January 19, 2015
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
“I have a dream!” “Let freedom ring!” “Free at last!”
How could anyone not be mesmerized and inspired watching Dr. Martin Luther King’s passionate appeal to the nation? I felt just as moved today, watching on my computer, as I did as a 15 year old riveted to the small screen of our black and white TV on August 28, 1963.
At that time, discord between blacks and whites was volcanic. What else could anyone expect? The decades old “Colored only” signs over public bathrooms and water fountains that I encountered everywhere were just another visual to bring the racial cauldron to a boil.
Basic rule of solidarity
While society struggled to figure out how King’s “brotherhood” between the races played out in everyday life, my high school track team intuitively knew the basic rule of solidarity: treat others with respect as equals. That’s why we all walked out of a fast food place that refused to serve our black teammates.
I think that Dr. King would be proud of the significant progress Americans have made to realize his dream. The reality is that inter-racial and inter-cultural discord is as old as history. Is it a curable disease?
Getting to the root of the problem
“If we don’t know how to love one another, what’s the use of all this diversity training?” asked a frustrated African American Air Force Sergeant, tired of mandatory attendance at a plethora of lectures and workshops on diversity that emerged in the 1990s. Changes were made in public policy, but attitudes often remained entrenched. What was I, the workshop instructor, going to say?
Later in the same year, I was attending a Leadership Diversity Conference and decided to ask the same question of the keynote speaker. The African American professor was an intelligent, sincere man trying to solve a real problem. I appreciated what he had to say. Here’s how he started his speech.
“Racism is a white man’s problem! And, if you want to learn more about this, then I want you to know that in the heartland of America, there is another excellent conference that you should attend. It is unlike any other conference in that it begins with the assumption that racism is a white man’s problem. This is a good thing that such a conference starts with this assumption, because this assumption is true.”
I thought, “Now that’s one way to get your audience’s attention from the start!” I actually didn’t have a problem with his assessment that someone needs to take responsibility for racism. I just thought that his focus was too narrow.
During Q&A, I walked up to the microphone and said,
“Sir, all of us have benefited from your knowledge and insight. Thank you for sharing with us. I find myself troubled on two counts.
First of all, rejection of another is a terrible thing, and the black race has been hurt and hindered by rejection. Even worse, to reject the humanity of another is to reject the Creator who made him.
Secondly, as you were speaking, my mind drifted to Africa, to Europe, to Asia, to the Middle East and I discovered that regardless of the color or culture of the people group in positions of power, they all tend to do to others what you claim whites have done here. It seems that any race or culture that has the opportunity to be powerful or privileged could have the tendency to look down on minorities and treat them as second-class citizens.
Since this propensity appears to be universal, sir, what would be your response to the question posed to me by an African American sergeant at a workshop on diversity that I was facilitating in the military? The sergeant said, “We can talk about diversity all we want, but, unless our heart changes, everything we’re talking about is a waste of time. How do you change the heart? If we don’t know how to love one another, what’s the use of all this diversity training?”
Doctor, how would you respond to that question? From all that you’ve learned, how does the heart change so that we forgive others for their transgressions against us, so that we fully accept them for who they are, and we make room for them if they desire to enter our world?”
With great regret, I must say this good man’s response was mostly cotton candy instead of steak (in his defense and in all fairness, I really do think that he had never considered the solution to racism from this perspective).
“I love people. Love is the motivation for what I do,” was his closing statement. I believe that deep down this was the true sentiment of his heart, as it is for many others.
Natural pride: liking people who are like me
We like “our people” because together we understand how to do life. We don’t have to think about it, we just eat, greet, work, and raise a family in certain ways that we feel are normal. Then there are the “other” people. We would like them, too, if they weren’t so different in the way that they talk, think, dress, work, and live. In fact, when we interact with those from another race or culture, we at times may subconsciously think, “They could enjoy life more if they just learned my way of doing things.”
Culture is like our skin, we’re comfortable in it. Culture simplifies life for us. So, it makes sense to be proud of our culture and its ethnic or racial heritage. I’m proud of my Portuguese and Puerto Rican people. I feel comfortable when around them. I think that you should feel likewise about your race, culture, and national heritage. That’s called ethnocentrism at its best.
Pride and Partiality: looking down at people who are not like me
Healthy pride gets diseased when a person is infected with partiality. The more the infection permeates the person, the more likely they will develop the contagious disease of racism. Racists aren’t content with just not liking others who are different; they want to harm them, too.
What’s partiality? James writes that it has two sides: the up side and the down side. We look up to certain people and look down at others. We speak up to some and speak down at others, admire and view one group highly and disdain and view another group with low regard. We look up with favor at our people and look down with superiority on others.
