Hope for a Racially Divided Nation

pastor miles mcpherson standing near his pulpit at rock church preaching a sermon

Did they just call me the N-word? School was out, and I rode as fast as I could through the white neighborhood that stood between me and the safety of home.

My heart pounded as I approached an intersection and faced a red light. Please turn green, please turn green, I repeated in my head. Just in the nick of time, it did. Thank you, God! I crossed the street that served as the gateway into my neighborhood, and zoomed down the hill. I was ten blocks from home. 

But I couldn’t slow down yet. In fact, entering my Black neighborhood only meant that I’d exited one potential danger zone and entered another.

“Hey, White boy!” someone called. These words shot through my body like adrenaline, making me feel fearful and anxious all over again. I flew through the streets I knew so well, trying to outpace the name-calling, threats, and insults. I didn’t slow down until I was two blocks from my house.

I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood called Lakeview, in Long Island, New York. But from first through eighth grade, I went to school in an all-White neighborhood called Malverne.

At the time, according to my uncle, the one and only black family who moved to Malverne was welcomed warmly—with a burning cross on their front lawn. So it is easy to understand why I never felt comfortable there.

Ocean Avenue ran between Lakeview and Malverne. Each time I pedaled across Ocean Avenue, I experienced anxiety. On this particular day, I had a legitimate reason to: some White kids from Malverne were chasing me out of their neighborhood. I was pedaling as fast as I could to outrun their threats of violence.

So imagine my devastation when—just as I entered the apparent safe haven of my own neighborhood—I heard the words Hey, White boy! As a multiracial kid, I felt like a ping-pong ball bouncing between two worlds, never feeling like I completely belonged to either.

I’m what Black people call a “high yella brother with good hair.” To some, that meant I wasn’t “black enough.” White boy was the not-so-affectionate term some Black kids in the neighborhood referred to me as growing up. The White kids used less endearing terms to describe me.

Growing up, I felt like a perpetual outsider. Aside from my parents’ home, where diversity was embraced and celebrated, it seemed like there was nowhere I could go to fit in. And though it’s been decades since my school days in Lakeview, I still experience the same feelings from time to time that I did back then.

You may be feeling like I did that day, wondering how you can escape the devastating impacts of racism. Maybe you’ve experienced racism personally, or know someone else who has. Maybe you feel like you’ve been wrongly blamed for racist events that happened long before you were born. Maybe you want to learn how to have a conversation about race but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Maybe you’re trying to recover from the shame of being the target or a perpetrator of racism. Or maybe you’re searching for a way to deal with the race-based hate, resentment, and fear you cling to in your heart. 

Whatever your reasons for picking up this book, I commend you for your courage and commitment to tackling racism head-on. I have struggled with most of the issues I just listed, too, and look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with you. 

Above all, I want to offer you hope. Racial unity is God’s idea, and He promises that if we ask Him for help, He will be faithful to answer us. Let’s approach God with confidence and vulnerability while we trust him to guide us as we tackle this issue together. 

The Third Option: Honor

Do you find yourself getting angry or defensive when you think or talk about race? Do you look at the racial divide and wish there was a solution? Do you, like Rodney King, ask why we all can’t get along? If so, I want you to know that 1) you are not alone, 2) racism corrupts your soul, 3) culture promotes racism, and 4) there’s a Third Option that can set you free.

Everyone is affected by racism. Nearly every American has been a victim or a perpetrator of racism, and most have been both. On average, eighty-three percent of Americans believe racism is a problem in our nation. This number has remained steady over the past two decades, with the latest polls showing a spike in the percentage of Americans who believe that racism is a “big problem.” 

You may despise racism, but it affects us all, whether we know it or not. It is a corruptor of the soul that degrades and devalues those who look different from us. When we allow racism into our hearts and society, we minimize the priceless value of God’s image in others, which limits our ability to honor, love, and serve them the way God calls us to.

Culture plays a big role in perpetuating racism, by wrongly insisting that there are only two options you can choose from: us or them. Culture pits one group of people against another by promoting a zero-sum game mentality that says, “You must lose, in order for me to win.”

God, however, offers us a Third Option, that stands in stark contrast to the two offered by culture. God’s Third Option invites us to honor that which we have in common: the presence of His image in every person we meet. When we honor the presence of His image in others, we acknowledge their priceless value as precious and beloved of God. The Third Option empowers us to see people through God’s eyes, which enables us to treat them in a manner that honors His image in us. 

Some of the greatest heroes of our faith overcame culture’s temptation to buy into the us-versus-them mentality. One example in the Old Testament is Joshua. As Joshua prepared for the battle of Jericho, he asked an approaching messenger of the Lord to identify whose “side” he was on:

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant? (Joshua 5:13-14)

In this passage, the Lord’s messenger offered Joshua a way out of culture’s trap, by giving him a Third Option. Joshua responded to the presence of God in humility and obedience, and reaped the benefits of God’s blessings in return. God personally intervened on Joshua’s behalf to deliver him an overwhelming victory at Jericho, because Joshua decided to choose the Third Option.

Choosing the Third Option in our hearts and culture isn’t easy; it requires intentionality, a prayerful commitment to obedience, and wholehearted trust in God’s provision. But I promise you it’s worth the effort. When we choose the Third Option, God Himself will deliver us from an us-versus-term mentality that prevents us from honoring the presence of His image in ourselves and others. Content taken from The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation by Pastor Miles McPherson; 2018. Used by permission of Howard Books, New York, NY 10020.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.

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