Growing up, I considered myself and my family to be what one might call “good Christians.”
We rarely missed a church service. We were there on Sundays, Wednesdays, and for any holiday or special occasion service offered.
We tithed. My parents dropped 10 percent of their meager income into the offering plate each week, and when I began earning pennies at the age of 10, I followed in their footsteps.
We were active in church. My mom served in the Ladies Aid, my dad was an elder. I attended Sunday school and the traditional school attached to the church.
We were at every church-basement potluck, stuffing ourselves with lasagna and Jell-O salad. We prayed before every meal and sang hymns. We never took the Lord’s name in vain.
We took sermons to heart, learning about sin and its consequences. Sexual sin. Idolatry. Alcohol and drug abuse. Murder. Theft. And all the others—except one it seems.
The sin that seems to have been completely overlooked is the seemingly indistinguishable sin of racism. Though as an adult, I’ve realized that never-talked-about sin was pretty obvious after all.
It was alive and well within the church. No, it wasn’t shouted from the pulpit, but it was pulsing through the pews.
I know this because of the racist remarks I heard at home, similar ones also whispered in church and the school that shared the same building. I know this because of my own assumptions about people of color as a young child.
My father regularly used racial slurs. He regularly spoke about people of color and other minorities as problematic to society. It was clear in my young mind that White people were superior, and that those other people were detrimental to our communities. Some elders in the church were quietly vocal in denying the atrocities of the Holocaust. Even I, as an elementary-aged child looked down on kids with darker skin than mine. For a time, a boy with brown skin attended school with me, and I specifically remember thinking that not only was he different, but that he was strange, even dirty.
As a young child growing up in a Christian church, that was the conclusion I drew about a child who simply had darker skin than me. As an adult, it sickens me to think about.
Now, well into adulthood, I know how incredibly wrong racism is. How detrimental to society—to HUMANS—it is.
It certainly isn’t based in the love Jesus modeled for every one of us. I know what I heard come out of the mouths of Christians I grew up around was sinful and shouldn’t have been tolerated. Over the years, I’ve had friends and boyfriends from a variety of racial backgrounds. And while I don’t consider myself to be a racist, racist thoughts still creep into my mind, though I don’t intend for them to be there. I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s true, and I recognize that I still have work to do.
I’m a Christian. I go to church, though not the one I grew up in. And while I’d like to think things have changed—that today’s Christian church doesn’t resemble the one I grew up in—I’m afraid I’d be wrong.
After all, I have contact with many people who still attend church there. And based on recent conversations, I know not much has changed.
I mention these things not to shame the church, its members, or my family. I know my experience in the church hasn’t been everyone’s. I know many churches are working hard to combat racism. But based on personal experience, too many aren’t.
I’m just so utterly confused as to why, in a Christian church, the sin of racism was never acknowledged. I can’t understand how and why it has been tolerated. I wish I would have grown up knowing how hurtful and heartbreaking it is, how incredibly wrong it is. I wish I hadn’t been taught things that as an adult I’m not sure how to undo.
I grew up thinking we were good Christians.
But good Christians don’t speak or act in hate—they don’t tolerate hate or ignore it. Not toward people who have a different skin color—not toward anyone. And honestly, good Christians probably don’t actually exist—because what even is a good Christian? We’re all flawed. We’re all sinful in ways too numerous to count. We all need mercy, grace, and forgiveness on a minute-by-minute basis.
But I can’t help but wonder if the current events in our country can be used to propel us toward becoming not good Christians, but better ones. Racism has been overlooked within the church for too long, and now by the grace of God it’s been brought into the light. It’s been exposed and I’m praying we can figure out how to address it.
Now is the time to love, listen, and serve. Now is the time to confess the sin of racism and repent.
Now is the time to respond instead of ignore. Now is the time to speak up for the marginalized and speak against bias and hate. Now is the time to fight against what has been so deeply ingrained in many of us for so long. Now is the time to humbly, and with remorse, approach those who have been wronged and ask them to show us how to do better.
Now is the time to work toward unraveling the racial bias that was woven deeply into my childhood, though I didn’t know it at the time.
It turns out we weren’t the good Christians I thought we were. Racism was—and is—all around me, even IN me. But as I grow, listen, and learn, I’m praying God will guide me toward being a better Christian.
To those who have been the receivers of racist actions and remarks—I’m sorry. I wish it wouldn’t have taken me so long to realize just how big—and prevalent—a sin racism is. Even, maybe especially, in the church.
I’m a Christian, but I’m not yet the kind I’d like to be. And though I might never be a good one, when it comes to racism, I’m ready to become a better one.