Earlier this year, I discovered Derwin L. Gray on Twitter. I can’t even remember what he said, but it prompted me to check his bio, which told me he’s a former BYU football player, a pastor at a church in South Carolina, and a contributor to the Deseret News. It intrigued me. When I started following him, though, I had no idea how much of an impact that decision would have on my life.
Just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dr. Gray pointed out that many of the people who quote Dr. King have never actually read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I had to admit I had never read any of Dr. King’s writings. So I checked out a book from the library. Not long after, I noticed that Dr. Gray was publishing a book of his own on combatting racism. I decided I needed to read that book, too.
How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation is not your typical book addressing racism. Written for a Christian audience, Dr. Gray isn’t just telling us that we need to do and be better, but why we need to do and be better. Using the Bible, he points out how God has always asked people of different ethnicities to overcome their differences and become united.
I’ll admit, I never realized before just how difficult it was for Jews and Gentiles to come together as Christians after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The verses that mention their quibbles and arguments never stood out to me before. Dr. Gray’s words show me the Bible in a different light. All races, all nationalities, all people are God’s children and He wants us to learn to see each other as equals—to set aside those things that don’t matter in favor of the things that matter most, which are the doctrines of Christ’s gospel.
One concept from the book that stands out to me is that of Colorblindness vs. Color Blessedness. It’s a refrain we often hear: “I’m colorblind. I don’t see skin color. My kids don’t see skin color.” While those who say it likely mean well, Dr. Gray points out that it isn’t the compliment they believe it to be. A person’s skin color is a part of their identity, just as much as hair color or eye color. We can see the color of a person’s skin, accept the color of a person’s skin, and love the color of a person’s skin.
Having grown up in Utah, I could count on one hand the number of people I met before junior high who were Black. Even thirty years later the population of Utah is only 2% Black. When I first meet someone with dark skin, I can’t help but notice it. For the longest time, I felt guilty for noticing, thinking it was a flaw in my character. But Dr. Gray helps me to see that there’s nothing wrong with noticing the color of a person’s skin. It’s what I do afterwards that matters. I do my best to show my Black friends and acquaintances that I care about them and respect them for who they are. I can truly say that my life has been blessed by people of all colors because they help me to see the world from an ever-widening perspective.
Another thing I admire about Derwin Gray is his willingness to show us, through his own experiences, how to learn and grow. He gives us examples of how he has gotten it right, but he also allows us to see moments when he has gotten it wrong. We can learn from both his mistakes and his triumphs. Dr. Gray is inviting us to grow together, learning from each other no matter what our background.
Dr. Gray helps us to see that there is only one solution to the problem of racism, and that solution is by accepting Jesus Christ into our lives and striving daily to live like Him. Gray is realistic enough to recognize that this approach won’t be adopted in the world in general, where so many are unwilling to acknowledge our Savior. But for Christians, we should work to establish loving every neighbor as second nature. We are encouraged to widen our circles and establish friendships with people from a variety of ethnicities and cultures. Look beyond what is different and recognize what is the same.
The Book of Mormon tells us: “[God] denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female … and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33). After all, we are all His children.
Since my audience is predominantly Christian, I recommend this book to all of you. Dr. Gray’s style is simple and conversational. He speaks truth. His teachings, for the most part, align with the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and complement what we often hear over the pulpit. Together, perhaps we can make a difference in this imperfect world.