I didn’t know a lot about Muslims, other than 9/11 and what I saw on the news. I was in a Sunday School class where we were being told we should love Muslims, that God loves Muslims. One man stood up and said, “If I’m being honest, I’d have to admit I wouldn’t care if they were shot in the head.”
I was taken aback but respected his honesty, and I then I felt the Holy Spirit prod me that I felt the same way—if I was honest. I was shocked by that reality—that irrespective of what the Lord intended toward Muslims, I was indifferent about their demise.
While the above story may be surprising, and even painful, to read, it is sadly not unusual or different from sentiments that we may hear daily online, on the radio, and sometimes even in our personal relationships. The cursing of ethnic identity (the skin God put us in) is all around us. I asked for permission to share my colleague's story as a place to start as we explore the ways that we can learn to speak life instead of death, to bless instead of curse.
Deep down, I believe we intuitively know that something is broken in our relationships with people who are culturally different than us. There is a desire to see transformation, but this desire is quickly overcome by discouragement; the concerns of “what can I do?” along with “I don’t understand” leave us disempowered and disengaged.
This article begins to explore the route toward understanding the racial and ethnic tensions that are happening around us. We'll examine what both blessing and cursing look like when they are directed at the skin God put us in, and we'll consider why repenting of ethnic cursing is pertinent to the process of blessing.
What is Blessing and Cursing?
The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines bless and curse as, “The act of making a binding verbal pronouncement of good or evil on another person or persons.” Cursing is also defined as expressing ill will toward someone, or wishing bad outcomes on a person.
This definition brings to life the words of Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” James 3:10 points out that too often “blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” Jesus described devaluing others through words as a serious offense in Matthew 5:22: “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
We carry life and death in our words of blessing or cursing.
When I bless, I agree with the Lord about what the future of a person or group should be.
In the same way when I speak curses (ill will) over a person, I’m agreeing with the enemy as to what their future should be. Ethnic identity is a common, and uniquely damaging, area of our lives where this can happen.
Blessing and Cursing Ethnic Identity
Ethnicity is something every human has. You, me, we all have social groupings we belong to. Ethnicity is defined as a group of people who identify with each other based on similarities of common ancestry, language, history, culture, nationality, and beliefs. Our ethnic groupings can be simple or very complex. For example, I’m an English-speaking American who is black, white, Native American, Latina, and a Christian.
Take a moment and think about your own ethnic makeup.
For all of human history, ethnicity has been a context for curses.
Human beings have always felt a natural sense of camaraderie with people who they perceive as more similar to themselves, and a sense of fear and mistrust for people who live differently or look differently than themselves. This fear of people "different" from ourselves has been used to justify the devaluing of entire ethnic groups as worthless or subhuman all over the world and throughout different eras of human history. In the United States, negative ethnic beliefs created a context which provided justification for the destruction of the indigenous peoples, the African slave trade, and ethnicity-based discriminatory practices. Today the nation is still wrestling with the effects of these historic practices, current lies surrounding ethnic identity, and other forms of ethnic cursing.
Big things like slavery or discriminatory practices around housing, education, or incarceration are the extreme societal out-workings of the underlying beliefs and judgments everyday people hold that go unsurrendered, unrepented of and unhealed by Jesus. When I think about what we speak over each other’s ethnic groups in these small daily moments, it’s enough to bring me to my knees. I myself have uttered more ethnic curses than I care to own to.
So, let's take some time to examine how our thought life and belief systems contribute to all levels of ethnic cursing, from indifference to the systematic oppression of a people group.
From Thought to Action
There is always something that happens before we get to the point of cursing—the processes of pre-judging and judging. Judgments and prejudices create the condition out of which cursing flows.
Judgment can mean many different things, but for the purposes of this article we mean the psychological phenomenon of a person forming opinions of other people, usually in an effort to determine their worth and/or goodness. When we judge, we take on God's role in deciding if someone is worthy or not worthy to be loved and respected.
