November 11, 2015
Tim Wolfe, former President of the University of Missouri school system, resigned on Tuesday when criticism burst over his handling of racism at Mizzou. (You can review a full timeline of recent events.) Protesting the administration’s apparent apathy in response, Jonathan Butler—a University of Missouri grad student—began a hunger strike. He said that he did not plan to end his strike until he died or Wolfe resigned. His strike won not only Wolfe’s resignation but Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s as well.
Butler’s strike incited the support of thousands on social media. Rallying behind Butler, the Mizzou football team lent their protest as well. Thirty-two members of the football team, with the support of their coach, said they would not play again until the president resigned.
Many students perceived Wolfe’s response—when he did finally respond to these acts—as tepid at best. Thus the protests, the hunger, the anger, and misunderstandings abounded. It’s the world’s way to pass on understanding and seeing one another, on loving one another, until it’s a PR problem. If the Tigers did not play their football game, they faced losing at least a million dollars.
I do not know the motivations of Wolfe and the Mizzou administrators. But I do know that God paid an infinitely higher cost to ensure that his own people would love one another, not for their reputation or their school’s reputation, but for his. God crushed his only Son to glorify himself by reconciling man with himself and man with each other. God then enjoins upon his followers to humbly and compassionately work out this reconciliation—to understand and love one another—to put others so much before ourselves that we essentially die to ourselves for each other (1 Pet. 3:8; Phil. 2:3). Christians, in doing so, emulate our Lord who died for us. We stupefy the world, directing their gaze to a glorious God (John 13:35).
While I won’t evaluate the solutions Wolfe did or did not offer, I can testify to the more excellent way that God offers from my own racist experience.
The More Excellent Way
By God’s grace, my local church leaders and members pray publicly and frequently to be united amid all our diversity. God recently answered this prayer for my wife and me this past Sunday as we walked to our church’s evening service.
It was one of those particularly encouraging Sundays, given that my wife and I got into an argument right before the service. By God’s grace, though, we quickly worked through it. Yet as we walked to our church’s building—which is located in one of the nicest parts of our mid-Atlantic city—a white gentlemen walking past us glanced at me, an African American. Then he glared at my wife, who is white, who is beautiful. This gentleman started loudly singing the following words:
“Too many niggers, too many niggers.”
Immediately I turned around and stared at this man. He stopped, looked at me, and said, “This city is the rape capitol of the world, and you’re surprised, nigger?” He turned around. He walked away.
My first response to this was shock, anger, and sadness. Left to myself, I would’ve despaired; I would’ve been bitter and believed that all white people think this way. You can imagine how such a belief would wreck my marriage and curb any love I had for my predominantly white church. But by God’s grace, when I turned around that night, two white sisters from my church—whom I’d never met—were walking right behind me. And when this man started singing this horrible song, one of the sisters compassionately looked at me, and she so graciously said, “Brother, just keep walking.” It was as if God said that to me. I know in my flesh I might have hit this man. But by God’s grace, our instinct was to stop right there and pray for this man and his salvation. By God’s grace, we blessed him even though he cursed me. I praise God those sisters and my wife—though ethnically different than me—suffered alongside me that night.
When I gather with my church, God reminds me that I have hundreds of people with me. That same Sunday night, when this white man accosted me and my wife, the pastor leading the service asked me to pray for unity in diversity in our church. (God’s providence is blatantly ironic sometimes!) I praise God that he’s given my church the grace to maintain that unity because if it wasn’t for God’s grace, many believers could be like that man or worse. I could be that man or worse.
So even though that incident with this white man makes me think twice about holding my wife’s hand in public, this event is cause for God’s praise. Later in the week my pastor—a white brother and dear friend—helped me fight any wrongful shame and embarrassment and encouraged me to share this event with my church. By God’s grace, the following Sunday I stood before my church to explain this humiliating event. Though made up of many different kinds of people, my church—as one family—mourned, wept, and prayed together. I have never experienced a corporate love like this especially after undergoing an individual’s hate.
I write this testimony today filled with hope because of God’s grace and love through my church. I thank God for my congregation’s consistent love and unity; it helps me fend off bitterness that the Mizzou’s of the world can perpetuate. Yes, racism still really happens and hurts real people. But my church’s love for one another reminds me of the hope we have in the gospel. Its unity amid all our diversity gives me a picture of what God intended for humanity.