One Blood. One Race. One Family.

Leo Harper and Pastor John Hickman at our 50's Fun Night Event
This sermon was written in June 2015 and different versions of it have been given many times since. I first gave it the Sunday after Christian believer Dylan Roof murdered nine African-American Christians during their Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. Roof was a 21 year old white man who was raised in the church. His pastor told the police that Roof was a good church-going boy who had gone to their youth camps and who regularly attended worship services with his family. Roof killed the African American people at the Bible study because they were not like him. He believed that their black skin made them inferior to him and he hated them. Had his church never taught him that white people and black people were all from the same family in God? Did he not know that both he and everyone else at that Bible study had been created in God's image? Did he not know that the blood he shed that day was the exact same blood that runs through his own veins? This young Christian man hated his own brothers and sisters in the Lord because their skin was darker than his. His church failed him. We need to do a better job..
+   +   +

I love science. Because all good, sound, truthful science lines up with God’s Word. Science is simply what humans have figured out about God’s Creation! And Psalm 139 tells us that God created you and me. He didn’t wave a magic wand and we suddenly appeared wearing a poopy diaper. God formed our inward parts while we were in our mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13-16 God hand-knitted us together from human material supplied by our mother and father. We call that human material our DNA. We may have our mother’s eyes and our father’s nose. Our hair color and our skin color are determined by that DNA given to us by our parents. 

DNA is short for deoxyribonucleic acid and our DNA is the carrier of all our genetic information. Our DNA determines the unchangeable biological and physical characteristics of us humans. Your DNA is God’s secret formula that He used to create you. Your DNA is the essence of who you are biologically and your DNA tells you who your ancestors were.

That means there’s good news and bad news about DNA testing. For some people, the good news is that they find out who their ancestors were. For other people, the bad news is that they find out who their ancestors were. Former first-lady Michele Obama was reportedly appalled when her DNA revealed that she has White ancestors who had been hidden in her family tree for over a hundred years. 

The Shields family is a White family who has lived in Georgia for many generations. They were plantation owners who raised corn and cotton, fought for the Confederacy and owned slaves. Henry Shields owned a 15 year old slave girl named Melvina. Henry’s 20 year old White son, Charles, slept with the Black teenage girl and they had a “bi-racial” son named Dolphus. And so a White Irish man, Charles Shields, is Michelle’s great-great-great-grandfather.

When this became news, the media expressed outrage over the “obvious” rape of a slave girl by a White man and they ignored the evidence that the relationship between this young man, barely out of his teens himself, and this teenage girl was more likely consensual and there was affection and support. Long after slavery ended, Melvinia continued to live with Charles Shields until she moved away at age 30 and when Dolphus was 15 years old. While the precise details of their relationship are unknown, the New York Times reported that there are historical documents indicating that Melvina and Charles continued a consensual relationship for at least fifteen years and had more children together.

Sometimes the secrets in our family closet are shameful and Michelle Obama refused to comment on the fact that she has a whole bunch of White cousins who live in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas. To the disappointment of her White family members, she would not acknowledge them and refused to communicate with them.

I read that a few years ago, a White Supremacist leader named Craig Cobb agreed on a nationally syndicated talk show to take a DNA test to prove his white purity. When the results of his test were revealed, they indicated that he was 14% sub-Saharan African. Before, during and after the period of slavery in America, people had consensual interracial relationships that produced “mixed race” children. That’s why in the early 20th century, the “One-Drop Rule” was a legal principle of racial classification which asserted that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan African ancestry (“one drop” of Black blood) is considered to be a “Negro” to use the term from that time. Imagine the horror of being a nationally-known leader in the White Supremacist movement and finding out that, according to your DNA, at one point in our nation’s history you would have legally been a “Negro.” Craig Cobb was horrified that his “pure White” DNA had been polluted by the “other people” but no one is “ethnically pure.”

Stop for a moment and think.. 
If your DNA, showed evidence 
of a people group different from yours, 
would you be horrified, happy or humbled?

I’ve never had my DNA tested but I’m obviously just about as White as you can get. Francis Hickman was born in 1630 at Wiltshire, England. He and his family emigrated from England to Pennsylvania in 1684. Francis was a Quaker – that was a Christian pacifist movement that abhorred slavery and worked hard for abolition. Others with the surname Hickman became some of the largest plantation and slave owners in Louisiana according to the 1860 census. I sleep better at night knowing that my father’s side of the family descended from the peace-loving, religious Quakers! But on my mother’s side, the Haddaway family also emigrated from the British Isles to America in the 1600's and they migrated down into the southern states. My grandfather was born in Webster Groves, Missouri where the Haddaway’s owned coal mines and the town’s hardware store. After my mom passed on, I was looking through her trunk of family photos when I found some that surprised me. The photos have names penciled on the back that identify them as my ancestors in the Haddaway family. Their faces have predominant Black features and have significantly darker skin than I do. Okay.. I thought I was about as White as you could get.

