One part of my life’s history that I don’t talk about a lot is my experience with racial issues growing up in a divided society. As a child, I lived for several years in Alabama, where my father had his first college teaching job at Talladega State Teacher’s College. He and the school president were the only whites on the staff, and I was the only white kid in my school. All of my friends were black, and the people we knew in our daily lives were black. We never had a problem with anyone in that community.
When we left the campus area, we had problems. I remember when I had my tonsils removed. My mother had to take me to Birmingham to have it done. She told me later that when they brought me out of the operating room on a gurney, covered with blood, the doctor shoved the gurney at my mother and said, “Here nigger lover, you clean him up.”
We moved to McComb, Illinois, where my father got a job at Western Illinois University. When people learned that my father had taught at an all-black college and that I had attended an all-black school, we had all kinds of problems. The fact that I had spent grades 2, 3, and 4 in an all-black school meant to a lot of folks that I was inferior, and it was okay to beat me up. I tell you this to point out that now as a Christian and having had that experience, I can relate to the current struggles with prejudice and abuse in America.
Jesus dealt with similar issues throughout His life. John 4 tells us of His exchange with a Samaritan woman. Verse 9 says that the Jews avoided and rejected the Samaritans because they were of mixed race and had different religious beliefs. She was a woman, married five times, and living with a guy she wasn’t married to. Jesus addressed her needs and taught her. In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus showed compassion to a man who was severely mentally ill. The crucifixion of Christ happened because people had the same willful blindness that permeates our society today. The people who welcomed Him to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, crucified Him in Matthew 27:22-25.
The early Church faced massive persecution. In Acts 6:8-14, a man named Stephen was doing great things in the community. In Acts 7:54-60, the community stopped their ears and stoned him to death when he stated religious facts they didn’t want to hear. Christians are still being persecuted today. Racial prejudice still survives today. Children are still growing up in a divided society. We must replace hatred and division with love and service. That’s the only way our world can survive. If Christians don’t lead in this vital matter, who will?
— John N. Clayton 2020