Trayvon Martin was not a
criminal because he was black and wearing a hoodie. And I’m not a racist
because I’m white.
We will have to wait months to find out how jurors
in Florida will rule in the Trayvon Martin case. Did his accused assailant,
George Zimmerman, act in self-defense when he shot the unarmed boy? Or did
Zimmerman kill Martin because he just assumed any young black man walking
through a gated neighborhood wearing a hoodie is a dangerous criminal?
Trayvon’s case should cause all of us to check our
hearts. We’ve all been guilty of making unfair judgments. Many of us stereotype
“Paul required church
leaders to be free from prejudice. If we required the same today, we would
raise a new standard. Leaders would confront racism from the pulpit instead of
tolerating or ignoring it.”
Some Americans think all Mexicans are illegal and
dangerous. Others think all blonde women are silly. Other people think all Arabs
are terrorists, all skinny girls are anorexic, all Nigerians are con-artists,
all Indians run convenience stores, all rural Americans are rednecks, all Jews
are pushy, all black women are angry, all men with dreadlocks are potheads and
all Italian-American teens act like the cast of Jersey Shore.
Stand-up comedians make us laugh at ourselves for
making crazy generalizations. But the jokes are not funny when you’re on the
receiving end of prejudice. I’ve been judged unfairly before, in these ways:
I am male, I am an insensitive jerk
I have a Southern accent, I am ignorant
I am a Christian, I am stupid and intolerant
I am over 40, I have nothing relevant or valuable to share with the younger
I am white, I am a racist.
I don’t appreciate being unfairly pegged in these
categories. I don’t want people judging my character because of my skin color,
my age, my gender—and certainly not because I refer to a group of my friends as
“y’all.” All of us would prefer that people get to know us before they form
But prejudice is a monster that lives in human
hearts. It is part of our sinful nature. When the prophet Samuel was looking
for a replacement for Saul as king, God said of Jesse’s son Eliab: “Do not look
at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him;
for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NASB, emphasis added).
Man looks on the outside. That’s how we are bent.
But when we come to know Christ, and when He fills us with His love, we should
surrender our tendency to stereotype.
Jesus was comfortable with all kinds of people who
had been profiled in His culture: prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, Romans,
lepers, bleeding women, widows, centurions and blind beggars.
Yet we who call ourselves Christians sometimes still
pay attention to stupid things like hoodies, tattoos, piercings, accents, body
types, facial hair and veils instead of loving all people who are made in His
It is way past time for all of
us to rid ourselves of prejudice. As long as we hold on to our stereotypes, we
will repel people instead of attract them to Jesus and His message.
When the apostle Paul listed the qualifications for
church leadership, he mentioned that bishops must be “hospitable” (1 Tim. 3:2).
The Greek word here is philoxenos, and it means a whole lot more than
just being willing to host a dinner. The word literally means “love of
strangers.” (Xenophobia, on the other hand, means “fear of strangers.”)
Paul required church leaders to be free from
prejudice. If we required the same today, we would raise a new standard.
Leaders would confront racism from the pulpit instead of tolerating or ignoring
it, and the church would become a much more welcoming place for people of all
backgrounds to find the love of the Savior.
I’ve never liked the phrase “God is colorblind”
because I know God created skin color, and He certainly has the ability to
distinguish between varying shades of melanin. But God knows skin color has
nothing to do with what is inside a person. His perception of our internal
character is more accurate than any X-ray machine at an airport. He can read
our motives, know our thoughts and see our hidden flaws. He doesn’t profile.
Neither should we.
J. LEE GRADY is the former editor
of Charisma and the director of The
Mordecai Project. You can follow him on Twitter
at leegrady. He is the author of several books including 10 Lies the Church
Tells Women, 10 Lies Men Believe and The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale.