By Derwin L. Gray
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, CSB).
It was a normal day. I was going about my business. I had just wrapped up sermon prep at my favorite coffeehouse, and I was in my Jeep at a busy intersection. I had the windows rolled down, enjoying the warm, sunny North Carolina day, when a big truck with three white guys drove past. As they sped past me, I heard them yell, “N—!”
Normally, I would have prayed for these young men, asking Jesus to heal their hateful hearts. But this time, something in me snapped. Perhaps it was hate-filled emails calling me a race-baiter or watching neo-Nazis march through Charlottesville, Virginia that got the best of me that day. Or maybe it was the Mother Emanuel shooting in which a white supremacist killed nine Black people after they invited him into their Bible study. Whatever it was, before I knew it, I was flooring it. I found myself darting through traffic like a NASCAR driver chasing these guys. After about two miles, I pulled up beside them at a stoplight and yelled, “What did you say?” With a tremble in his voice, one of them said, “We didn’t say anything.” Terror filled their eyes.No one can make me act like I don’t follow Jesus unless I give them the power to do so. — @DerwinLGray Click To Tweet
When I saw the faces of these young men, my anger dissipated. They drove off when the light turned green, and I pulled over to talk with Jesus. I repented for allowing them to draw me into the circle of hate. No one can make me act like I don’t follow Jesus unless I give them the power to do so. In that moment, I gave a word with an ugly history—a word that does not define me or any other Black person—the power to take my love away. There was no righteous anger in me. It was just anger. I wanted to do violence to them, but that wouldn’t make me better than them. I repented for scaring these young men.
Yes, they sinned against me, but I didn’t have to return sin for sin. In the power of the risen Messiah, I don’t have to seek retribution. The cycle of violence must be broken by people of love. Loving those young men who called me the N-word may not make them love me, but it keeps me from hating them. We must never allow our souls to disintegrate into hate. I repented for driving angrily and dangerously down a busy street. I could have caused a major accident. What if I had caught them and physically hurt them? The devil would’ve had a dance party celebrating my destruction.
As I gathered myself, surrendering my hurt and my pride to Jesus, I was revived in my passion to live as a reconciler, a bridge-builder, a man of peace. I was invigorated to serve and equip my church to flourish more in being a multiethnic, gospel-centered church. My resolve to help create a movement of Jesus-focused, gospel-shaped, multiethnic churches was strengthened. The future world belongs to the peacemakers. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, CSB).In the power of the risen Messiah, I don’t have to seek retribution. The cycle of violence must be broken by people of love. — @DerwinLGray Click To Tweet
My initial response was not the response of a peacemaker. I wanted to rip those guys to pieces. This caused me to appreciate even more the deep discipleship of the young Black men and women of the Civil Rights era. They staged restaurant sit-ins and other nonviolent protests in the face of lynching, police beatings, and racial injustice. I couldn’t imagine being called the N‑word while police dogs rip flesh from my bones the way many experienced. And many, like Dr. King, paid the ultimate price with their lives.
William Bell, former mayor of Birmingham, describes the Civil Rights era by saying, “During that period of time you had people who were being murdered, homes being bombed, churches being bombed, and there was a sense that evil would prevail.” Yet in the face of this, these men and women resolutely yet nonviolently pursued justice. New Testament professor Dennis Edwards considers how this was possible: “Sections of the Bible, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), encouraged African Americans and their allies to stand up to white supremacist mobs, brutal law enforcement agents, dogs, and hoses. Rather than being a sign of passivity and weakness, ’turning the other cheek’ (Matthew 5:39) became an indictment upon such bullies as Bull Connor of Birmingham, Alabama, and the law enforcement agents in Selma, Alabama, who bloodied demonstrators marching across the Edmund Pettis Bridge on March 7, 1965.”
Is being a peacemaker easy? No. Is it the Christian’s calling? Yes.
Is being a racial reconciler easy? No. Is it the Christian’s calling? Yes.
Choose this day to be peacemaker and racial reconciler.
Derwin is the co-founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. He is a former NFL player and author of several books, including his most recent, How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation. Learn more at DerwinLGray.com.