Recently in London, the police pulled over a car that was being driven by a black man. They questioned the driver and asked him to step out of the car. Unknown to the police, the driver was John Sentamu, a bishop of the Anglican church. He had done nothing to call attention to himself.
As the London Times quoted the bishop: "I decided to ask for a written reason for my stop, which I had the right to do. I started to argue and then he became a bit ratty. He said, 'If you cooperate you'll be all right.'
"What had annoyed me was the lack of reasonable grounds to suspect me of anything. Middle-aged bishops are rarely a danger to the public.
"Finally he asked what I did. I said, 'I am the Bishop of Stepney' and undid my scarf [revealing a clerical collar]. He actually said 'Whoops.' He was very polite after that."
The Times continued, "Sentamu, who has been stopped eight times, said the black community supported stop and search to catch criminals, but added: 'It
is the random element where black people are stopped without good reason which makes people angry' " (Jan. 23, 2000).
This continuing problem of institutionalized racism in Great Britain and the United States is becoming more and more of a political hot potato, and many would argue that attention to this problem is long overdue.
Certainly, "Whoops" is not a sufficient response. The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "Want of uniform justice is a crying evil caused by the selfishness and inhumanity of man" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 64). Strong words, perhaps, but something needs to shake the mindset of suspicion that subjects an entire race of people to harassment. And it is "selfishness" and "inhumanity" that permit these things to continue to occur without check.
Interestingly, overcoming racism was one of the first important lessons the early Christian church had to learn. In Roman times the Jewish population was often thought of as a separate race of people; and the Jews themselves, through their religious and cultural practices, kept themselves separate from others.
Then the Apostle Peter had a vision, and as he explained to others, "God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.... Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:28, 34, 35). And so Peter was able to accept Gentiles into full fellowship with him in the church.
After all these centuries, we still have these primary lessons to learn today. But the point of hope is that they can be learned.
If, as you or I walk down the street at night, we find ourselves concerned because a group of teenagers or a person of another race is approaching us, it would be good to probe our suspicions. Are they built on prejudice, a groundless fear? We can be alert in the face of danger; but suspicion without cause must be thrown out.
When we uncover and expel our own prejudices, whether they are based on age, or gender, or race, we become a leaven that helps make any form of institutionalized prejudice unacceptable. We awaken to see that men and women not only have human rights; they have the spiritual right to be recognized as the children of God. The attributes of God's children are purity, intelligence, dependability, and goodness, to name a few. We can develop the spiritual habit that recognizes these spiritual qualities in all men and women. The Bible states vigorously that "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Starting from this basis ourselves, we won't automatically be suspicious; we'll see more of our neighbor's genuine character.
Society can embody more of this spirit, and will do so when it inhabits and grows in our own hearts. Then there will be more grace and equality in the treatment of everyone, on the part of both individuals and governments.
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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society