Recently President Obama stated that “The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination is in almost every institution of our lives, you know; that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of Americans’ DNA that’s passed on.”
Frankly, Mr. President, the problem with our DNA is much bigger than you think. We have a DNA problem much bigger than racism; that problem is SIN. The corruption of our DNA goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. St. Paul described it in Romans 3: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away…” King David affirmed this truth about himself: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). This biblical truth directly contradicts the modern secular view that all people are basically good, yet for some strange reason (perhaps poverty or lack of education) they sometimes do bad things.
The official United Methodist position about the nature of man supports the biblical view: “We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil” (Article VII- UM Confession of Faith).
This biblical truth about the nature of man is the doctrine of ORIGINAL SIN. John Wesley listed this as one of the essential seven doctrines of the Christian faith. All people are born with some degree of brokenness in their DNA. It is the “hangover” from our ancestral rebellion against God and takes diverse forms. The brokenness in our DNA can cause tendencies toward certain diseases or sexual dysfunction or greed or racism. For example, we know that a genetic factor is related to some alcoholism. The symptoms of sin in our DNA are legion.
While racism or racial prejudice can be part of our DNA, it is not peculiar to America. Go to any country on earth and you will discover the sinful tendency to divide over one issue or another. Often the differences are racial or ethnic. And, when the people of a given country are of the same color, the divisions are often related to degree of color or class or economics or education or religion.
There is only one cure for our broken DNA: to recognize and repent for our brokenness and to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That repentance and faith open our heart to the living Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The complete healing of our DNA will come in God’s Kingdom on the other side of death. But even in this life, Christ begins to heal our broken DNA. Though we will never be completely free of sin in this life, as we grow in Christ we become more and more alert and resistant to the urges of our broken nature. No longer is our brokenness the dominant power in our lives; Jesus Christ has become Lord.
The bad news, Mr. President, is that our DNA problem is much bigger than just racism and racial prejudice. No amount of income redistribution or number of “teaching moments” will fix our problem. Only in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is there hope of real and lasting change.
Dr. Bill Bouknight is the Associate Director of The Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church. He studied at Duke University, received a Masters of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh, an STM from Yale Divinity, and an honorary D.D. from Wofford College.