The cause of all discord
Pride and partiality showed up in the first century, of all places, in the church. Here’s what James, the half-brother of Jesus had to say to attendees of that church:
“My brothers, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool’, have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
Can you imagine? As worshippers of God came into the same space to worship the same Lord, some in the congregation were looking up at the rich and looking down at the poor! And some of them didn’t keep their attitude of partiality to themselves. They actually told the rich, “Please sit here in these important seats!” as they told the poor, “sit over there in the cheap seats!”
In today’s world, no one would actually let on to others if they really felt that way about the rich and poor, or the culturally different.
I know a Caucasian businessman who didn’t want to work with anyone from another culture. He didn’t understand their accents, social behavior, or why they enjoyed certain foods. If his company had a job opening, he would automatically discard any resume that wasn’t from a white applicant.
An African American business woman, who was actually a fellow facilitator with me at a diversity workshop, told me, “I would never hire someone in my company who wasn’t black.”
The potential for legal action or social stigma has honed our skill in putting on the facade of political correctness. It’s as easy as buttering a piece of bread to put on the appearance of equality with others, while hiding the superiority that you really feel inside.
Preference, prejudice, and partiality – what’s the difference?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with preference, for example, of liking over easy eggs versus hard boiled. And, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose to be with “your” people and enjoy their food and fellowship. There’s everything wrong with prejudice, having an unfavorable opinion of someone that’s based on inadequate facts. But, interestingly, scripture doesn’t mention the ignorance of prejudice as the problem. Rather, it condemns partiality, a willful and arrogant attitude of superiority that marginalizes and dismisses those considered inferior. Partiality is an enemy of humility, which is the essence of the spirit of Christ.
Make no mistake: pride and partiality are the cause of all discord between races, cultures, language groups, and nations.
The cure for discord
God hates partiality. It’s in direct defiance of his nature that loves his people equally and does not play favorites with anyone. In God’s kingdom there’s a Royal Law, which is the cure for discord, a law by which all its citizens live by.
What is this law?
The Royal Law of Love: favorably treating others as I would want them to favorably treat me.
Moses was the first to announce God’s Royal Law of Love to the world:
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
God’s Royal Law of Love is the supreme law that is the source for all other laws that define, govern, and regulate all human relationships.
The Apostle Paul declares this law as the summation of all such laws.
“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’ These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”
An expert in religious law tried to trap Jesus with the question, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus’ reply was instant:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Choosing not to love our neighbor is more serious than we think. The command to love others is not a mushy emotional sentiment, but rather, a hard-core requirement. James says, “If you commit partiality, thus choosing to ignore the Royal Law of Love, it is sin. That sin makes you just as guilty of breaking God’s law as if you had committed adultery or murder.” That’s serious.
Putting the Royal Law of Love into practice
See the vision that God sees
Dr. Martin Luther King saw from the scriptures the vision that God had for the world, and hit the streets to do what he was called to do, to bring that vision to pass. His spotlight was on equality and reconciliation between whites and blacks, and indeed, it should have been.
God’s vision has a wide lens global scope: the reconciliation of all nations, cultures, races and language groups to himself and to each other. You can see his vision everywhere:
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.”
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Jesus took God’s vision to the cross and did what he was called to do to bring that vision to pass.
Where will you take God’s vision? How will you bring that vision to pass?
Start by seeing with your mind’s eye what God sees. When you see someone from a different race or culture at church, think, “He’s my brother, she’s my sister, we’re in the same family.” Then, be bold, go and introduce yourself, “Hi, my name is _____, what is yours?” When you see them wherever you go, think, “Lord, you died for him, you rose for her, just like you did for me. We all need you.” Practice solidarity with the human family through silent prayer.
Look for ways and means to introduce people who are different from you to God’s vision. You and I have a non-negotiable commission:
“…he has made us agents of the reconciliation… and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct to you through us. As his personal representatives we say, ‘Make your peace with God.’”
You are God’s chosen agent that he has personally commissioned to be his voice as his personal representative. You are working with God, he is working through you, as you show your world – filled with an array of varied races and cultures – what the Royal Law of Love looks like in real life.
 Some translations use the word “favoritism” instead of “partiality” in order to get across this idea.
 “Pay attention” means “to look up to”
 Discrimination – choosing one person over the other – was rooted in impure motivation and intent.
 James 2:2-4 (NKJV)
 Leviticus 19:18
 In my opinion, before any case involving relational conflict is discussed in a court of law, all should stand as this law is read as the premise for justice, the point of reference in all deliberations, and the standard by which accuracy of the final judgment is validated.
 Romans 13:8-10 (NLT)
 Matthew 22:37-40
 James 2:8-11
 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NKJV, NLT)
 Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
 Revelation 7:9
 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 (J.B. Phillips)