Oscar Hammerstein II wrote a song for the musical, South Pacific that went like this:
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year, It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
The bad news is that most of humanity has been taught very well. The good news is that in Christ, we can learn a new way. Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, is a perfect example.
Read the story in Acts 10. Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile, but not a follower of Jesus Christ. He was visited by an angel who told him to send for Peter. Peter, meanwhile, wouldn’t be caught dead going to a Gentile’s house. That just simply was not done. Until God gave him a vision. Peter saw a sheet lowered from heaven and on it were all kinds of unclean animals and reptiles and birds. God spoke from heaven and said, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or ritually unclean.” God responded with this statement that we need to have emblazoned on our hearts today, perhaps for the first time: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and Peter came out of his trance just as the men from Cornelius’ house were arriving to see if he would come and visit. The Spirit again spoke and told Peter that He had sent them and that Peter should go. Peter did. He went to a Gentile’s house. He preached to a bunch of Gentiles. The Spirit fell on them and they were saved.
I see the same God working in the Old Testament, in the story of Ruth. As I preached through that little book, I was struck by this fact: on one level, the story of Boaz and Ruth is a story of racial reconciliation. Boaz, a Jew, ends up marrying Ruth, a Moabitess. Two races, one heart.
Believers, let me make it plain to you. There is no place in the heart of a Christian for racism. That was part of the message to Peter: “Do not call common what I have made clean.” God used a dietary issue to point to a heart change in Peter that the apostle needed. God renewed his thinking that day on the rooftop.
Why is racism so ugly for a Christian? Because it attacks the very heart of the Gospel, The Gospel, the good news, is the saving knowledge of Christ that is given to men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation. God is not a respecter of persons. Neither should we be.
Racism, an equal opportunity destroyer, comes in all sizes, colors, and languages. You can tell if you have a racist heart by one telltale sign. It comes out in your speech. Ethnic slurs. Racial jokes. Barbed words about people of different skin color come from the heart and wing their way through our lips. The heart can sometimes keep things hidden, but the mouth rarely does.
Been carefully taught to hate? It’s not too late to learn a new way.