First, my personal kudos to the students and faculty at Peninsula High School for their diversity initiatives to foster appreciation of one another.
Bellingham was home during my high school years, 58 years ago. It was a white city; not by decree but just by historic settlement. Dutch farmers developed the farms along the Nooksack River where kids hired on to pick berries in season. The Norwegian members of my church held a lutefisk banquet each year to raise funds. Some classmates were descendants of Slavic fishing families, just like Gig Harbor today. Yes, there was the Lummi Indian Reservation and one Lummi family attended our church.
My high school class of 501 graduates did not include a single black student and had only three Jewish students, who were impressive and popular.
At church, I learned that we are all children of a loving heavenly Father and thus brothers and sisters, but Bellingham was not a place to test inclusion or appreciate much diversity.
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Two years later I was called on a Mormon mission to Brazil where I would live for 2½ years among one of the most racially mixed populations of the time. Historically, for every African slave brought to the United States, 12 were taken to Brazil. The assimilation of races there had been much more complete than in the southern U.S. As I was in the service of God, I developed a love for people of color, and for all men and women, which has stayed with me to this day.
I am still white, and must appreciate that some privilege may attach to that, but have not sought it at the expense of others. I love to return to Brazil now almost yearly and see my churches and temples full of people of color. Diversity, I suppose, among a unity of faith.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, as recorded in John, chapter 4, a story too poignant and marvelous to tell, so I invite you to read it. The Samaritans were looked down upon and actively discriminated against by the Jews — a kind of perversion of historic commandments to avoid wicked behaviors which had turned into ethnic hatred.
The woman was surprised that Jesus would even speak to her, let alone ask her to draw water for him. When he evidenced a prophetic knowledge of her checkered past and offered her “water springing up into everlasting life” she could only blurt out, “I know that the Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.” In solemn grandeur Jesus replied, “I that speak unto thee am he.”
This was not just another itinerant Jew passing through her country to Galilee. This was the Christ, the Son of God, who alone could supply the living water unto eternal life, quietly announcing His divinity.
Excitedly, the woman ran back to the nearby village announcing, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”
Jesus had none of the bitter hostility toward Samaritans held by the vast majority of Jews at that time. In a society where the status of women was in no way equal to that of men, the Lord who loves all people treated this woman as a sister — not an inferior or an enemy. He accepted her for who she was, blemishes and all.
Thankfully, we may learn, he does not demand perfection in those who come unto him.
Author Alexander B. Morrison, wrote “Jesus’ rejection of racism, which must be such a terrible affront to God and the curse of societies the world over, should remind all of the literal truth of the Apostle Paul’s statement that God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.’”
The truth that we are all children of God, taught to me in my youth, bridges the gulf that keeps us apart from others because their race, gender, creed or ethnicity is different than our own. Jesus is again our exemplar, teaching us to love God and our fellow man, a standard on which we may build our own attitudes and actions.