William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” In your DNA, there is a complete record of your ancestral past. The average African-American has 24% of White European ancestry in their blood. A test called “autosomal DNA” tests only your recent ancestry in the past 200-300 years but even a check of the recent past means that your DNA can get as interesting as Michelle Obama’s or Craig Cobb’s. Over all, about 4-6% of all White Americans have Black ancestors in their DNA. But in the southern states a very different picture emerges.

DNA studies have shown that in South Carolina and Louisiana approximately 20% of all Whites have at least 1 percent or more of African ancestry. In southern states, out of every one hundred White people, about twenty will have an African slave as an ancestor. That’s why it would not surprise me to find that I have a Black ancestor somewhere in my own family tree. That would be absolutely okay with me. Because I’ve read my Bible. And I know that we’re all brothers and sisters of one race created in the image of God. 

In the Old Testament, we read that God created one human race. “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27 All of humanity was created from Adam and Eve and as we bear their image, we bear the image of our Heavenly Father. Take a moment and look again at the above photo. Both men were created in the image of God, and in fact, God created these two men from one blood that they share between them. “God gives life and breath to all and He has made from one blood every person who has ever dwelled on this earth.” Acts 17:25-26 Please read that emphasized part again.

Within the one human race that God created, there are people groups who have different shades of skin and hair color according to our Bible. The Bible refers to different families, tribes, nations and the languages they spoke, but God sees all as being one people group that the Bible calls “man.” The concept of multiple races did not became a “social construct” until the 1700's when society assigned “race labels” to people according to their skin color, shape of their eyes etc.

God’s creation of “One Blood. One Race” is sometimes rejected because of cultural and ethnic pride. We can become proud of our White heritage or Black heritage and believe that true unity with the “other” means having to discard or dilute what makes us unique. Carried too far, that obsessive and fierce pride in our “whiteness” or “blackness” can become racist and divisive. What will heal our Nation today is to not divide ourselves even further by our skin color but to come together with Christ-like love for one another and appreciate the differences we see in each other. According to God there is one race but that does not in anyway negate or neutralize our ethnicity. The secular sociological understanding of "race" is the social construct that divides us by our outward, minor physical characteristics. Ethnicity is a set of shared cultural experiences, family heritage, language, practices and beliefs. We can unite under God’s creation of one race while celebrating each other’s ethnicity and uniqueness. We are all blessed to be living in a country as diverse as America! One Nation under God! Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Stop for a moment and think..
..about the different ethnic groups that
make up our community. What are the things
you like and admire about them? Their food?
Work ethic? Family life? Religion? Morals?

Our DNA shows that God created all humans to be 99.5% alike and the .5% difference is caused by natural genetic variation. Again look at the two men in the above photo. One as “White” as he can be and the other as “Black” as he can be and yet they are biologically 99.5% alike. One blood. One race. The only appreciable difference is that one of these guys has less “melanin” (pigment) in his skin and hair than the other one does. And yet you know that these two men have been treated differently throughout their entire life and have a completely different set of life experiences for no reason other than they have a different amount of melanin in their skin.

Stop for a moment and think..
What are your assumptions and beliefs
about those whose skin is colored black,
or colored brown, or colored white? 

The identity of the one man most responsible for the different treatment of people according to their skin color may surprise you. The esteemed and highly respected naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin is best known today for his theory of evolution. What is not so well known is that he is the “Father of White Supremacy.” Darwin is celebrated among evolutionists for writing THE DESCENT OF MAN; AND SELECTION IN RELATIONSHIP TO SEX in which he examined how humans evolved from apes. Darwin begins THE DESCENT OF MAN.. by theorizing that the laws governing the “evolution of man” must coincide with the laws governing the “evolution of the lower animals.” He writes that “at some future period..the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate the savage races throughout the world.” Darwin was convinced that the White “civilized races” would exterminate the “less evolved” and more “ape-like Negroes.” He believed that the Negro and Aboriginal Australians were closer in appearance to the gorilla, (p.521) and the Negro was a “sub-species” somewhere in the evolutionary lineage between the Caucasian and the ape. Darwin concluded that skin color was a marker of how far a people group had evolved from apes. According to the “brilliant scientists” of his day, Darwin’s theory of evolution “proved” that some groups of humans are superior to other groups. That’s the dogma and sin of White Supremacy. That’s what happens when God’s Creation is explained by atheist “scientists” instead of by theologians.

The bottom line is that there is only one race - the human race. The sin of racial hatred didn’t start with Darwin but his evil theory of White “superiority” over other “races” needs to end. Our churches need to be the leaders in our country to teach and live out the Biblical call for equality and justice but unfortunately many of them have a long way to go.