Prejudice is a preconceived opinion or conclusion likely to be harmful to another person or their rights based on the person’s group membership. For example, if we expect a person to be irresponsible, intellectually inferior, or prone to criminality based on their ethnicity, we have made a negative judgment based on prejudice.
Continuing the story shared at the beginning of this article, my colleague realized that judgment and prejudice had influenced her feelings about Muslims. She writes,
“I had built a whole host of judgments against Muslims as a people, many of which came out of believing stereotypes and painful action toward the country of my birth.
“Was I justified in my judgments? Was that something I had earnestly put before the Father?”
Similarly, when I learned about the power of judgments, I became intentional about allowing the Lord to search my heart (Psalm 139), so I could release myself, others, and groups from the effects of the judgments I had spoken and believed.
What do judgments do?
Judgments build prisons of our own opinions around others and ourselves. We decide about a person's goodness or badness and lock them into that opinion. We in turn lock ourselves into that same opinion. This is why we are warned in Matthew 7:1–2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
These prisons of judgment are defiling conditions of the heart for both the person or group being judged and the person or group doing the judging.
Some judgments are formed as a result of ways we’ve been wounded.
Hebrews 12:15 says, “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
A bitter-root judgment can often form from our sinful reactions to injustice or hurt.
Before we go on, it’s important to clarify that the Lord does not intend to nullify injustice or minimize the real impact it inflicts, but we can have both righteous and sinful reactions to injustice. Today we are discussing effects of sinful reactions to injustice that lead to the formation of judgments.
Bitter-root judgments are usually formed in childhood or from repeated negative experiences. They often stem from situations like these:
Condemning judgments from parents or others.
Ungodly sinful responses to pain.
The inability to forgive—an example being holding onto anger from experiences, whether they were unjust or not.
Here are some examples of these judgments: men are untrustworthy, my people are superior to those people, foreigners are dishonest, or my skin color is bad.
Judgments impact our choices to engage (or avoid) people of different ethnic groups. Judgments also impact the decisions we make about those we consider “other.”
Let me give you an example from my own life. My husband is from Michigan, while I grew up in Orange County in California. In addition, I am multi-ethnic and he is white. When he was first taking me to visit his home town in Michigan he told me, “Don’t tell people you’re from Orange County. They are automatically going to think of the show Housewives of Orange County and they’re going to totally misjudge you.” I laughed but I knew what judgments he was talking about: liberal, no morals, “think they are better than others” rich city people.
The truth is, I was going to small-town America, and we “city folks” have our prejudices too. I thought I would run into racism everywhere and not have much in common with people I assumed would be close-minded. Although I did engage with some derogatory statements and attitudes, it was much less often than I’d expected. In fact, I met folks fighting the good fight and I made real friends whom I love today and share a lot in common with. I’d like to think that meeting a real Orange County girl challenged folks’s perspectives of people from my hometown as well.
You see, I had locked an entire group of people in my prison of opinion, just as they had me. We thought we knew each other but we didn’t. We let our judgments hinder entering into relationship with each other, and even bigger, influence the decisions we made about people living in our respective communities. Our prejudices were robbing us of thinking and acting humanly toward each other.
The Lord really used this experience to challenge my own prejudice of small-town white America. Where do you think the Lord wants to challenge you?
If we are to find healing together from the curses and judgments we have spoken toward each other, we must be willing to face the effects they have had on us and address the ways we have participated. Prejudice can inform judgments, which we internalize as belief systems. We speak curses out of our beliefs and pass laws to enforce them. In very real ways, these small thoughts and words we speak contribute to big things like discriminatory housing practices and race-based mass shootings. All of which steal, kill and destroy due to one's ethnic identity.
Let’s finish my colleague’s story, because it shows us how these judgments can begin to be reversed:
Fast forward three years. My family is called and preparing to move overseas to share the love of Jesus to Muslims! Yes, that’s right. What?! God had downloaded a love for Muslims to my husband but not to me—yet. Through some travels I met some Muslim women who I got to personally connect with and hear their stories. My heart started to soften toward this group. In the years to come, the Lord would grow my heart to bless Muslims.
