The city of Durham, North Carolina, has seen something of a revival of racism as of late. On Wednesday, May 25, three large burning crosses were erected in various parts of the city. Yellow flyers were left behind with Ku Klux Klan information at one location. WRAL TV 5, a Raleigh CBS television affiliate, noted: "It was the first time in recent memory that one of the South's most notorious symbols of racial hatred had been seen in the city."
According to Yonat Shimron and Lovemore Masakadza, staff writers for the Raleigh News and Observer, the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, says, "North Carolina has 37 active hate groups, including neo-Confederate and neo-Nazi organizations. But the Klan is probably the most prevalent."
In their May 27 story, Shimron and Masakadza also note Bryan Proffitt, 26, who lives in Duke Park of Durham. Proffitt said he wasn't shocked by the cross burnings. "There are many forms of racism in society," he said. "It's just a symbol of a culture we live in every day. It should cause us to reflect on the society that it comes from."
"Prejudice," said Mark Twain, "is the ink with which all of history is written." Twain couldn't have been more correct.
The Bible reveals that in ancient times the Egyptians hated the Jews and had attempted mass extermination of them on several occasions. Jonah was a prejudiced Jew who despised the Assyrians and refused to take God's message to the city of Nineveh. In Christ's day, the Jews hated the Samaritans, who were looked upon as "half breeds" and an inferior race.
In modern times, racism raised its ugly head during the holocaust of the Jews in Hitler's Germany. It was prevalent during apartheid in South Africa and the Jim Crow years in the United States. Sadly, in every era of humanity there has been the stain of racial hatred.
Regardless whether racism was supported by racial mythology, economic privilege, or even perversions of biblical references to different people groups, God has declared over and again that racism, prejudice, and bigotry are sins. Luke tells us that after Peter was convicted of his racism by a vision, he "opened his mouth, and said, 'Of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him'" (Acts 10:34-35).
The apostle Paul refuted the idea of racial superiority when he declared to the greatest minds of his day at Mars Hill in Athens, God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26).
But there is yet another passage -- an Old Testament passage -- which is a powerful statement of God's abhorrence of racial prejudice. The passage is found in chapter 12 of the Book of Numbers.
Sometime after the death of Moses' wife, Zipporah, Moses married another woman from Cush, or Ethiopia. In other words, she was a black woman. Those closest to Moses, his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron, didn't like the union and used the event to incite a rebellion against him. The Bible says, "And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a woman of Cush. And they said, 'Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? Hath he not spoken also by us?' And the Lord heard it" (Num. 12:1,2).
Later the Lord called Miriam, the instigator of the insurgence, on the carpet in a way that was remarkably appropriate to her racism. According to Numbers 12:4-10, God suddenly summoned Moses, Aaron and Miriam to the tabernacle. The Lord then came down "in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle," calling Aaron and Miriam forward, strongly chiding them for starting an uprising against Moses. Then the Bible says, "And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow."
How frightening!!! God was in effect saying to Miriam, "Alright, you think the skin color black is so bad and white is so much better? I'll make you white -- really white!" So Miriam became a leper -- someone rejected and despised in her day. Since she thought white was better, she would be truly white -- a leprous white. But now she would also be estranged because of her skin, just as she had alienated a black woman because of her skin.
Fortunately, Moses had compassion on Miriam and prayed for her, and she was healed. Compassion is the balm that heals the sickness of racial prejudice in any culture.
For some, compassion in itself may imply some station of superiority. But this is not the case. The word "compassion" actually means to have a deep awareness and sympathy for another person's difficulties -- enough to make you equal with them -- enough to make you try and supply their want.
There is no greater symbol of compassion than the Cross. How sad when men pervert it into a symbol of racial hatred. The Cross symbolizes the way Christ identified with men of every tongue and tribe. He suffered with them and was moved by their needs. He was rejected by the world that all may be received by God and by each other. He did not choose certain ones upon whom to bestow his kindness. He had compassion for all -- his friends and his enemies, the rich and the poor, black and white, male and female; no one was excluded.
In a just and righteous society, one that reflects the very character of God, we can do no less.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.