“and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that thy would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist.”
Acts 17:26-28a (NASB)
When commenting recently on the shootings of six police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, three of whom died, veteran journalist Tom Brokaw, in opining that the election of an African-American president was evidence that sufficient racial “progress” had been made in America as to avert such incidents lamented, “I thought we’d be a different country by now.”
Why Tom Brokaw – or anyone else – would presume that President Obama, simply on the basis that his melanin is of a different hue than that of his predecessors, should inherently possess the capacity to bring to fruition this new age of collective racial harmony in our nation is beyond me.
Barack Obama didn’t suddenly become black when he was elected president, you know?
He has been black his entire life.
Since August 4, 1961 to be exact.
Barack Obama is black even as I type this.
And he will continue to be black until the day he breathes his last.
All this to say that if the skin tone of Barack Obama, or any other person for that matter, were in and of itself adequate to effectuate the kind of racial unity Brokaw hoped would be a reality in America today, there would be ample evidence to support such a proposition.
There isn’t any.
In reflecting on Brokaw’s sentiments, which I have no reason to doubt are genuine and heartfelt, we are presented with somewhat of a paradox in that the optimism he expresses in the notion that America would be a “different country by now”, intrinsically suggests that such a reality cannot be brought to fruition by external forces as if by osmosis, but must be influenced by a transformation from within ourselves.
The immediate impact of such irony is that it permanently shifts the paradigm through which we normally would discuss matters of race relations from one of sociology to theology. For to even suggest that a “different” America is the ideal demands that we consider not only that people need to change, but why they need to change.
It is an unavoidable construct that invariably challenges us to look not to ourselves for answers, but to God.
“The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
What Tom Brokaw fails to understand is that the tone of a person’s skin has absolutely no bearing on the tenor of a person’s heart.
Attitudes, for better or worse, are always borne from within, never from without (Mark 7:21-23).
It is naive for Brokaw to suggest that Americans must “come together” to “deal with” these, and other matters of national concern, apart from a genuine desire to confront the truth about the real issue we are actually being confronted with.
Namely ourselves and our innately sinful condition (Jeremiah 17:9).
“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – Augustine
Perhaps it has never occurred to Tom Brokaw, or to anyone who happens to share his worldview, that the answer to the problem of deteriorating race relations in America is not to “come together” but to come to Christ.
It could very well be, notwithstanding the sincerity of his sentiments, that Brokaw has never truly contemplated that the transformation of a nation’s conscience is achieved only as the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrates the heart of each individual citizen, not by convening yet another town hall or launching yet another series of nationally-televised “conversations on race” (each of which has been tried ad nauseum to no lasting avail).
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
If you and I were inherently capable of bringing ourselves into a right relationship with one another, there would be no need for people like Brokaw to plead that we would do so.
The reason Tom Brokaw must appeal for Americans to “come together”, is because it is not our nature to want to be reconciled to each other (Ephesians 4:17-18).
Why would anyone who is inherently capable of reconciliation ever do anything necessitating reconciliation to begin with?
If it were in our power to bring ourselves to love others who are of a different race or ethnicity than we, then, under what circumstances would we ever not love them in the first place?
These and other questions are why the answer to all racial discord – in America and around the world – is Christ and His gospel. For only the gospel sufficiently addresses the question of why we need to change, so that the resulting heart change is both lasting and impacting.
“…acts done in sin and contrary to nature can never honor God. Wherever the human will introduces moral evil we have no longer our innocent and harmless powers as God made them; we have instead an abused and twisted thing, which can never bring glory to its Creator.” – A.W. Tozer, Culture: Living as Citizens of Heaven on Earth
As the Scripture above in Acts 17:26 attests, it is God Himself who intentionally ordained you and I to display the racial and ethnic characteristics we possess. In the text, the Greek word for “nation” is speaking not of geographical boundaries, but is the word ethnos from where we derive the English word ethnicity.
Whoever we are, whatever our skin color, native language, or nationality, we are who we are because of the sovereign wisdom and volitional will of an almighty God who created each of us in His image (Genesis 1:27; Exodus 4:11).
That anyone would have the arrogance or temerity to judge another person based solely on the color of their skin – an attribute which we had absolutely nothing to do with – is sin and is a direct reflection of the darkness of our own heart (John 7:24; John 8:44).
“The bloodline of Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross.” – John Piper, Bloodlines: Race, the Cross, and the Christian
Unless our hatred of one another is placed at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ, no amount of human effort or, as Tom Brokaw phrased it, “coming together”, will suffice.
To whatever extent racism – and its consequent effects – is a social issue, it is only because racism is a sin that affects all of society. If there is a so-called “conversation” to be had on the implications and ramifications of racial reconciliation to our society, it must be initiated within the framework of biblical theology not practical sociology.
Because racism, like any other “ism”, is an attitude before it ever is an act. And attitudes – for better or worse – are always a matter of the heart.
I pray, by God’s grace, that Tom Brokaw will one day come to understand this for himself.
Humbly in Christ,