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KOEDYKER: Following the Jesus way in confronting racism

• Aug 23, 2017 at 3:00 PM

A friend asked if I would use my column to speak about the racial violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently. I must say that I usually do not like to make politics the focus of this column. And so, even today, as I address the subject of racism, I want to focus on Jesus, the gospel and the Christian faith.

The Christian faith has not, throughout its history, been perfect. However, the Lord of the Christian faith always has been. The problem is that people are human and therefore fall short of the perfect principles and teaching of Jesus.

We may not like to admit it or even talk about it, but all people everywhere are sinners. The Bible is crystal clear about this from cover to cover. Beginning with Adam and Eve, and going forward through the Old Testament, people have shown that they are far from perfect. Even the great heroes of the faith like Abraham, Moses and David did things they wish they hadn’t. We may dismiss their failures as just having a bad day, but what it really shows is that all people — even the good ones — do morally wrong things.

Paul, the former Saul, who became a great missionary and spokesman for the early Christian Church, spent his early life with hatred in his heart for the followers of Jesus “breathing out murderous threats” (Acts 9:1) and imprisoning them. And although he would rather not say it, Paul had to admit, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19) He sums it up succinctly in another passage when he says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

My saintly grandmother had a pretty good summation of this, as well. Whenever I would say something about the evil and wrong in the world, she would reply with, “John, we’re not in heaven yet!” No truer words were ever spoken.

So, when we see people hating each other and fighting in the street, we really should not be surprised. Troubles brought on by our fallen human nature have happened all throughout history. From my perspective, this sinful nature of people is the one element that has been missing in all the coverage of the racial unrest we have seen over the last several years. Why is that?

Perhaps it is because we would rather not talk about sin.

A book came out a number of years that got some notoriety — “Whatever Became of Sin?” As I recall, it was written by a psychologist, Karl Menninger, whose main point was that people have a deep aversion to the term “sin.” No one wants to admit that they are “bad” or do “bad things.” We would rather call it a “mistake” or an “error.” After all, we’re not really all that bad.

That is the irony about human nature. No, we may not be “all that bad” all the time. Human beings can and have done wonderful things. We have built hospitals, shelters for the poor and homeless, given time and money to assist people who have experience natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, and so many other charitable acts of kindness. Those are the news stories I love to read about. It gives us hope that, indeed, there are some good things happening in the world.

Still, there are times when we lose or temper, say unkind things, use violence to make our point, curse, commit adultery, cheat, steal, defraud others, and do all manner of evil. The longer I live, unfortunately, I see how creative human beings — myself included — can be at sinning. And the problem is that most of the time we pass it off as if it’s no big deal.

But it is a big deal. It is a big deal because that is not the way God envisions life for us.

God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to show us how to truly be human. The main characteristic that is referred to in the Gospels describing Jesus is “compassion.” He had compassion for all races, all people: his own people, the Jews, the despised Samaritans, the intruding Romans, the hated tax collectors, even prostitutes; he cared about the rich and poor alike, as well as the sick and those who outcasts.

So, when we see things like one race thinking that it is better than another and shouting epithets at another group of people, nothing could have been further from what Jesus taught. When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your mind.” He then added, “The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

And when they further asked him the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), in which he made the point that we are to care for anyone in need who comes across our pathway in life.

It couldn’t be clearer: The Christian faith can never condone racism of any kind. Does it exist today? Obviously, yes, it does. Certainly it upsets us when we see it, and we need to call it what it is — sin.

In addition, we always need to pray for and work toward racial unity and respect for all people. Jesus would have it no other way.

— By the Rev. John C. Koedyker, Tribune community columnist

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