Last Sunday I listened to my home church’s invitation to take part in the local march to end racism in America. This march took place on MLK Day.
Since then I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue of racism from different angles, especially in relation to my Slavic background.
Fortunately, I grew up with parents who always instilled into their children the Biblically grounded idea that all men are equal before God.
I never saw any contempt coming from either my father or mom for any person of another race, and never heard any racist comments about anyone of another race.
In fact, I remember one day when my father took me to a church service. I may have been only 6 or 7 years old at the time. We had to walk some miles through a village before getting on a bus that would take us into the heart of a city.
The bus was almost empty as we took our seats, but was filling up pretty fast as the driver made frequent stops along the way to pick up more passengers eager to get to the city.
As the driver made another stop, a few women with children came in.
And then I saw him. A dark-skinned man about to take his first step onto the bus.
A fast jerky move forward and we started driving. But the man was still holding the step railings.
Memories of the driver shouting something unintelligible to the man… The man finally letting go as the driver hit the “close door” button… Seeing the man falling to the ground as we kept driving…
I couldn’t process it all – the confusion of that moment.
I remember feeling extremely sorry for this man and asking my father, why did the driver not want this man on the bus? Why was he shouting so angrily at him? What did this man do? Is he a bad guy?
That was the first time I learned that the world is not all pink. That there are people who don’t like other people simply because of the color of their skin or the difference of their race.
A difficult lesson for a 6 year old.
However, I also began to dream of going to heaven, where all people were loved by the Creator who made them all equal.
I still dream of that day…
But the years go by and the earthly dream that racism would not have a place in this world appears more and more unattainable.
Yes, we have made strides with ending racism in America. We have come a long way.
But have we really?
If we were to honestly examine our deepest thoughts and first gut reactions to situations we come across in our daily lives, including global situations, what do we really think and feel?
Is it love? Agape?
Or is it anything else but love? Hate? Dislike?
I am having trouble finding other well-fitting words in English. In Russian we use “не перевариваю” or “не выношу” (can’t stand) that person.
We tend to minimize our feelings. We tend to justify them to ourselves. No one wants to think of himself a hater or a racist.
Various reasons could be at the core of such feelings. However, are any of those reasons valid in the life of person who calls himself a Christian, i.e. a disciple of Christ?
Sadly, my experiences in the Christian Slavic community paint a different picture: one full of ethnocentrism and even racism.
Yes, these two culprits of everything that is opposite of love – ethnocentrism and racism – are present even in the body of Slavic Christian believers.
I cannot even count the number of times I’ve heard statements such as these: “Russians are the most intelligent/literate people. Russian culture is superior to all cultures. Slavic women are the most beautiful women in the world. Don’t marry any man/woman from another culture or you will regret it. Slavic men are hard workers while Americans are lazy.”
There is no lack of judgment and gossip once the community learns of a young woman dating a Christian man from another race, especially one of a darker color (unless, of course, the woman is fortunate enough to be dating and marrying a doctor).
There are many other statements and nuances I simply choose to not mention, because I am frankly ashamed for some of my fellow Slavic believers – those who breathe racism and/or ingrain ethnocentrism into others.
What’s even more heartbreaking to me is how racism and ethnocentrism contributed to heated and often hate-filled discussions among some Slavic believers since the 2014 Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution.
As a side note, I’m not so naive to think that all the hate, dislike, or whatever you want to name it, was caused by this one event.
If one is raised by parents who instill racist ideas or in a community where those values are subconsciously ingrained throughout childhood (ethnocentrism), one is bound to exhibit behavior and attitudes that reflect that upbringing.
However, I always had trouble wrapping my mind around how professing believers in Jesus could be so hateful as to shun others in their churches simply because those others did not speak Ukrainian or vice versa.
Sadly, I have heard of families who were in conflict because someone took the Ukrainian side or the Russian side.
Another common occurrence is when an individual gets into hot water after making a mistake of calling someone a Ukrainian rather than Russian, or the other way around.
I even came across a few heated debates involving Slavic pastors/ministers who were spitefully judged and criticized by some believers based on an assumption that these pastors/ministers were either pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian.
So what kind of an example are we (the believers in Jesus) to the unbelievers when some of us can’t even have an ounce of love towards each other, simply because others were born in Russia, Ukraine, India, China, the Middle East, or the US?
Are there going to be different heavenly palaces for Russians and Ukrainians?
No doubt there will be those readers who will call me names and label me a “Slavic hater” among other things.
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
And remember: hate does not have any place in heaven for God is love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is LOVE.
~ 1 Corinthians 13
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