By Clifford Goldstein
When my children were young, I told them that in America some hotels once had posted signs outside saying, “No Jews or dogs allowed.” My daughter, six, was horrified. “Why,” she asked, “didn’t they allow dogs?” Oh, the innocence of youth.
Yes, there was a day in America when some hotels didn’t allow in Jews or dogs, a day when my father in college was discouraged from being an engineer because, well, America just didn’t want Jews as engineers. Yet, whatever problems Jews faced here, it’s nothing compared to what Blacks have suffered over the centuries in “Christian” America.
Though many Jews came over to escape persecution in Europe, all immigrated voluntarily. Not one made the voyage chained in the hull of a ship. Not one was ever placed on a block and auctioned off like a horse to the highest bidder. Not one was ever forced into a lifetime of slavery for himself and his children. Not one was ever classified by the U.S. Supreme Court as “property.” And though Jews did face indignities, I never heard of a Jew in America being forced to give his or her seat to a Gentile.
In short, I can’t even begin to comprehend what the Black experience has been in America. Though after the Holocaust in Europe, it became less chic to be anti-Semitic here— even at the height of American antipathy toward Jews, we never suffered what Blacks in this country have at the hands of American racists. And that’s not just during slavery but in our “emancipated” lifetime.
I’ll never understand how anyone professing Christianity, even the most generic form, could ever, in any way, countenance racism. What’s even more incomprehensible to me, now that I’m a believer in Jesus, is that it took a bunch of agnostics and liberals—most of whom were non-believers in Jesus—to get Bible Belt believers to let Black men use the same toilet White men did. What’s wrong with this picture?
Fortunately, my religion tells me not to judge people. I can’t judge hearts because one day the Most Righteous of Judges will do just that. What my religion does tell me to, however, is to strive with all my God-given strength to live out the principles of my faith. These principles command me to treat all people with dignity and worth, since all were created in God’s image and then included in His plan of salvation. It took just as much of Christ’s blood to save a White as a Black. That fact alone should prove our moral equality, regardless of whatever signs (“No Jews or Dogs Allowed,” “Whites Only”) were placed either figuratively or literally outside the doors of Christ-less hotels, restaurants and yes, churches.
Clifford Goldstein, author of many books and articles, is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide at the General Conference.
Republished from the February 2006 issue of Outlook magazine.