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One way toward racial harmony
Jonathan Pait
March 4, 2003

Black History month ended Friday. Much of the month our attention was drawn, not only to the past but to current dramas unfolding in our time. During the month, I enjoyed reading the history Free Indeed, Heroes of Black Christian History. It has applications for us.

I was impressed with the courage and discipline of these men and other early leaders of the black church in America. Most of these men began their lives as slaves. They ended their lives as liberators.

What created this transformation? Forgiveness. According to their understanding of the Bible, they saw themselves as sinners in need of a savior. They found salvation in the forgiveness of their sins by Jesus Christ. Their conversions motivated them to share the good news of freedom from sin, but also moved them to work for the physical freedom of their people.

It has been said that the slaves of America used the religion of their white masters to destroy the institution that enslaved them. While those masters sought to use one particular passage ("servants be obedient to your masters") to control them, many of those in slavery saw the larger message of Christianity -- a God who cares for the oppressed and a doctrine of equality before Him.

What does this have to do with us today? Where there is no forgiveness there is bitterness. Where there is bitterness there can be no love.

Affirmative action will not end racial tension. A Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday will not bring racial harmony. The merits of these and other issues may well be debated or agreed upon. However, our community must not depend upon the existence of or lack of these symbols that give the facade of harmony.

It isn't easy. Those of us born since the late sixties do not have an experience with the institution of segregation. The act of forgiveness is so much more of a work of grace to those who have been most wronged.

Don't think that those of us who think we are immune from bitterness can escape the call to forgive. What about you, Mr. White Conservative, are you willing to forgive? What happens when you bring an idea to the table and someone says your intent is racist? How do you respond when you see someone getting an advantage because their skin is not white?

What we end up with is accelerating levels of bitterness. Soon every action breeds a reaction that sends us farther and farther apart. Before long even the most innocent actions become sinister.

How do we break the cycle? We forgive and then we act to understand not only what we perceive, but what is true. Will some still seek to offend? Sure, but we can forgive that poor soul and withhold judgment from the next person we meet.

The story is told of George Liele a former American slave who preached both in America and in Jamaica. One of his students, Moses Hall, was dragged into a city street to show what would happen to him if he continued to preach to the slaves. There on a pole was the head of one of his helpers, David.

"Now, Moses Hall, whose head is that?"

"David's," Hall responded.

"Do you know why he is up there?"

"For praying, Sir," Moses said.

"No more of your prayer meetings. If we catch you at it, we shall serve you as we have served David."

The tension in the gathering crowd grew and Moses Hall knelt by the pole and said, "Let us pray." The astonished gathering watched as the preacher prayed for the salvation of those who threatened to kill him. Rather than attack, the slave owners departed.

Their designs were thwarted by forgiveness. What an example of courage. None of us face such horrendous pressures. It is all the more reason why we should be willing to follow his example.

It is not the responsibility of politicians to break down the wall of bitterness. It is not organizations or activists who will bring about lasting change. We are the ones who can accomplish what so many have desired. We must forgive and move forward in love.

I'm willing to start. I do not wish to offend and where I may have done so (even unwittingly), I seek forgiveness. I also forgive those who have judged me according to their own misunderstandings. My E-mail address is . Let's do coffee.

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