Help me, I’m a racist!

”Help me, I’m a racist!” This was what a white South African church member said to his pastor. The pastor was Dr. Frederick Marais from the Dutch Reformed Church who was sharing this experience at a seminar on ”Missional Forms of Work in Old Churches in a New World” in Haslev, outside of Copenhagen today.

Very often in the church we would address this issue through preaching and teaching, Marais said, but experience shows that the outcome may only be that the racist develops a bad conscience but not necessarily a behavioural change. In the seminar Marais told us how he tried to help this man deal with this toxic habit. He pointed out that while we as church have largely abandoned the hope of transforming people’s lives, life style programmes are booming worldwide, programmes that step by step will help people achieving life style changes, whether it be helping people to reduce their weight or helping them to achieve running a marathon.

Habits may be toxic and life-threatening, but habits may also be life-giving. The question, however, is how do we exchange toxic habits with life-giving habits if preaching and teaching is not sufficient?

In order to develop new life-giving habits to replace the toxic habits you need to
– identify the toxic habit
– desire new life, desire to change
– build a ‘container’ (like a gym) to practice the new habit
– do not start with everybody
– start with a small group or with yourself

The ‘container’, which is a concrete framework for practicing a new habit must
– be clear and have exclusive boundaries
– involve a do-able action with small steps
– include a public commitment
– have encouraging accountability structures
– lead to reaching the tipping point of “self-mastering,”

Frederick Marais referred to John Stott, who once wrote: “Holiness is not a condition into which we drift. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us. On the contrary, we have purposefully to ‘put away’ from us all conduct that is incompatible with our new life in Christ, and to ‘put on’ a lifestyle compatible with it.”

Frederick Marais is a theologian from a reformed church, which like Lutheran churches puts great emphasis on justification by grace and faith, and also – unlike most Lutheran churches – emphasizes sanctification. But maybe we Lutherans may also be in need sanctification. May we as Lutherans also see sanctification or – or – to use another term – transformation as part the life to which Christ is calling us?

So what did this reformed pastor do to help the man who had realised that he was a racist? The pastor asked him to commit himself to a six-week program. Each day this white man should greet at least one black person. He should look him or her in the eyes, shake hands with him, and talk to him. The pastor would meet him each week to hold him accountable. The racist man agreed to do so, but for the first couple of weeks the man reported that he had not managed to do what they had agreed upon, but he was encouraged not to give up. On the third and fourth week he managed on some days to greet a black person, and on the fifth and sixth week he managed to not only greet a black person each day but also to initiate a long conversation with some black persons. Today this man has overcome his racist feelings towards black people.

Haslev, Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Mogens S. Mogensen

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