Sermon illustrations


Career Options for a Latino Student

I’ll never forget sitting in the guidance counselor’s office my freshman year in high school in the Lehigh Valley area between Philadelphia and Allentown, where I grew up. The purpose of our meeting was to discuss my vocational direction and the courses I should and hoped to take the following semester. Since our school was located in a mostly working-class area, students were placed into one of two groups pretty quickly: either you were smart enough and your parents wealthy enough that you were headed to college and a professional career, or you were not smart enough or your family wealthy enough for college, so you got a basic education and learned a trade.

“So what do you want to do when you get out of school, Sam?” the guidance counselor asked. “What kind of job are you thinking about?” “Well,” I said nervously, “I’m really into computers and hoping to study computer engineering at one of the state universities.” “No, Sam, I’m not kidding,” she said, genuinely agitated. “Your kind doesn’t go to college. You can work either construction or landscaping or get some other kind of service job.” That hurt.

Even though I had good grades that put me at the top of my class and I tested high on all aptitude and intelligence tests, this woman’s prejudice sent gale-force winds over the dream of a shy fifteen-year-old. And the worst part about it was that she seemed totally oblivious to the devastating power of her words. I knew two things when I left her office that day.

First, whatever I did later in life, I was going to make sure it wasn’t one of the three options she’d mentioned. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these jobs and the hardworking people who do them, I desired a different path. Second, I decided to work harder than ever to graduate at the top of my class. So being salutatorian when graduation day came gave me deep satisfaction!

Samuel Rodriguez, Shake Free: How to Deal with the Storms, Shipwrecks, and Snakes in Your Life, Waterbrook, 2018.

Coming To Terms with Institutional Racism

Christians in America must come to terms with how institutional racism has infected us. Few white persons in twenty-first-century America see themselves as racist. (Even fewer Asian, Latino, or African American persons do.) Most American Christians—white, black, or brown—are horrified by the idea of a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rally or by the public personality who occasionally gets caught saying the n-word. But personal animus against others because of the color of their skin isn’t the racism that turned the gospel against itself…

The sin that ripped the gospel in two—the spiritual root of our political divisions and class disparities—is a lie that was told centuries ago to justify owning, using, and abusing other human beings. Racism is about implicit bias as much as it’s about public policy. Its why a white applicant with a criminal record is likely to get a job as an African American with no criminal history.

And it’s why African American veterans of World War -ft didn’t benefit from the GI Bill-legislation offering educational funding, low-interest housing loans, and other support for veterans—the same way their white counterparts did. It is why, two and three generations later, the median disparity between the wealth of white and black families hasn’t changed, despite the advances of the civil rights movement. Racism is why historically black neighborhoods across America are gentrifying at breakneck speed while the families who built and sustained these communities are being displaced.

Taken from Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove Copyright (c) 2016 by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Concept of “Race” a Recent Development

The etymology of the word race, as used with regard to people, can be traced only to the sixteenth century. Around 1500 the English word race carried the sense of a group with a common occupation; by the 1540s the word had evolved to refer to a generation of people; and it wasn’t until about 1560 that it was used to denote a tribe, nation. Or people of common ancestry. Race’s “modern meaning of ‘one of the great divisions of mankind based on physical peculiarities’ is from 1774.”

The modern emergence of racism and preoccupation with racial identities can thus be located sometime after the Middle Ages, developing through the age of exploration and becoming fully established in the colonial era.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

In the wake of slavery and the Civil War, there was so much ugliness in black life that one would have had to be blind not to see it. And nothing, absolutely nothing, was uglier than lynching in all of its many forms: hanging, burning, beating, dragging, and shooting—as well as torture, mutilation, and especially castration.

And yet so many were blind, deaf, and dumb. What enabled artists to see what Christian theologians and ministers would not? What prevented these theologians and ministers, who should have been the first to see God’s revelation in black suffering, from recognizing the obvious gospel truth? Did it require such a leap of imagination to recognize the visual and symbolic overtones between the cross and the lynching tree, both places of execution in the ancient and modern worlds?

James Cone, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, Orbis Books, 2011, p.94.

The Expediency of White Supremacism

In order to justify colonialism, an idea like white supremacy was needed. The concept that whites were chosen by God and superior to people of color, who were less intelligent, less deserving, and savage, was born out of this need.

White supremacy provided the political, social, and religious permission to claim lands not previously governed by “Christian” white people and to conquer, exterminate, and subjugate the allegedly inferior races found there.

The African slave trade and the brutality toward, indeed genocide of, the people inhabiting the Americas (and elsewhere) were licensed by an unholy union of nationalist and religious zeal.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Goals of the KKK

If you’ve ever wondered what the explicit goals are of the Klu Klux Klan, here is a definition offered by the organization itself:

The goal of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is to unite White Christians through the bond of brotherhood and aid their awareness of the problems facing our country.

We will show you how and when to take action (in a non violent way). The United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is a patriotic, fraternal and law abiding organization. We uphold Christian values this country was founded on. We protect these values from those who seek to remove them from our society. Our ideology is simple, self preservation and the advancement of White Christian America.

“The Goal,” United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, July 13, 2018, www.unskkkk.com.

Institutional Racism: The Byproduct of Historical Racism

The ways that social structures and institutions systematically work against the interest of people of color is called institutional racism. Institutional racism and historic racism are not unrelated concepts. Historic racism is the primary way institutional racism forms, especially in a society that rejects overt racism. Institutional racism based on historically racist social structures is allowed to persist because it does not appear to directly discriminate against people of color. However, social structures have great power to shape the lives of minorities. For example, in 1937 the United States government set up the Federal Housing Administration Loan Program.

It was designed to help working-class people buy their own homes. The government would guarantee the loan and lower the interest rate. The program made home ownership possible for people who had no other means of buying a home. However, policy makers had a major concern. African Americans would also be able to purchase homes at a lower rate. Cheaper home loans created the possibility of integrated residential areas, since working-class blacks could purchase homes in the same area as working-class whites. The thought of racially integrated neighborhoods was troublesome in a society which still feared interracial friendships and marriages.

Segregated neighborhoods were seen as necessary to ensure that interracial friendships and romantic involvements did not develop. To prevent the FHA program from being used to create multiracial neighborhoods, loans were not given to blacks if they were going to use those loans to integrate a neighborhood. As a result, white working-class families were able to leave the decaying inner cities and purchase homes in the more prosperous suburbs. Since whites heavily populated the suburbs, blacks were not able to use the program to escape the economic devastation of their inner-city communities.

The program helped facilitate the process sociologists call white flight from poor inner-city neighborhoods. If you can identify white, black, Latino or Asian neighborhoods in your city, you can see the results of white flight. White flight is important not just because it reduces the possibility of interracial interaction between whites and blacks. It is also important because many of the majority group’s resources fled with them when they left the communities of color.

Trips into the predominantly black underclass sections of our larger cities will testify to this fact. Most of these areas have very little industry and few major stores. There are few jobs for those who live in these areas, unless they have the money to own a car to drive into the predominantly white areas.

…Today any black who qualifies for the FHA program can purchase a house in any neighborhood that he or she can afford. But the effect of earlier racism still shows in the housing patterns we see today. Furthermore, the historic effects create contemporary expectations which maintain residential segregation. The perception of blacks living in crime-filled neighborhoods with poor schools still exists to discourage whites from living among blacks.

Taken from Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey Copyright (c) 2006 by George Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Limited Definition of Racism

Years ago I was watching a daytime talk show which focused on interracial romantic relationships. On this show, the father of a white woman did not approve of his daughter’s engagement to a black man. Yet when members of the audience called him a racist, he objected.

From his point of view he was not a racist because even though he did not like blacks, he would not use the n word. Because he defined a racist as a person who used a particular racial insult, he felt free from the charge of racism. His limited definition of racist (voicing racial epithets) led to a limited solution (only avoid saying racial epithets). He was blind to the pain that his attitude caused both his daughter and the man to whom she was engaged.

Taken from Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey Copyright (c) 2006 by George Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Narrative of Racial Difference

In this excerpt by Bryan Stevenson, the civil rights attorney and author of Just Mercy, explains the origins of racial identity and difference, necessitated by a slave-based (American Christian) society and economy:

The whole narrative of white supremacy was created during the era of slavery. It was a necessary theory to make white Christian people feel comfortable with their ownership of other human beings. And we created a narrative of racial difference in this country to sustain slavery, and even people who didn’t own slaves bought into that narrative, including people in the North. . . .

So this narrative of racial difference has done really destructive things in our society. Lots of countries had slaves, but they were mostly societies with slaves. We became something different, we became a slave society. We created a narrative of racial difference to maintain slavery. And our 13th amendment never dealt with that narrative. It didn’t talk about white supremacy. The Emancipation Proclamation doesn’t discuss the ideology of white supremacy or the narrative of racial difference, so I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved.

It turned into decades of racial hierarchy that was violently enforced—from the end of reconstruction until WWII—through acts of racial terror. And in the north, that was tolerated. And so we are very confused when we start talking about race in this country because we think that things are “of the past” because we don’t understand what these things really are, that narrative of racial difference that was created during slavery that resulted in terrorism and lynching, that humiliated, belittled and burdened African Americans throughout most of the 20th century.

The same narrative of racial difference that got Michael Brown killed, got Eric Garner killed and got Tamir Rice killed. That got these thousands of others—of African Americans—wrongly accused, convicted and condemned. It is the same narrative that has denied opportunities and fair treatment to millions of people of color, and it is the same narrative that supported and led to the executions in Charleston [South Carolina].

Corey G. Johnson, “Bryan Stevenson on Charleston and Our Real Problem with Race,” interview with Bryan Stevenson, The Marshall Project, June 24, 2015.

One Kind of Folks

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

The Original Sin of Racism

The original sin of racism in America began with a deeply flawed and demonic notion that shaped this nations development. Bad science claimed that black bodies were biologically deficient, then extrapolated a sick sociology that assumed that people of color had to be placed in subordinate positions.

Evil economics perpetuated the lie that money and profit are the chief ends of human existence, and these ends justified almost any means. Slaveholder religion blessed all of this with a heretical ontology, asserting that God ordained racism, slavery, and systems of subjugation. The cumulative effect of this lie threatens not only the witness of Christianity in the world but also our existence as creatures on God’s good earth.

Taken from Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove Copyright (c) 2016 by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Our Silent Boycott

In his book Reconstructing the Gospel, pastor Jonathan WIlson-Hartgrove shares a story that revealed his own bias against Rap music, that is, a music form primarily identified with African-Americans in America:

Mario told me I needed to listen to some Tupac. “Alright,” I said. “Let me hear his best stuff.” I didn’t tell Mario that, where I grew up, people who were saved didn’t listen to rap music. I’d been saved since before I knew how to turn a radio dial. Not listening to 102 JAMZ wasn’t something anyone ever explained to me.

It was a given—like locking our doors when we drove through East Winston or scoffing at anything that smacked of big government. Our silent boycott of a whole genre of music couldn’t have had anything to do with the fact that rap was “black music.” We weren’t like that. I knew from an early age that I was a colorblind Christian. Besides, Vanilla Ice was one of the most notorious of the badboy rappers—and he was white…

Before I met Mario, it never occurred to me that I might be missing out on something by cutting myself off from the entire world of rap music. But I had begun to realize that my piety had its own contradictions. Like the fact that every church deacon I ever rode along with to the tobacco market played Garth Brooks on the truck radio.

About the time I hit puberty, I started to feel why a man might want to “slip on down to the oasis” and meet up with some “friends in low places.” Rappers, it turned out, weren’t the only entertainers who played to human passion. But those urges, I knew, had to be resisted—at least until marriage. That’s what they taught us in the True Love Waits program.

Taken from Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Copyright (c) 2018 by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Realizing We are Biased

When I went to seminary to prepare for the ministry, I met an African-American student, Elward Ellis, who befriended both my future wife, Kathy Kristy, and me. He gave us gracious but bare-knuckled mentoring about the realities of injustice in American culture. “You’re a racist, you know,” he once said at our kitchen table.

“Oh, you don’t mean to be, and you don’t want to be, but you are. You can’t really help it.” He said, for example, “When black people do things in a certain way, you say, ‘Well, that’s your culture.’ But when white people do things in a certain way, you say, ‘That’s just the right way to do things.’

You don’t realize you really have a culture. You are blind to how many of your beliefs and practices are cultural.” We began to see how, in so many ways, we made our cultural biases into moral principles and then judged people of other races as being inferior. His case was so strong and fair that, to our surprise, we agreed with him.

Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, Penguin Publishing Group.

The Theological Roots of Apartheid

Did you know that apartheid in South Africa was based in large part on theological doctrines that were formed at Stellenbosch University in the 1930s and 1940s? Isn’t that chilling? Many of the intellectuals at the university took part in the theoretical formulation of Afrikaner nationalism, and the distorted Christian theology that disseminated from Stellenbosch Seminary informed and fueled many Afrikaners’ belief that they were God’s chosen people.

They saw themselves as biologically superior to other races and therefore called to create a new segregated society that would allow them to civilize other people while not tainting themselves with the “darkness and barbarism” of those inferior groups. These doctrines gave the white South Africans religious justification for horrific crimes against their countrymen and women. More than 3.5 million black, Indian and biracial people were removed from their homes in what was one of the largest mass removals in modern history.

Nonwhite political representation was obliterated. Black South Africans were denied citizenship and relegated to the slums called “Bantustans.” The government segregated education, medical care, beaches and other public services, providing black, Indian and other “colored” people with significantly inferior services. The result was a segregated society where people were dehumanized based on beliefs that were supported by bad theology.

That’s why it’s crucial that our theology be sound. Our theology matters! Those who worked to construct a theological case for apartheid understood that a system of thought cloaked in biblical language would give persuasive force to their segregated system. Our theology informs our anthropology, which in turn informs our sociology. That is to say, what we believe about God will tell us what we believe about people; and what we believe about people will tell us what kinds of communities and societies we believe we should strive to create.

Taken from Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil (c) 2020 by Brenda Salter McNeil. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Venomous Creature At Your Bosom

Frederick Douglass describes how the evils of slavery and racism acts as a sap on the integrity of both our country and our faith in a God where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free:

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union.

It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” speech, Rochester, NY, July 5, 1852.

See Also Illustrations on Bias, DiversityRaceSegregation