“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-16)
Growing up in the deep South, I am no stranger to the evils of racism. I’ve seen it perpetrated upon others. I’ve experienced racially motivated hatred towards myself from members of other races. All of it born out of a spirit of distrust between us all, in spite of personal best efforts to demonstrate an attitude contrary to the prevailing culture of the time. As a result, it perpetuated a continuous cycle of hate upon hate and hostility repaid with hostility.
I still remember the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial election. It was my first opportunity to actually vote in a governor’s race. The options were between a known felon with connections to the mob who was later convicted of RICO charges and a former Grand Wizard of the KKK. Evil versus evil. And thus was my first introduction to the phrase “the lesser of two evils” as it pertains to politics.
I can recount innumerable times throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adult life in Louisiana where race politics were not only expected, they were the norm. I have not followed Louisiana politics nearly as closely since 1996 because that is when I left the state for Texas, only returning briefly for 2 years to finish my undergraduate degree. At one time, I even entertained the fainting notion of running for public office due to my own youthful idealism only to realize that I would not have been able to stomach the perpetually spewing hatred from both sides of the aisle. Nor would I have been able to bring myself to do what was necessary in the realm of Louisiana politics to win a seat at the governing table.
Looking back over the years, there are a handful of people from my Louisiana days that I would have easily counted as friends who were of a different race than myself. From elementary school through high school, one such friend was Toni “Tee” Banks. She was and is still today a bright, intelligent, and supremely insightful young woman. I can recall some of the most challenging and educational moments of my academic life were conversations she and I would share back then. I can honestly say then and now that she was my friend.
In college, for one year I was a member of the intercollegiate debate team. My debate partner, Edwin Robinson, became one of my best friends in the world and that relationship still holds true today. I know now, as I did then, that if I ever needed anything in this world, even though we are hundred of miles apart, he would move Heaven and Earth to be there for me. And the fact that our different skin colors wouldn’t make a difference because it was our mutual love for one another and our love for Almighty God that binds our friendship for eternity.
In 1997, while I was in the midst of my own wilderness wandering period, abandoning my faith, I was befriended by a young Hispanic Lutheran ministry student named Mark Aponte. One day on my way to my bus, he picked me up and dropped me off at the stop and he asked me if I had a place to worship that evening. I politely brushed it off, but he firmly and lovingly reminded me of God’s command to not neglect the assembling together. To this day, I count him as one of my dear friends because he was one of several people in that one week that prodded me back into the family of faith.
Today, there are many colleagues that I work with of different races across the board. All of them, I carry with me the utmost respect and admiration for the integrity they bring to their jobs and their passion for the people that they work with is unmatched. One such friend is Michael Clayton. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer and my heart broke for him. As he chronicled his fight with cancer and I watched him and got to know more about him, I grew to admire and respect him even more. He is my friend and he is a survivor as he was recently declared to be in remission from his cancer. But what I appreciate the most is his love for his Lord Jesus that binds us together in brotherhood.
Last year, a dear sister who was one of my wife’s best friends for over 20 years, Brenda Gloria, from San Antonio went on to be with the Lord. Her uncompromising, but merciful and gracious spirit still resonates with my own. Her brother, Pastor Roland Gloria of Hard Rock Church in San Antonio, is a friend who I have the utmost admiration and respect for as his spirit and dedication to our Lord continue to be an inspiration for his congregation – a direct result of Brenda’s influence on his life. This loving Hispanic family will always be in my heart because of the direct impact that Brenda had in my life.
I attend worship at Great Hills Baptist Church here in Austin, TX. Our pastor often points out that we are a mutli-ethnic, multi-national, multi-generational body of believers. My Connect Group (Sunday School, Bible Study class) is made up of a wide variety of believers from around the world. Our teacher, Velu Kadirvel, who I count among my dear friends and as a mentor, hails from the Tamil region of India. Velu is one of the most intelligent and kind-hearted men that I know. His heart for God’s Kingdom and for seeing people know Jesus fuels his spirit with kindness and grace. There have been many times that I have needed that grace, and he has been loving enough to be there to provide arms of comfort, shed tears of grief, and cheer with me in my victories.
The common thread among all of these dear friends that allowed us look beyond our racial differences is our mutual understanding of the grace of Almighty God and our mutual understanding that we are all His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that He has prepared beforehand that we might walk in them. We have a clear understanding of our value as children of our Creator and that we have a responsibility to steward that relationship for the sake of His kingdom because it is the good work that God has called us all to in Christ Jesus. It is the blood of Christ that allows us to stand together in unity because that is what has broken down the wall of hostility that society tries to put up between us.
It takes more than words and pithy sayings to break down the walls between us. There are centuries of humanistic logic that has built up these walls by elevating pride and ethnicity over humility and humanity. It takes a supernatural vision of faith, hope, and love that fuels kindness, mercy, and grace to tear down those walls and see each other for the fearfully and wonderfully made creations that God has made us to be. We can issues all the shallow, obligatory political statements in the world, but they are nothing but empty words unless they are backed up by a vision that sees people for who God created them to be. All the empty gestures in the world that do nothing but call attention to how good we want people to see us are meaningless, until we back it up with action that transcends our superficial differences and gets to the heart of the matter and reconciles one another in relationships that reflect the Divine Abba Father’s love for us.
Say what you will about the times as they are, but until you are willing to cross the street and help the downtrodden and create a relationship that means something, keep your mouth shut. We can all say what we think, but we all live what we believe in our hearts. And it’s high time our hearts undergo a transformation that only His grace can provide.