At least, not on purpose.
I do not hate people because they are different from me. And, I do not hate someone because of their skin color, socio-economic status, or their sexual preference. Book it.
But, I have, unwittingly, been a perpetrator of racism. Like this…
I’m going into a convenience store often, and the clerk and I develop a friendship. I want to invite him to church (it’s hard to be around non-Christians when you work in a church every day), so we say ‘hello’, ‘how’s it going’, ‘how’s your day’, and so on. One day, our conversation turns deeper. It was around the time that the local imam was applying for permits to build a mosque, and several of Murfreesboro’s residents opposed it with all they had.
“They shouldn’t be able to build it,” he snapped back.
A bit startled by his response, I could tell he needed a lesson in good ol’fashioned American civics. “It’s their right,” I said. “In our country, we have the freedom to worship…”
And, he broke in. “They are murderers. They don’t have the right to murder, do they? They shouldn’t have the right to worship here.”
As you might imagine, I was startled. At first glance, this young man appeared every bit Muslim. Yet, here he was condemning mosque-builders as murderers. I was shocked.
So, I asked, “Are you Muslim?”
I could tell he was offended. “No, I’m not Muslim. Why would you think I’m Muslim?”
“Well, I…uh…I….thought you looked….”
He shook his head, probably more in amazement of my blatant, flat-out assumption that he was Muslim than anything. And he said, “I’m Christian.”
“Christian,” I said. This was the last thing I expected to hear. “Where are you from?” I continued.
“Egypt,” he said. “I am Coptic Christian.”
Coptic Christianity, to make a very, very long story short, is one religion in Egypt and northern Africa that has existed since the 1st century and has coexisted with Islam since it’s creation around the 6th century. Around the 3rd century, the major centers for Christianity existed in Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria. Each of these cities had large churches, and the bishop over the church was very important.
In time, though, there was disagreement between the churches, and, in A.D. 451, the Copts pulled away from the Church over the nature of Christ.
After I left my friend in the convenience store, I researched the Coptics and learned that, as young children, they receive a small cross tattoo on the inside of their wrist. When I went back to the store a few days later, I asked to see his tattoo.
Here’s what I learned from that experience: I need to look at people with the eyes of Christ, not the eyes of an assuming, pathetic sinner. I was assuming things about this young man based on his appearance, how he talked, how he dressed. Instead, I learned that he is a brother in Christ. (He also has a strong dislike for Muslims…he has friends who have suffered at the hands of Muslims simply because they were Christian. I’m still talking to him about that, but don’t pretend for a second that I can relate to that kind of persecution.)
Romans 1:16-17 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The gospel…it is for you, me, and for my Coptic friend. We live by faith in a God who is the magnificent and varied Creator of this world. To live by faith in God and God alone…that is what God has called me to do. And, to love others, because Christ died for every tribe and language and people and nation.
“…and by your blood you ransomed people for God, from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Rev. 5:9)
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.