children and reverted the family name to Harrell. Our family has largely remained in this area to this day.  

As far as family research can indicate, all Harrells remained pretty much hard-working lower middle class people, loyal to the Revolution and when Virginia went with the South, loyal to the Confederacy. The men served in almost all of America’s wars, but none ever owned any slaves or approved of the institution.  My father worked in an administrative office on the waterfront here in Norfolk and was friends with many of the African-Americans who labored in ship and dock gangs.  When I was a teenager I worked many summer days on those gangs when they were short-handed.  I was active in high school sports when integration was just starting here, and I had many black friends from sports teams from my own and other area schools.

All of this has served to convince me that I never was a racist.  Then only recently did I come to realize otherwise.  I was reading a book on the history of warfare written by British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.  I read with fascination his leading me through ancient, Middle-Age, and various European wars when suddenly he shifted to a consideration of the Eastern warfare of the Mongols, Chinese, and Japanese.  I found myself disappointed and thought I would skip that section in the book.  

Then I asked myself why?  The answer: I was not interested in those people who were so different nationally, culturally, and racially. Then I wondered how that disinterest squared with Christ’s command for me to love my neighbor.  For if there was in me the reality of my being dismissive toward a whole region of the world due to, in part at least, race, wasn’t it likely that I was on some level motivated in the same way toward those of other races in my own circles here? I am, in fact, more a racist than I had ever dreamed possible and I want to be rid of this sin.  

If it’s in me, it is likely in many of us in Immanuel.  So I look forward to an educational and edifying, albeit painful, series of Bible studies on racial reconciliation in Immanuel and beyond.  I hope others will be brave and humble enough to attend and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord with me.

William Harrell is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Immanuel PCA in Norfolk, Va.

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