I preach at a nursing home in a neighborhood has all the earmarks of what I think of when I hear the word “ghetto”. There is a large minority population, but everyone, regardless of race, seems to share their devastatingly low socio-economic status. I drive past rows and rows of burned-out, falling down, boarded up crack houses. The streets are lined with busted up couches, bent storm doors, and mounds of garbage. The stores have bars on the windows and the fast food restaurants have bulletproof glass at their drive through windows. It is close enough to the city that on hot, summer afternoons, a thick grey haze of smog fills the air.
My guess is this low income nursing home’s race demographics are roughly 50% white, 50% black. Sometimes one will seem higher than the other for a while, but in the six years I’ve been there, it has stayed pretty even. Most of these people, regardless of race, have always been poor and rely on government assistance just to live in the nursing home.
As for me, who comes in weekly to minister to these people…racially, I’m as white as white could be…almost 100% German decent. I’m not sure about the whole white privilege thing, but for most of my life, I’ve been blessed with at least a modicum of socio-economic privilege. While I lived in this neighborhood for the first years of my life, I spent most of my childhood living in the suburbs.
I think about the people I minister to and realize I have little idea what their life has been like. They grew up in an era that barely makes sense to me, mostly deep in the city, and many have lived meager lives full of hard work, heartache and just scraping by.
If you believe all the messages in the media, all the hate groups and their nonsense, and all the commentators talking about supposed racial tension, you would imagine that whites would pack the room I preach in and I’d be lucky to have an occasional black resident stumble in. Usually the opposite is true, 75% black, 25% white. Despite our age, socio-economic, racial differences, the residents, black and white, still come to listen to me, a woman, every Thursday afternoon to listen to what I have to say for nearly an hour. For some of them, is the only time they come out of their rooms all week.
Why does race not seem to matter to these people who come to hear me preach? Why aren’t they crying out about my white privilege and how I could never begin to understand what their lives are like?
Yes, they do live in a mixed race nursing home, so they’ve either gotten used to different races living near them, or they’re miserable. But racial differences is still a frequent truth for these people. They are of an age where it was still acceptable to have segregated churches, segregated schools, separate bathrooms and water fountains all in their lifetime. I have heard the n-word at least once there and it was from a white man who was angry at a black man. White residents often congregate with white residents and the black residents with other black residents.
So what is it that makes them look past the perceived racial differences each week? I learned early on that it wasn’t me that they got out of bed to see. They think I’m nice, and that I preach well. But what got them out of bed is the same thing that brings the two races together in a way no other force in this earth can.
What is it? Jesus Christ.
Those residents know that if they come to hear me preach, they will hear about Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether they are white or black, man or woman (slave or free…sounds like a popular Bible verse, huh?). They are at a place in their lives where they know there is only one hope for them, only one who can save them from their situation. They crave Jesus. Some of them don’t even want to get out of bed for dinner, but they will come out to hear about Jesus.
Why does Jesus bring so many different people together? It’s because when we find our identity in Jesus, none of our other identities seem that important. There are forces everywhere trying to establish identity politics, splitting us up and trying to convince us that there are us verses them struggles.
Any time it is appropriate in my sermon, I mention that white people and black people will both be in Heaven. Why is that important? It’s because of the reaction of joy in these people who have spent so many years hearing otherwise. Finding your identity in Jesus is open to everyone. It’s not about a trait you were born with that you have little control over. When our identity is in Christ, we no longer have to find our identity in earthly traits, like race, gender, or politics. In Christ, we are all sinners and we all need a Savior.
I, as the preacher, am no better than they and it has nothing to do with race. It has to do with what Jesus has done for us on the Cross and our hope for eternal life with the Father. It has to do with the same Holy Spirit living in me lives in them as well. There is no white Gospel or black Gospel. There is no liberal Gospel or conservative Gospel. There is no rich Gospel or poor Gospel. There is one Gospel of Jesus Christ, one Church, and one Bride of Christ. The only question is “have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ?” That is it. Black, white, rich, poor, Pentecostal, Baptist…those are all earthly things that will have no meaning once this world has passed away, and it is ridiculous to make a big deal about these identities now.
There is only one religion where salvation isn’t determined by self. Christianity is the only faith where we do nothing to earn our way into Heaven. Color, wealth, even talent and ability, don’t mean a thing. It is strictly determined by what Jesus did on the cross. It is finished, all we do is accept. There is only redeemed or not redeemed.
This means, as Christians, we have the cure for racism. It’s not social justice. It’s Jesus Christ. And by loving with the love of Christ and representing Jesus to the world, we are ambassadors of the cure to end racism once and for all.