By: Matt Gordon
I’m not a racist.
You hear that comment a lot these days.
I’ve been shaping phrases like these since birth. It was the cadence of my ultrasound; I wailed it upon entry into the world: I’m not a _______.
I’m not a racist.
I’m not a bigot.
I’m not a sexist.
I’m not broken.
I’m not bossy.
I’m not pushy.
I’m not selfish.
I’m not fallen.
I’m not a sinner.
What one finds out quickly, though, is that saying it isn’t enough. When confronted with a heinous attack on your pristine character, you need a little vocal flex with it. You need to intone your defiance, your shock, your absolute outrage. And honestly, it is best to counter with a subtle accusation to really prove how virtuous you are.
“I’m not a racist! And honestly, and, you know, I hate even saying this,” you don’t hate saying it but this is important to say, “but I’m sorry,” you aren’t, “but I think you actually might be the one who is a racist.”
Then you spout some go-to counter examples to show how un-racist you are—that time you were part of a protest (well, you drove by it. On the nearby interstate. But you are almost certain it was in that town). Or there is that time you opened the door for a person of another race, and they were like really far from the door—too far really—when you opened it. Yet you stood there waiting as they lumbered along. Would a racist really do something like that?
I’m not a sexist—I have sisters who are successful, strong, powerful, diverse, positive, well-funded, under-served, at-risk, endangered . . . sorry, I forgot what issue we were tackling just now? It doesn’t matter. The point is, with enough vitriol, gumption, and pointed, crafted examples at the ready, I can be pretty much perfect. Anyone who says differently is, and I hate to say this, a bigot.
This mindset helps to fuel a rhetoric that takes us nowhere. Tank gets full and we just douse the vehicle in gas. Eventually a match gets struck in our relationships and the resulting inferno is damaging, but, as long as I’m downwind, I’m fine—rooted firmly in place, a society going nowhere.
And a person going nowhere too.
So what does any of this have to do with Mark 7?
The chapter opens up with the Pharisees calling the disciples sinners. This is their modus operandi throughout Scripture. By keeping the finger—any and all of them—firmly pointed at others, the Pharisees can avoid being under any scrutiny ever. For anything. They are above and beyond any human laws, any –isms. They are downwind and rooted firmly in unmoving tradition.
Tradition was a one-way radio. The Pharisee’s voice could be heard, echoing outward, but no such countering voices could shout them down or whisper sacred truth. They used their power like a shield. So much is wrong with the world—but me? No, I’m all good, thanks.
Jesus has the gall to challenge this mindset in Mark 7:
“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Thank goodness I’m not evil! Can you imagine! Ugh. To have that inside of you! Me? No, I’m all good, thanks.
I read things like murder and say I’m not a murderer. As if most murderers announce to their classmates on career day in elementary school: “When I grow up I’m gonna kill people!” But I say it anyway, forgetting the people I sneakily hate and murder in my heart when they hold me up in traffic. (I mean, that is their fault for not driving correctly. Follow the freaking signs, moron!)
Theft? I’ve never stolen a thing. (And the things I steal don’t count, you know? Everyone does it.)
Sexual immorality and adultery? Please! I’ve never had an unchaste thought. (And when I do it is because my wife hasn’t catered to my every need in timely fashion. I mean, she kind of pushed me into that lust. That’s sort of on her.)
Greed? You should hear all the stuff I give away. Just ask me about it. Here, I’ll post some of my pet causes on social media. There you go—you made me do it . . . so the polite thing would be to, you know, like and share all my noble deeds, please and thank you.
I’m not a racist. I’m not a sexist. I’m not a sinner. I’m not a sinner. I’m not a sinner.
In truth, I don’t care what I am. I only care what others think I am. So I project and protect and decry and distract. But try as I might to avoid it entirely, Jesus puts my heart up to my face, right up close. So close, that even through my shut eyes, I can smell the stench of racism and sexism and pride and envy and lust and all the sordid gang.
Neal Brennan is a comedian who co-created and co-wrote Chappelle’s Show. On a recent interview he said the following:
Here’s what I want to say to white people. A number of white people have said . . . they all start off by saying, “Well, I’m not racist.” Just start from a place of, “I am a little racist.” Just start from that place! We’re all a little racist. Every single human being is a little racist. I am racist a little bit. I’m a size-ist. I’m religiously bigoted. But I take that into consideration before I act on it. Just start from the place of like, “I’m like a lapsed, fallen person.”
You know what? I am.
I am fallen.
The evil is in there. It is inside of me. It is looking for a way to come out, to be birthed into action and create harm. And the easiest way for it to do that is to deny or neglect it.
What Jesus is saying here is, “Yeah, it’s in there. Humble yourself. And now, with that humility, you can get help. That’s where I come in!”
History continues on with us rooted in our litany of denials. History continues on with us rooted in our litany of denials. History continues on . . .
But I can change. I can know myself, can look into my heart—even the ugly bits. And rather than turning away or misdirecting toward the ugly bits of another, I can turn toward the person kind enough to hold me to the truth and hold me in the truth. The one willing to die for all of my heart, and walk the road of change alongside me. The one who knows and sees all that I am, and doesn’t abandon me there.
So I can be honest and I can not only be part of the change, but be a part of what changes.