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Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, and Race in America

By Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer

CBN.comI rented the movie The Hiding Place to show to my teen children. It's the dramatic story of Corrie Ten Boom and her family in occupied Holland during World War Two. The movie tells how the Ten Boom family hid several Jews in the attic of their house to protect them from the Nazis. In the end, many members of this Christian family died in the concentration camps.

I had watched the movie in theaters years ago and had read the book. But as I watched the video, one scene stood out to me. Corrie is leading a group of children with Down syndrome along the street when they come upon a violent scene. Several young men were destroying items from a glass shop as the shopkeeper stood in horror and the Nazi soldiers stood by, clearly amused by the spectacle.

One of the Nazi soldiers was the son of a German watchmaker who had visited the Ten Boom clock shop. When he greeted Corrie, she asked him why these young men were tormenting the shopkeeper. "He was heard to make statements derogatory to the Reich and our Fuhrer," he explained.

The Nazi soldier looked at the youngsters and asked, "Who are these children?"

"I teach a class," Corrie replied. "I tell them about God. At least I used to. This will be the last one thanks to your new directive concerning unauthorized meetings."

The soldier responds glibly, "Ms. Ten Boom, the measures are temporary … when order has been restored, then all the Aryan peoples will live together as brothers in our Reich."

Corrie replies, "Men live together as brothers only in the kingdom of our Lord. No where else."

I watched the rest of the movie and then I turned on the news in time to hear a reporter announce that Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer on the TV show Seinfeld, would be appearing on the David Letterman program immediately following the newscast. He would explain his racially-motivated outburst at an L.A. comedy club the Friday before.

This was the first I had heard about the incident and so I stayed tuned to watch. Like millions of Americans I was shocked by what I heard, but I was also amazed by what one newspaper described as "the most awkward moment in late-night TV history." During the Letterman show, a dazed and somber Richards apologized for racial comments used against two black hecklers at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.

During his stand-up comedy routine, Richards lost his temper and called the hecklers the "n-word." Then when they yelled back that his comments were uncalled for, he flew into a rage and referenced a time when blacks were lynched for speaking out.

Richards said his verbal barrage during a stand-up routine was fueled by anger and not bigotry. "I'm deeply, deeply sorry. I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this."

Footage of the outburst made its way onto the Internet over the weekend, prompting the comic actor's response on the Letterman show.

The clip is truly disturbing. The video shows Richards interrupting his monologue onstage and yelling "Shut up!" at the hecklers. Richards then exploded, "Fifty years ago they'd have you hanging upside down…"

After several minutes of racial slurs Richards tells the audience, "It shocks you, it shocks you" and refers to "what lays buried" -- we can only assume he meant what lays burried within the human heart.

As several in the audience were leaving their seats, Richards abruptly dropped the microphone and stepped down from the stage.

Sadly, Richards is just one of several famous people who have struggled recently with racially-motivated comments in public. 2006 has been a year where celebrities and politicians, who insist they are not racist, have made derogatory racial slurs.

Richards' apology was eerily similar to Mel Gibson's assertion that he wasn't anti-Semitic after he let off a barrage of Jewish slurs during a drunken traffic stop last summer. Gibson apologized repeatedly for the drunken rant against a Jewish policeman who arrested him in July.

Sen. George Allen also apologized after calling a young worker for his opponent "macaca" at a rally in August. The incident contributed to Allen's defeat in the November election.

Comedian Paul Rodriguez, who was on the bill with Richards, said he went "way over the line." "The audience came here expecting to see Kramer, and they got Mark Fuhrman," Rodriguez said, referring to the racist police detective in the O.J. Simpson case.

So what's going on in America? Is there really this much racial angst boiling just below the surface?

I believe these incidents raise a mirror to the American face and remind us that even though we have made great strides in race relations over the past 40 years, there are still blemishes that require attention.

America -- like most countries in the world today -- is a land of racial diversity. As a people, we know that we must strive to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King's dream that, "one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

So why do we fall short of this goal time and time again? Why do men like George Allen, Mel Gibson, and Michael Richards adamantly claim that they are not racist, and yet spew forth racial slurs in moments of weakness?

I believe it relates to the words of Corrie Ten Boom -- a victim of the worst racism in the history of the world. Her words to the Nazi guard should help us to understand our own dilemma as we strive to live together in peace:

"Men live together as brothers only in the kingdom of our Lord. No where else."

Corrie Ten Boom recognized the fallen nature of man apart from the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The list of atrocities committed by sinful mankind seem endless -- from the murder of Abel, to the horror of the Holocaust.

There are some wishful thinkers who believe that education is the key to peace among men. If only people were educated in the civilized treatment of their fellow men then we would all live in peace. But Germany was one of the most educated nations in the world and it unleashed the horror of World War Two and the Holocaust.

Others say that we're evolving into a more civilized state as time marches on and that racism and cruelty are a thing of the past. So how do you explain the atrocities of Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo -- not to mention 9/11 and the genocide in Sudan.

The utopian myth of united nations and united people is shattered in the wake of man's unfettered hatred and the abuse of his fellow man.

So is there any hope? Yes, there is. As Corrie Ten Boom bravely told the Nazi guard all those years ago, in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, men and women can live together as brothers and sisters. The apostle Paul, a Jew, writes this to his Gentile brothers and sisters:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT)

It is only the love of Christ that invades our soul at salvation that allows us to overcome the hatred and fear that lurks beneath the surface in every person born on earth. When we surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, His blood not only covers our sins, but it completely washes them away. Then as we grow in our relationship with God, our minds and our hearts are transformed by the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

This is how we are changed from the inside out, from people of hate into people of love. Again, the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians about this miraculous occurrence:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

And to the Corinthians he wrote:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:17-19)

When we allow the Holy Spirit to begin the process of transforming us into this new creation, our hearts are changed and so our values are altered -- and then our behavior and words follow. Instead of speaking words of division, hatred, and fear, we speak words of life and words of love.

The only way we will ever have peace among men is when the Prince of Peace is guiding our lives.

Let's pray for Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, and George Allen -- but let's also pray for ourselves and for each other -- that the Prince of Peace would reign in our hearts so that we can truly become ministers of reconciliation -- reconciling man to man, and man to God.

You may be wrestling with hatred and fear. These feeling may have even surprised you as they have bubbled up to the surface. You can find the same love and peace in your life that Corrie Ten Boom had in hers. If you want Jesus to become the Prince of Peace in your life pray this simple prayer with me:

Heavenly Father, I come to you in Jesus' name. I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave to give me life. I know You are the only way to God so now I want to quit disobeying You and start living for You. Please forgive me, change my life and show me how to know You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, please send us an e-mail to let us know. Or you can call The 700 Club Prayer Counseling Center at (800) 759-0700. We would love to talk with you and send you some literature to help you begin your walk with the Lord -- the Prince of Peace!

Send Craig your e-mail comments on this article.

More Perspectives on Spiritual Life

More from Spiritual Life

Read ChurchWatch, Craig's Blog on CBN.com

More from Craig von Buseck on CBN.com


Craig von  BuseckCraig von Buseck is Ministries Director for CBN.com. Send him an e-mail with your comments. Order Craig's book on Shop CBN: Seven Keys to Hearing God's Voice

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