Race Relations – “Let There Be Peace on Earth...”

             Yesterday, our congregation explored Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  The story essentially focuses on the grace given to two sons by a father who loves each of them in spite of their unique shortcomings.  I specifically mentioned that in no way did the father rub the sins of the younger son in his face.  Often in the gospels, the very things that do not happen are as important as those that do.       

For example, there’s an additional action the father in Luke’s gospel does not take.  Not only does dad not throw the sins of the younger boy back in his face, he also refuses to label him.  By the way, the title, “Prodigal Son,” never came from the lips of Jesus.  The title came as a later addition through the church.  The point is that dad never characterized his son as a wasteful spendthrift or a lecherous rebel or even a no-good so-and-so.  No, the father reclaims the child as “this son of mine” (Luke 15:24).  The father’s graceful language changes the entire trajectory of the story.  Things could have gone south in their relationship had dad placed a disparaging label on his son.  The father’s words made the difference.

            I think that our words can make a difference, too, in the midst of our country’s racial tensions if we were to choose our language more wisely.  Rather than labeling one another as “those Black Lives Matter folk” or those “White Cop bigots” or those “liberal gun control lobbyists” or those “conservative pro-gun advocates,” we should be calling each other Bill and Susan, Tanisha and Clem or even brother and sister.  A long time ago, a theologian by the name of Martin Buber, claimed that when we name or place people into categories we immediately begin to treat them as objects to be manipulated.  However, the example God has given us through the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross is that of approaching one another as subjects to be understood and loved, not objects to coerced or conquered.

            Now, I am not so naïve to believe that changing our language from objectifying people to “subjectifying” them will completely eradicate racism in America, but I do think that reordering our speech is a good place to start.  Ramping down our rhetoric carries the potential of paving the way to peaceful dialogue and perhaps even mutual understanding.  By changing the way, we talk to one another perhaps we can change the trajectory of hatred and violence and death that we are currently following.

            More than half a century ago, Jill Jackson and Sy Miller wrote the words of this universal song:

 “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

 The writer knew that corporate peace is ultimately an individual decision.  The language we use carries the potential to heal the brokenness that our country is now experiencing.  So, friends, let’s start here at St. Paul.  Let peace truly begin with our words.

Pastor David Wells

St. Paul Community United Methodist Church


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Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law.

— Galatians 6:1-10 (The Message)