A Preacher and a Deacon Discuss Race — Jon Mitchell & Adrian Lyles (Editorial: July/August, 2020)

Editor’s Note:  Due to the strife currently existing in our culture over racism, I wanted this editorial to focus on that topic.  Accordingly, I invited Adrian Lyles from Calhoun, GA, to have a conversation with me about this.  He is one of the deacons and spiritual leaders at the congregation where I serve as minister.              

— Jon 

Jon:  Thank you for agreeing to discuss this, Adrian.  First off, can you tell us a little bit about your life and experiences?

Adrian:  I was born in Tuscaloosa, AL.  Around eight years of age my family moved to North Georgia, where I have resided since.  My parents have a total of nine children.  My twin brother and I are the youngest.  Growing up in the South was not as it is often depicted in the movies.  Although I had my fair share of adversities, I was taught to rise to the occasion and conquer the challenges rather than allowing the challenges to conquer me.

Jon:  What kind of challenges and adversities did you face?

Adrian:  Where do I begin?  My parents were separated for the first eight years of my life and we lived with our mother in public housing.  While my father was supportive and often present, there is no substitute for a boy having his father tucking him into bed at night.  Because of the abundance of love that was shown by my parents, I assumed that everyone would have their water and power disconnected on occasion.  It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that some of my peers had never known this reality.

Jon:  How do you think our culture as a whole views skin color and race?  Does our culture have an impact on race relations?

Adrian:  In modern society, we view race and skin color synonymously.  The two have nothing to do with each other.  We believe what we have been taught and apply traditions, customs, and even our vernacular around this false premise.  When we see someone with black skin, we automatically refer to them as African-American, not even considering that their ancestors could be traced back to Jamaica, France, or Costa Rica.  This narrow and misguided approach to race creates barriers that need not exist.

Jon:  Your statement about creating barriers which need not exist reminds me of one of the major themes of the apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament.  The barrier between Jew and Gentile was massive during the time of the early church, yet Paul said that Christ had broken down that barrier in order to bring about reconciliation in the church (Eph. 2:14-16).  Are there lessons we as a culture could learn from that?

Adrian:  Jon, I believe it’s important for Bible readers to differentiate what God expects for those who have been called out of the world of darkness into His kingdom of light.  Those who have not been born again through the Holy Spirit will behave in the flesh as it is their nature.  Light and darkness have nothing in common.  We who are the light have to shine brightly to encourage those who don’t know Jesus to follow after Him.  The barriers referenced in Ephesians are exclusive to those within the body of Christ.  Those who do not share in an intimate relationship with Jesus will likely continue to build barriers and experience endless fighting until the end of time.  This does not suggest that Christians don’t have problems.   Yet I  believe we have hope in the promise of the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Jon:  That’s a very good point.  Why is it important to distinguish skin color from culture?

Adrian:  The question we should ask ourselves is, “Does our skin color mandate our culture?”  Does a person have to enjoy playing golf because their skin is white?  Does a person have to enjoy playing basketball because their skin color is black?  Obviously, no.  The problem arises with the societal conditioning that applies the standard of the color of their skin to a person’s assumed behaviors, customs, and hobbies.  We all do this subconsciously.  Sometimes it’s healthy to make a judgment call based on a person’s appearance.  If someone is wearing a ski mask, toting a gun, and running with a bag of money, it’s safe to assume they probably just robbed a bank.  The best thing to do is get out of their way.  Most often, the only way to know a person’s culture is simply to start a conversation and ask.

Jon:  This reminds me of John 7:24.  Like you said, sometimes the right judgment can be made by looking at someone, yet often it’s better achieved through communication.  Do you believe unrighteous judgment happens between us?

Adrian:  We all have prejudices.  If I see a snake, I won’t stick around to determine if it’s a king snake or  a rat snake.  The only way to know the difference is to learn of them, and then the comfort level will increase.  The most foundational concept in Scripture which addresses much of the racial issues today is that all mankind comes from Adam.    Because of societal conditioning we don’t look at people with different skin colors, hair textures, and nose shapes as our brothers.  Remembering that we all share a common biology is important when discussing unity.  Cain killed his brother, only to be rejected by God.  We are to love our brothers.

Jon:  Why do you believe that the modern concept of race is a myth?

Adrian:  Today we all identify as white, Hispanic, black, Asian, etc.  The question I’ve proposed is this.  What happens when someone is a descendant of a blend of the aforementioned demographics?  To truly believe that a person can trace their ancestry to a singular geographical region and assume that their ancestors all had the same skin color is rather preposterous.  Yet we all succumb to this belief that we are whatever box we check on the census.  The term “bi-racial” is often used within our groups today.  What does that even mean?  Why is it that someone with Italian heritage who marries someone with Australian heritage avoids the label of “bi-racial” as long as they have the same skin color?  This paradigm is flawed from its premise.  What about the different variation of white, and the different variations of brown?  Are there an endless number of races in the world?  Again, the answer is simple.  No!  We are all one race.

Jon:  Paul basically said the same thing (Acts 17:26).  What you’re saying clearly shows there’s a lot of inconsistency taking place in how we view each other.  How can we be more consistent in these matters?

Adrian:  I’m working on some non-profit initiatives right now that will promote the title of “human” over the banner of African-American, white, or Asian.  This requires education and a constant focus on how to include others within our cultures.  I believe the church has a responsibility to promote unity and educate people on the absolute truth that we are all one race, “human.”  This is not an extension of the gospel message.  It is the gospel message.  My fear is that those who cannot adhere to this simple concept will be disappointed when they meet Jesus face to face and He repeats what was recorded in His word thousands of years ago (Matt. 25:41-46).

Jon:  What can the church do as a whole to present the truth surrounding race?  How can we help heal the wounds and provide lasting solutions to the current problems facing our society?

Adrian:  The first thing we can do is stop believing the lie.  Stop thinking that skin color differentiates a person’s race.  The passage that immediately comes to mind is Galatians 3:23-29.  We who have been baptized and clothed with Christ are all God’s children.  We are all one people, united in life and liberty.  The only we that we can show the world that we are the one body for which Jesus died is to embrace all the different cultures and colors that make up His beautiful bride.  We cannot simply tell the truth.  We have to live it.

Jon:  Amen.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, brother.

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