A dear friend, Clarence Shuler, is writing a book about racial reconciliation with Gary Chapman, Ph.D. Many of you know of Dr. Chapman from his “Five Love Languages” books. Gary actually led Clarence to the Lord when he was a young man.
Clarence and I are in a writers’ group together which we call “The Stinklings,” after “The Inklings” which was attended by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Sometimes we call ourselves “The St. Inklings,” but I digress.
At one of our discussions, I shared my background growing up as a racist. Clarence asked me to write about that, and I have.
It was not easy to do at all. But, I’m grateful to the Lord for how He began the process of changing me from the inside out.
I grew up in a segregated Southern town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I loved and cherished my parents, but the sad truth is that both were racists. My sense is that they were both raised that way also. As a result, through my childhood and as an adolescent, I developed a festering hatred of those of other races.
I remember that when my Robert E. Lee High School was integrated, I joined others in doing and saying hateful things to young men and women whose only crime to me was the color of their skin. My prejudice and racism, and the hatred they spawned, was part of me, my heart, and my belief system, and thus my thoughts and actions.
After choosing to become a follower of Jesus while attending college, I began to notice that His Spirit was changing me from the inside out in ways I could have never imagined.
I was the starting Scrum Half on the varsity Rugby team at LSU. We were an all-white and very successful team. My second year on the team, after walking with Christ only a few months, I was on the practice field one day when several new team members came out of the locker room. One of them was black.
What happened next shocked me to my core. Despite his skin color, I didn’t feel the prejudice, hatred, or repulsion that characterized my past way of viewing all black people. Instead, what I felt absolutely shocked me—an immediate fondness, empathy, and sympathy for this black player—even an affection for a man whose skin color would have, before I met Jesus, caused immediate aversion and antagonism.
I instantly thought back to how I felt on my first day on that same practice field—how scared and uncertain I was. I wondered if I would I be accepted or not, would I make the team or not, could I play at the college level or not? And I did not have to add on top of these concerns, the very real likelihood of being judged and hated solely on the color of my skin. What was this young man feeling? I couldn’t even begin to imagine.
At that moment, I knew for sure that Jesus’ Spirit inhabited and had begun to change me. My heart formerly filled with a selective hatred had been replaced by one of love. It was proof to me of Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
I suddenly understood in the deepest recesses of my soul that the closer people of all races and backgrounds get to the cross, the closer they will get to one another. It was a sweet assurance from Jesus that I was His and that He had me.
The words of Martin Luther King rang true to me that day: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.