After moving overseas, I met, through great trial in my own life, Masirah: a hijab-wearing Muslim woman. Through the course of a year of great tribulation as she helped our family, she became closer than a sister. Not only did she constantly forgive our known and unknown offenses, but she often put our family’s needs above her own. Through this the Lord challenged my judgments against Muslims.
When I had to unexpectedly leave the country, we couldn’t believe we wouldn’t see one another again and we cried over each other. God had given me such a love for this woman that when we returned to the States she was the person I cried and prayed over the most.
When I was finally returned to the country three years later, I was able to get back to Masirah’s city and see her again. Upon seeing her, I felt such an overflow of love and relief to finally be reunited. I held her and cried. We met in a mall and were walking arm in arm—a white American Christian and an Asian Muslim woman. I commented to Masirah about how many stares we were getting—we didn’t care, my sister and I.
That day we blessed each other by embracing and accepting each other. Jesus had me on the path from cursing to blessing.
Preparing to Bless
Before engaging in the act of blessing ethnic identity, which we will cover in the next article, we should first submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit to search our hearts for any curses, judgments, or mindsets we hold against people of other ethnicities or even our own ethnic group. His heart is to bring us back into alignment with his truth. When our hearts are aligned and under the Lordship of our King Jesus, the blessings that we pronounce can have deeper impact.
For many of us, our journey may start today as we choose to uproot bitter judgments, renounce curses, repent, and change mindsets so we can bless in alignment with God’s truth.
On Your Own with Jesus: A Prayer to Address Judgments/Curses
Prayer to search hearts:
Jesus, what wrong judgments/curses have I held about other people groups or my own people group? (Listen for the Lord's reply.)
Jesus, show me where I first started believing or agreeing with this judgment/curse. (Listen for the Lord's reply.)
[Depending on the root of the judgment you may need to bring your emotional pain to Jesus, forgive an injustice (sin) against you, forgive a person or yourself, and repent.]
Prayer to break the judgments/curses:
Jesus, I confess that I have held the judgment or spoken the curse (state here) about (person or people group).
This judgment has bound them and me in a prison of opinion (Matthew 7:1–5). I forgive (the offender/myself) for the way they hurt me and I put righteous judgment for this injustice into your hands, Lord.
I renounce my wrong judgment/curse and I break the power of this judgment/curse over their life and mine. I cancel all effects it has had.
In the name of Jesus I command any demonic spirits that may have gained access to me through this judgment/curse to leave in Jesus’s name. Lord, fill this space with your Holy Spirit. I now invite you, Lord, to speak the truth of who this person/people group/myself is in your eyes. (Listen for the Lord's reply.)
Jesus, what do you love about their ethnic group? Lord, what do you love about mine?
Look for our next post on moving into blessing ethnic identity!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
This piece was a collaborative effort from the Ethnic Reconciliation Project within Prime Healing.
Colletta Rhoads (author) is a Novo field staff member in South Africa working in issues of ethnic identity, inner healing, and deliverance. Her heart is to help normalize conversations of ethnicity and justice within the Church in order to see tangible transformation in our societies around ethnic conflict and the wounding that results from it.
Tara Wawelo (co-author) has a passion for creating spaces to learn about and delight in the beautiful complexities of our God-given gift of culture. In her work as a professor of cultural anthropology in SoCal, she loves to create opportunities for others to struggle through how culture influences their worldview, identity, and Christian walk.
Liz (co-author) is a Novo field staff member working in Eurasia. Her heart is to see gospel movements in ethnic groups who have experienced generations of conflict. She desires to utilize strategic and inner healing prayer to initiate breakthrough and healing.
[Photo credit: Portrait collage at top of article from the Flickr Portrait Gallery]