February 18, 2021
No one really wants to admit that they discriminate or have prejudices. I still hate admitting what I am about to tell you. The fact that I fear this group of people and go out of my way to avoid engaging with them makes me sick. I have justified my discrimination as discernment for many years. Until recently.
I was asked to be part of a mixed group of people from my church. It includes women from varied races, socioeconomic backgrounds, education, and neighborhoods. The group was formed following the death of George Floyd and the onslaught of racial unrest that followed. I had become aware of the disparity between whites and blacks many months prior but hadn’t been mobilized to do anything about it until the atrocities were filmed and in my face. But this isn’t the group I am guilty of discriminating against. At least, not consciously. I am certain I still have undiscovered bias’s that this group is meant to help me see. They are the women that helped me uncover a group of people that I secretly discriminated against most of my life.
The group I am speaking of are the homeless and mentally unstable. Panhandlers. Street people. Vagabonds. Addicts.
I lived in New York for many years and grew accustomed to passing homeless people on the streets, in the subway, and in doorways. It was there that I hardened my heart toward them. I avoided eye contact. I avoided conversation. I avoided interactions. I know why I avoided them. It was because I was afraid of them.
I had witnessed men pissing in the streets, yelling obscenities, and staggering down the road. I saw women tweaked out of their minds walking naked in winter. Rather than helping, I would cross to the other side of the road. I felt sorry for them but never did much. On the rare occasion, I would give a few dollars to a panhandler on the Subway who would sing or rap. Mostly, to ease my conscience. To alleviate the burden.
In my racial unity group, I realized that while I am aggressively addressing my racial bias’, I haven’t even begun to address my discrimination against the homeless.
I give to charity. I tithe at our church and on the rarest occasion, I will still roll down my window to give a few dollars to someone with a sign on the side of the street. I haven’t had the courage to go to the homeless are and feed them, clothe them, pray for them, and help them find shelter. That’s for other people. That’s for missionary types.
Wait. Didn’t Jesus ask us all to be on mission?
Yes. Yes, He did.
For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me. “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You? “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)
I am not getting off the hook by donating my money to charity. I am being convicted to stop avoiding eye contact, stop avoiding uncomfortable situations, and do something for the poor in my community. They are people created in the image of God…just like me.
Sharing this isn’t easy. It stinks. It makes me feel horrible. I want my life to be clean, safe, and happy. I could stay where I am. I could send money. I could continue to avoid real contact with a group of people I am afraid of or I can do what Jesus did. Get in the mix with the drunks, pimps, and hoes of His time.
I realize I’ll need more education. I need a way to learn how to be helpful. Walking down skid roe with a pocketful of cash is probably not the best way to serve. However, I want to be able to face all of God’s people with compassion and empathy. I am not content to stay on the sidelines when I realize that dismantling this fear will require a bit more skin in the game.
I’m no longer content with my secret discrimination.
I share this because I think too many of us are complacent in our mission. We are too busy to be inconvenienced. We don’t want to see the despair that is right outside our neighborhoods. There are people in every community that are hard to help. It isn’t easy but it is godly. It will build something in you personally and collectively. I’m asking myself, “If not me, then who?” Take an inventory of the mission Jesus commanded. How are you doing?
Sadly, I’ve only just begun.
If you are waiting for a sign of who you should serve, stop waiting and start looking. Start asking who are the people you struggle with the most. When Jesus told us to love thy neighbor there were no exceptions. Which of the following groups are hard for you to engage with? Maybe they are your secret discrimination?
Jesus doesn’t leave any room for discrimination, he loved us all.
Wow that’s powerful thanks for sharing ! Years ago my husband and I with our youth pastor and our youth would go to the tenderloin in San Francisco to minister to the homeless as I was walking the streets at night God showed me that the homeless are today’s leper’s . I can love the unlovely in the streets for him. But I have a difficult time loving Middle East men ! I feel compassion for their women because of how disrespectfully they are treated by the culture of men … my confession of my discrimination !
Oh Helen I love that! Thank you for sharing and being so transparent as well. We are in this together to grow in our faith.
This is so good Jess. Thank you so much for sharing and being vulnerable. Not everybody dares to speak up. You encouraged me to think about areas where I could be more loving and caring. I believe that being honest about ourselves opens many doors for us to change the world. It only takes one person to make a change.
Thank you for your thoughtful words Danitza. It is difficult to “tell on ourselves” but I agree that it opens doors.