Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Taming Ethnic Tensions

            Seems like just about every conflict between people is being spun by the popular media in America as "racist."  To read more about abuses of the media to propagandize so-called "race" relations, read the book called Mugged: Racist Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama by Ann Coulter.  One of the fallouts of this propaganda is the emboldening of some individuals who truly harbor hatred in their hearts based on skin color and ethnic background.  The gunman at the A.M.E. church in Charleston, SC two weeks ago seems to be one of these persons.  His actions left nine people dead and grieving families and community members for a lifetime.  Relatively few people allow their hatred to be expressed to this extreme, but it is however, very common for most people to critically prejudge and misjudge people of differing culture and ethnic background. 
            Or is it that only people of ethnic groups other than your own have problems with prejudice?  Is it okay to talk about cultural differences as long as your own cultural beliefs are not challenged as undesirable?  Most people believe they are more open to cultural and ethnic differences than they really are.  The reason is that core beliefs are so rooted in our psyche that we cannot even imagine life different from what is already familiar to us.   An example of two views of the world finding it difficult to communicate would be like an Amish person who never left the family farm in Lancaster, PA understanding the world of a New York City dweller depending on modern technology and street-wise mobility. 
            Many obstacles exist to overcoming cultural and ethnic differences and tensions.  If we somehow overcome the first obstacle of identifying and owning a view of the world that is different from our own, we immediately butt against a second obstacle.  That is, comparing in order to make value judgments.  We elevate our human judgments to supreme authority rather than yielding to the supremacy of God Almighty.  
            From a Christian world view, the God as known in the Bible is the ultimate Judge and supreme authority.  He is all-powerful, yet all-personal, creating each individual human being to bear his image and unique expression of personhood.  Each person is responsible to find and fulfill the innate meaning he or she uniquely contributes to the universe.  God places individuals in families, and families in communities, and communities in a global interdependence. 
            God is the giver of life.  All human life is created equal thus there is only one human race.    Life's deepest meaning is found in honoring God, and other human beings.  Because the first sin of Adam and Eve broke their perfect relationship with God, every person is born since then with a skewed perception of God, himself, and other people.  Like orphaned children the identity and protection of Father's love has been removed.  The default nature of each person born into the human race is sinful and motivated by shame and guilt.  Mankind is helpless and this condition can only be corrected by God himself.  God our Father restores us to son or daughter status only through His very own Son Jesus Christ.  By believing in Jesus we are born again into a new life with our guilt forgiven  and shame washed away. 
            This new life does not mean perfection or a pain-free life.  If means we have begun a process of becoming a son or daughter of a perfect God of justice and mercy.  This process involves change of both our mind and heart.  Our fundamental makeup as a human being does not change, but we must surrender to Father our perceptions of God, ourselves and other people to be changed.  God is our most valuable resource to be able to better see the value in cultures and ethnicity different from our own.  We need God's help (through his Holy Spirit) to recover our God-given identity and purpose for being.
            God also created in each individual a need to relate to other individuals for completion of their identity and purpose.  This need to relate extends to families, communities, and entire race of human beings.  No man, family, or community (culture or ethnicity) is an "island."   The Bible speaks of followers of Jesus as a Body.  Even more so than other people groups, Christ's Body should model diversity of ethnicity working together as one body for the betterment of all parts. 
            So how does a person see past their own cultural blinders and wrestle with their value system to know how to change?  A person's well-intentioned beliefs and values  do not automatically produce  actions that line up with those values.  This is where many people get stuck.  They know and want to do what is right, but for a variety of reasons (too numerous to discuss here), fail to follow through.  Treating others with dignity and equality requires a motivation of love.  Peter in the Bible writes, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).  But as noted above, we must contend with our default negative human responses.  Love does not come natural, but takes a lot of effort to practice.  A primary enemy of love is critical judgment.  whether a person is a Christian or not, critically judging and condemning others (done by individuals or groups is the single most destructive force behind cultural and ethnic conflict).
            Critical judgment surfaces through one of three main forms--complaining, blaming, and justifying.  Examples of complaining are complaining of other people seemingly enjoying a better lifestyle than you, easier access to opportunity, or a privileged status of perceived superiority.   Blaming might include labeling another group as trouble makers, not taking responsibility for your own part in causing strained relations, or repeatedly pointing out others' faults without admitting your own.  Justifying may include holding bitterness and resentment instead of forgiving, requiring someone else to change before you consider changing your own behavior, or making excuses for your own prideful or vengeful actions toward others.  Instead of allowing ourselves to complain, blame, or justify, we should take steps to get the facts, assess what can or cannot be done about a problem, and do our best to stay focused on positive change.
            Ethnic tensions are tamed when individuals are willing to look at the roots of their critical judgments.  A most important question becomes, "What core values, beliefs, and assumptions are unconsciously driving your  thoughts, feelings, and behavior?"  If the default direction is toward the negative (as discussed  above), it takes a heart transformation to reverse the patterns.  The root of all ethnic conflict can be traced to the condition of the hearts of the individual people in the groups.  All mankind has the same heart tendencies irregardless of skin color, cultural background, physical distinctives/ limitations, or ethnic preferences.
            OR, since the heart condition is the core issue, another way of  looking at ethnic tensions, is that it's not about the ethnicity at all. It's just about people differences. Ethnicity becomes just one of those differences to complain about, blame someone for, or justify away a fundamental poor heart condition.  Yes, ethnicity (parent's background) is the strongest influencer of who we are in terms of personality, socio-economic status, and outlook on the future.  That's why it's become popular in the media to propagandize so-called racial tensions.  They are messing with peoples' emotions, because they understand the heart tendency to complain, blame, and justify.   Hopefully after reading this you won't be fooled by them any more!  
            Especially during the last 15 years of my life, I have made a special effort to develop some significant relationships with people other than my own skin color and ethnic background.  My experiences with these people have been very enlightening and rewarding. I've discovered as much, and perhaps more, about myself and my own biases as I have discovered those of other people.  Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, "The only way to have a friend is to be one."  May I leave you with a challenge not to merely tolerate people different than you are, but befriend them! 

                Note:   The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses themes of dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom in forgiveness.  This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith)  to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ. It can be purchased by clicking here: . If you get anywhere near Pennsylvania for vacation or on business, be sure to look us up for lodging at 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry