When it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it reminds me of my childhood. It also reminds me to be careful of how I view myself and others—and I’m not just talking about race. I’ll explain.
I didn’t realize I was Black until I was in the 2nd grade. It’s okay to laugh at that. I was an easygoing kid raised by a white, single mother in a suburban town in Oklahoma. One February day at school, my little “bubble” was popped. One of my classmates and I were having an everyday conversation about I don’t remember what. In the middle of it, he blurted, “I don’t know why we chose to give you people a month to celebrate. Doesn’t make sense.” He was referring, of course, to Black History Month. Those are the only words I remember from that conversation. Seven-year-old me was more confused than angry. I couldn’t comprehend the difference between us until he said the phrase “you people.”
Inequality happens the moment we think of one person as “better than” another. As followers of Christ, unfortunately we can be guilty of this without realizing it. I don’t mean we’re necessarily racist or sexist. I mean we fall into trouble when we assume we’re superior to those outside our beliefs. Our transgressions aren’t usually overt like ignorant or hurtful phrases. Sadly, some Christians occasionally hold concealed beliefs that God’s grace is exclusive to us—or makes us better than those who haven’t yet discovered it. It’s probably nothing we do intentionally. But overcoming our accidental superiority complex will involve a deeper understanding of how expansive and inclusive God’s grace is.
One of my favorite examples of God’s mercy in the Bible is in the book of Jonah. The story starts with God asking Jonah to bring His message to Nineveh, a city in Assyria. But here’s the catch: Jonah hated Nineveh. Its people were despised by Jonah’s people, the Jewish nation. The Ninevites didn’t worship God. And, to be fair, they had a valid reputation for extremely gory violence. They were seen as the worst of the worst. Hoping to deny these people God’s grace, Jonah resisted his mission. After intense wrestling with his calling, he finally brought God’s message to Nineveh. How did the Assyrians respond? They accepted God and repented, and God showed them mercy. Good news, right? Not to Jonah. He became even angrier, frustrated that “those Ninevites” could experience the relationship with God he had. And in Jonah 4:11 NIV, God confronted Jonah with this final question: “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?”
Maybe you can relate to Jonah. You believe you’re “in” with God and others are “out.” This can be a source of comfort for you. Prejudice, racism, sexism, or any other belief of superiority in who someone is stems from insecurity because this person doesn’t have what he or she is searching for: unconditional love. We think, “I’m not as (whiny, difficult, bad with money, heavy of a drinker, etc.) as they are. I (go to church, read the Bible, do charitable volunteer work, tithe, etc.) more than they do. God must love me now.”
Maybe you feel like you’re the one who’s “out.” The feeling may come from a number of places like your experiences as a person of color, how you’ve been treated because of your gender, or how you feel about your past. What you need to know is that God’s grace is enough for you. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mission was to help us see there is no “them” or “those people” when we’re overtaken by the inclusive beauty and power of God’s love. There is only “us.” It’s a good day to remember that God’s grace doesn’t discriminate. He doesn’t choose who He loves based on color, sex, or even righteousness. He loves you just as you are. The hardest part is trusting that the grace and love you want is already yours if you choose to accept it. You don’t need to do anything to earn it or receive it. All you have to do is accept it.