When I wrote this sermon in 2015, the magazine “Christianity Today” had just published an article about researchers who measured the racial bias that exists in our American churches. They emailed 3,120 churches of various denominations. All of the emails said exactly the same thing: that their family had just moved into town and were interested in attending their church. But the emails were from different fictitious names. Some went from men named Scott Taylor which is a White name. Some emails went from Tyrone Jefferson, a Black name. Some were sent from Carlos Garcia and some emails were from the fictitious name Wen Lang Kim. The measure of the racial bias was how the churches in each category responded.

Only in the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches did the different ethnic names get equal responses. In the mainline denominations, it was a different story. One of the most liberal progressive mainline denominations responded to the White name 75% of the time. They responded to the Black name and the Hispanic name just a little more than 50% of the time and to the Asian name only 40% of the time. After this survey was taken in 2015, this progressive mainline denomination has become 2% whiter. It is now 94% White and they are the least diverse and the “whitest” church in our country. This is the denomination that Dylan Roof’s church belonged to and in 2019 the denomination decided to do some soul-searching and issue a call for confession of their racist past. I was personally very happy to see that. It's something every church in America needs to do.

Stop for a moment and think..
Does your church reflect the demographics
of your community? If not, what would a more
diverse membership add to your own church 
experience? What would you be willing to do
to make your church congregation more diverse?

It’s not just a church or denomination responsibility to end racism; it’s the individual responsibility of every Christian believer. Jesus Christ is all and is in all who believe in Him. And all Christians today need to do a heart-check. We all had different reactions to the video of the police officer suffocating the life out of George Floyd but would our response have been the same if we realized that this man, dearly loved by God, was a “family member” of ours?  One blood. One race. One family. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Discrimination against those who are the “others” has been an evil sin from the dawn of creation. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote one of the first “sermons” that speak to the sins of prejudice and bigotry, “..doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor!..Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. James 2:4-6 NLT; James 2:8-9 NLT James would say to the church today: Has God not chosen the poor, the immigrant, the people who don’t have your skin color to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored them by thinking they are less than you and you commit a great sin when you do. 

We find racial bias in our Christian churches and we find racial bias in our Christian hearts. We see struggling immigrants and show no mercy. We see people with a different skin color and think we are better than they are. We categorize people into those who are the “us” and those who are the “other” and forget that we are all made in God’s image and this is our brother and sister. We assign value according to whether they are the “us” or the “other” but in God’s world there is no “better than.” In His eyes we are all the same – we’re His beloved. We forget that God created only one race of people. And for many of us who harbor negative feelings about the “others,” we may be shocked to find in our DNA that the people we dislike the most are our ancestors and distant cousins.

The good news of course is that Jesus can deliver us from any sin. Including the sin of racial bias. Call on Him. Confess to Him. Repent. Receive His forgiveness. Ask the Holy Spirit to do some spiritual surgery to remove the judgement of others from our hearts. Take the responsibility to change the world one small step at a time. Start not with activism but introspection. Some churches push for social justice activism to propel us into a political movement that may bring about momentary self-centered satisfaction for having “done something.” We come home tired from marching and shouting, cross “protest” off our to-do list and still struggle with the same biases and blind spots that we’ve had all our life. Before we can protest anything, we need to align our heart with God’s heart so that any social justice act that we participate in flows out of a genuine Christ-like love and not from following a political movement or yielding to church or peer pressure. A right heart comes from spending time in self-examination under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that our assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices may be revealed and challenged. Only a humbleness and a vulnerability before God can heal our own disordered, ingrained beliefs about “others” and bring us to honor, respect and love others the way God loves them. 

During this time in our country, I don’t know what you are struggling with.. thinking.. feeling.. fearing. We’ve been applying band-aids to our country’s systemic racism for so long that some of us were shocked to see that the death of George Floyd ripped the bandages off to reveal the ugly festering wound in our Nation that has never been healed. Protests can wake up America but they can’t heal us. Presidents and politicians can write policies and legislation but they can’t heal America. Priests and pastors can preach social justice but that can’t heal America. Only God can heal our Nation. Only our Heavenly Father can knit us together to bring equality and unity to this broken world and, when we make ourselves available to Him, He will use us as His instruments of reconciliation. 

+   +   +
Heavenly Father, Creator of all people: You have created us out of the same genetic material to show us that we are all the same – that whether we are colored Black, colored Brown or colored White, we are of one blood, one race and one family of God. Search my heart and reveal to me the biases I have toward others. Show me the blindspots that keep me from seeing any racism that festers deep within my own beliefs. Teach me Lord, to honor, respect and love all people and give me the courage to talk with those who I usually try to avoid. Use me to speak up and condemn injustice when I see it and make me Your instrument of reconciliation in my family, church, work and in my world; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever and ever. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment