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Commentary: Race relations, like Lazarus, return to life

1/21/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photo of Connie Davis Rouse is available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html.

A UMNS Commentary By Connie Davis Rouse*

During Christmas break a few years ago, my youngest daughter brought home a beautiful, green house plant that she had kept in her college dorm room.

After a few days, I heard my daughter make reference to Lazarus. I inquired who Lazarus might be. She responded that Lazarus was her plant. I could not understand why she would give that name to such a beautiful thing. My daughter smiled and said, "I named it that because even though it's always dying, it keeps coming back to life."

February is Black History Month. Some feel more comfortable calling it Race Relations Month. When I think of race relations in America, I think of the "Lazarus Syndrome." It's always dying, but through the grace of God, it keeps coming back to life. Let's look at it.

First there was slavery, a death of race relations. Then, came the Emancipation Proclamation. Though it only freed the slaves in the South while allowing slavery to continue in the North, the proclamation breathed hope back into the idea of racial equality.

When the Confederate Army surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, the states were soon solidified and slaves were set free. It looked like racial discrimination would be a thing of the past, and we would all live together in harmony. Blacks were given the right of citizenship in 1868, as well as the right to vote in 1870. During the Reconstruction period, people of color were even elected to public office. Yes, even in the South.

However, many whites in the South were not happy with this arrangement, so they invented the Jim Crow laws. These laws were created to discriminate against black people by taking back the rights they had gained after the war. An inability to vote due to unfair voting regulations, as well as beatings, cross burnings and lynching, plagued African Americans for decades without relief. Race relations were dead, once again, in the South.

Then came the civil rights movement, and even though leaders like Medgar Evers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John Kennedy were assassinated, the Civil Rights Bill was still passed under the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Government also created the idea of affirmative action to undo the wrongs that had been committed in the past. This bill embraced all ethnicities that had been discriminated against, as well as women. Things got better and race relations were reborn.

In recent years, the climate in the United States has changed. We have seen church burnings and hate crimes, as well as a resurgence of hate groups and the spectacle of states in the South battling over whether or not the Confederate flag should fly from government buildings. The economy is in a recession, and some fear that race relations will decline further. I say: Only if we allow it.

At our last General Conference, our bishops and delegates came together for a service of reconciliation and repentance for racism. This action by white United Methodists helped promote healing so the church of today could stand strong and unified.

Some say they would not apologize for something that they did not actually do. However, I believe the act of repentance was a noble gesture, an example of true Christianity at its finest. Christians, for a few fleeting moments, bore the burden for the sins of their forefathers and mothers to promote racial harmony and reconciliation in the church. That's what Jesus did. This perfect, blameless Savior bore the sins of the world to bring us back into right relationship with God.

I suspect that until the world ends, race relations in America will continue to experience the Lazarus Syndrome. I suspect that the same will happen in the church, for it seems that all of us have not fully understood one simple concept: No one is better than we are, but we are no better than anyone else, for we all were created by the same God.

Yes, there may be points in time when we are not as unified as we should be. There may be times when all hope seems lost, especially when we hear one of our distinguished U.S. senators insinuate that segregation would have been best for our nation. Yet, there are still those who tell me constantly that they are not going back. They want a better church, a better world, where all people can live together in harmony and peace, the way God intended.

Lazarus lived by the grace of God, and by that same grace, so can we!
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*Rouse is a free-lance writer, columnist for the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate and member of Disciples United Methodist Church in Greenville, S.C.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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