The George Zimmerman trial has reminded us that prejudice and racial tension always lie just below the surface. Like lava beneath the earth, racism and cultural prejudice seep through cracks in the seemingly peaceful landscapes and, on occasion erupt with devastating violence.
No such eruption was more devastating than the Civil War that swept our nation 150 years ago. Hundreds of thousands died on battlefields testing, as Lincoln described it, whether any nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure.
We witnessed a similar eruption 21 years ago when smoke curled above Los Angeles for sixty days following the acquittal of white police officers in the video-taped beating of Rodney King. Rioting black mobs dragged white and Hispanic truck drivers from their cabs and began beating them in retaliation. The police abandoned the scene. Four civilians ran to rescue Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was pulled from his cab and beaten with a brick. Minutes later, at the same intersection, the angry mob dragged Fidel Lopez from his truck, smashed his forehead and attempted to slice off his ear. A black minister nearby ran to the scene, threw himself over Lopez's bleeding body and screamed, “If you kill him you will have to kill me too!”
Reginald Denny’s four rescuers and the black minister who saved Fidel Lopez remind us of Jesus’ story told 2,000 years ago regarding race and prejudice. If we would “love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” we must love those who are different than we are. Like the Samaritan who stopped to render aid to a dying victim beside the road, we must realize that every stranger is our neighbor, every man is our brother, every woman our sister.
Racial prejudice is a global problem. It exists in every generation, on every continent, in every nation. It exists between white, red, black, brown and yellow. It exists between generations and cultures. We are prone to fear and suspect those who look different, talk different and act differently than we do. Only faith that lifts us beyond our provincial prejudices can save us. The Apostle Paul, who grew up as an ambitious Pharisee and outgrew his prejudices through faith in Christ, wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”