We might have every reason to expect, given the extraordinary attention directed to this issue, that race relations would be improving in America. But instead, they seem to be getting worse. Why are race relations not improving?
Because Some Ignore Genuine Progress
As recently as World War II, the American military was largely segregated. Most units were White with some reserved for Blacks. Black Americans fought heroically for their country, many laying down their lives in defense of the United States. It seems incredible today that those who served with valor could be denied equal treatment with others who fought for the same cause. This is so clearly wrong, that younger Americans may be surprised to learn that such inequality ever existed. It did then, but no longer. Thankfully, such policies are not allowed in today’s America. Genuine progress has occurred.
It’s no secret that not too many decades ago, Blacks were forced to sit at the back of the bus and denied entrance into many restaurants and other places of business, but no longer, because significant progress has been made.
As recently as the 1960’s, two water fountains were installed side by side in public buildings in southern states, one labeled “White” and the other “Colored.” Likewise, gas stations had three public restrooms, two at the side of the building labeled “Men” and “Women,” and one at the back designated “Colored.” These realities sound bizarre today, but that was standard practice back then. I saw it with my own eyes. Thankfully, such publicly sanctioned indignities no longer exists because racial progress eliminated them.
The old patterns of racially segregated neighborhoods which contributed to financial disparities which linger today, are no longer practiced. Meaningful progress has occurred within a short period of time. The same country that officially imposed second class citizenship upon an entire race of people based upon the color of their skin, twice elected a Black American to the highest office in the land.
Are all the problems solved? No. Has progress been made? Without question! Why then, do some act as if nothing has changed since the days of slavery? That fails to give credit to the American people for what has been accomplished. As long as these remarkable advances are ignored, it is unlikely that race relationship will improve. Denying the reality of progress achieved discourages the continuation of further progress.
Because Some Employ a Flawed Standard
The Black Lives Matter slogan is both powerful and true. Most Americans decry the shameful death of George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman, and agree wholeheartedly that black lives matter. It is the general American sentiment that all lives, Black, White, or whatever, be treated with equality, dignity, and respect. That’s what American ideals proclaim, and that’s what most want to see practiced in our nation.
But some vehemently reject any other slogan of racial equality. How dare you say, “All lives matter”! When questioned about this rejection of a statement of equality, the answer is, “Because all lives can’t matter until every black life matters.” In other words, as long as there remains a single instance of mistreatment of Blacks, we will not acknowledge the value of any other lives.
Think that one through. In essence it is saying that until there is a perfect world in which there is no injustice against Blacks, we refuse to recognize the equal value of the lives of all human beings. Requiring perfection in an imperfect world assures that racial equality will never be acknowledged anywhere in the world, much less America. That’s Marxist utopianism which demands a perfect world now, and works to destroy all manifestations of imperfection as they understand them. Because perfection exists nowhere in this fallen world, people are consigned to endless discontent. To demand what is impossible until Jesus Christ returns is folly. Requiring an impossible standard of perfection renders further progress in race relations unlikely.
Because Some Prefer Racial Division
In the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., it was understood that the goal for race relations in America was a color-blind society. Although skin color is impossible not to see, the object was to achieve a society in which color played no role in how people are treated. Everyone should be treated on the basis of their character, ability, and achievements, not upon the color of their skin. Could any reasonable person disagree with this?
But increasingly, every member of society is now classified according to race. Skin color has become the primary factor in how people are perceived. What happened to Martin Luther King’s dream of a society in which his children would not be judged by the color of their skin? It seems to have been hijacked by those who prefer to make race pre-eminent, not incidental, and perpetuate conflict based upon skin color. With attitudes like these, how can we reasonably expect race relations to improve?
Because Some Reject Biblical Truth
Now we come to the most important reason of all. It is impossible to enjoy the blessings of peace, harmony, justice, and equality that flow from our Creator, while rejecting His Word and despising His rightful rule in our lives. We cannot expect people to “love your neighbor as yourself” if we ignore “love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” We cannot hope to eliminate murder at the hands of the police, if we wink at murder committed by criminals of color. We cannot require government to employ righteous standards of justice, if we condone unrighteousness in our own behavior, such as stealing, adultery, and murder. We cannot require a high standard of order in government while trashing God’s standard of order for marriage and the family. In short, we cannot expect the blessings which God bestows upon those who walk in His ways, if we are unwilling to follow His precepts. Can we demand that others adhere to a higher standard of righteousness than we are willing to require of ourselves?
What about white Christians who refuse to relinquish racial prejudice? Claiming to base their lives upon Scripture, they practice racial discrimination out of greater loyalty to cultural heritage than Bible truth. Some even justify racial discrimination by distorting Scripture. Let’s be clear. The Bible condemns racial prejudice. Scripture cannot be used legitimately to justify discriminatory racial attitudes. Distorting Scripture to make it teach the opposite of what is actually says is heinous sin. Those who profess to be Christians must renounce all racial prejudices. It’s no wonder race relations don’t improve if Christians persist in stubbornly violating God’s Word.
Human sinfulness is the cause of strained race relationships. We cannot improve them by continuing to act contrary to Scripture because there is a link between our behavior and God’s favor. We will never enjoy Divine blessing until we submit to God’s righteous rule. Until we do, race relationships will grow worse, not better.
That’s why I pray daily for a spiritual awakening in America. Our hope is not in Democrats or Republicans, nor in civil rights marches and movements. It is in God, and in Him alone. May God be pleased to graciously bless the United States of America with a powerful movement of His quickening Spirit. Unless He does, we can expect the future to be darker than the present.
Photo: A mural of the “I Am a Man” protest that took place in Memphis, TN, during the Civil Rights Movement. Joshua J. Cotten.
G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored since 1973. In addition, Pastor Barkman airs the Beacon Broadcast on twenty radio stations. He and his wife, Marti, have been blessed with four daughters and nine grandchildren.