Racism and Our View of God

I WAS waiting for the subway train to come. It was bitter cold -- near zero, with a windchill factor of 30 below zero. It was late at night, and a few of us stood inside a small shelter that gave some relief from the wind. We were huddled together, not saying much, when this fellow walked in and exclaimed loudly, ``Man, it's cold out tonight!'' He was a tough-looking person, smelling of liquor, and a few of the others in the shelter backed off uneasily. The fellow noticed this and said, ``Hey, just because I'm black doesn't mean I don't get cold just like you white folks!''

Smiling, I said to the man, ``Yeah, but being white, we look a lot colder, don't you think?'' He laughed and said, ``You're all right, white boy,'' and we began to talk. The tension in the shelter melted in the warmth of conversation and laughter. Soon I found myself in a deep conversation that continued on the train about the harsh winter and the homeless, about social justice, about the racism that he dealt with on a daily basis. Amazingly, he wasn't bitter, but he was passionate and eloquent about the injustices he'd seen and experienced.

``This cold is bad,'' he said. ``But it isn't so bad as the coldness in some people's hearts. Why can't people see that under the skin we're all the same? We're all brothers and sisters. Ain't no white folk, black folk, yellow folk, or brown folk in God's eyes. We're all His children.''

When my stop came, we shook hands. The night didn't seem quite so cold anymore. The mutual sharing had warmed me. What's more, the conversation kindled in me a renewed desire, not only to help end racial discrimination in society, but also to continue to fight to get rid of any racial prejudices and stereotypes I might still have from my own rather racist upbringing.

The key, to me, is understanding that we really are, in fact, God's children, despite our racial, ethnic, social, or national differences. A Bible prophet glimpsed this truth when he said, ``Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother...?''1 Christ Jesus, the greatest exponent of the brotherhood of man, taught us to pray, ``Our Father which art in heaven.''2 But what, exactly, does it mean to say that God is our Father and creator?

Since we were all physically born of human parents, God's fatherhood must be a spiritual fatherhood. This makes sense, since God Himself is Spirit. Our brotherhood and sisterhood aren't based on biological ties or race but on the spirit of God within us. It is this spirit, bearing witness to our mutual Father-Mother God, that speaks heart to heart and transcends barriers of race, class, language, nationality.

Through spiritual imagery the Bible tells us that man, male and female, was created in God's likeness. That's God's likeness, not the likeness of a mortal man. People tend to get it backward. They look at the human being's physical form, and then extrapolate back to God, thinking that God must be some sort of glorified (usually) male human being.

This belief in an anthropomorphic (literally, man-formed) God is the basis of much racism in the world. If you think God is like you physically, and you're a certain skin color or ethnic group, then you won't tend to see someone of another skin color or ethnic group as your brother or sister or as having the same Father. But if one is striving to see man spiritually, as the image of Spirit, not matter, then one looks past the physical appearance of the person to the spiritual qualities and goodness that make up real individuality.

As humanity puts off material conceptions of God, we will see a higher manhood and womanhood appear. We will see more justice, liberty, and equality in the world. As Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes: ``Proportionately as the people's belief of God, in every age, has been dematerialized and unfinited has their Deity become good; no longer a personal tyrant or a molten image, but the divine Life, Truth, and Love, -- Life without beginning or ending, Truth without a lapse or error, and Love universal, infinite, eternal. This more perfect idea, held constantly before the people's mind, must have a benign and elevating influence upon the character of nations as well as individuals, and will lift man ultimately to the understanding that our ideals form our characters, that as a man `thinketh in his heart, so is he.'''3

These words come from a sermon entitled The People's Idea of God by Mrs. Eddy. An inspired spiritual thinker, writer, and reformer, Mrs. Eddy opposed slavery in America and yearned to see the emancipation of the African slave and the advancement of women's rights. But her greatest contribution to humanity was to discover and bring to the world the liberating theology reflected in the above quotation, a discovery she termed Christian Science.

Seeing through racial stereotypes isn't always easy, especially if we've been educated to hate and be prejudiced. But the recognition that God is our Father-Mother can be a beginning. God loves all His children, and when we strive to see others as God sees them, we can't help expressing His love toward one other.

1Malachi 2:10. 2Matthew 6:9. 3Peo., p. 2. BIBLE VERSE Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Matthew 23:9

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