So, I was thinking about my last couple of posts – the one, which encouraged you to have conversations asking about the perspectives of other ethnicities, and the other, which provided an opportunity to listen in on a conversation in the form off a video. It seems that each time I put something out there and press the publish button I begin thinking about how you could have said it better and how I overlooked things that I should have addressed. At any rate, I wanted to give some cautions about the request that you have conversations with other races about race. One of the cautions is that it’s not necessarily appropriate to ask someone of another race about race outside of the context of a genuine friendship. Or to put it differently, don’t try to build a relationship on a minority helping you understand racial differences. This is a relationship not a project. Don’t treat the humanity of another as a novelty to be discussed and explored, but treat them as you would want to be treated – a friend, a living soul created in the image of God.
Speaking of the image of God… that has been an underlying assumption that I haven’t explicitly touched on. In my posts so far I’m purposefully keeping the conversation within the realm of the body of Christ, the church. This is because I don’t know of any motivation for engaging in this conversation to which I can appeal but the love of Christ. Certainly, naturalistic evolution doesn’t provide any basis or motivation to show love to those who are different than us. So, I’ve focused primarily on the spiritual reality of the unity of the body of Christ. Christ died to make one new kingdom comprised of people of every tribe and language. In this focus, I’ve overlooked the basic reality that we are all created with inherent dignity – in the image of God. Surely this is an underlying motive to love not only those in the body of Christ, but all of humanity… even the terrorist – even the one beheading Christians.
So, in my last blog post I challenged you to go beyond a shallow understanding of the experience of brothers and sisters who aren’t like you. Specifically, I asked the white readers to ask their black friends about their perspective and thoughts on various topics. I know this is a big ask. It’s really uncomfortable for us white people to bring up race because we’re so scared of seeming racist and we just want to treat everyone the same. So perhaps it would be a compromise for me to ask you to watch a video. It’s just over 10 minutes long and very insightful. Please listen with the love and humility that Christ calls us to. And please leave a comment with your reactions.
“What’s the big deal? Why are you making such a big deal about race, Jeremy? I’m not racist. What exactly are you wanting from me?”
Perhaps this is how some of you feel as you read my posts. Perhaps there were even stronger reactions that outright disagreed with some of my implications. Maybe some of you are wondering why I’m giving so much time and energy to something that’s not the gospel. I hope you love me enough to hang with me and seek a deeper understanding.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, makes this statement regarding the white clergy who were discouraging and passive in their support: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”. It seems to me that this statement is very relevant in our day.
It is unrealistic to believe that there are no issues to discuss after the history we’ve had. It is unloving for us white Christians to walk away from the discussion believing that the issues are settled because we’re no longer segregated, or because “everyone has equal opportunity in America”, while we plug our ears to the cries for justice, and reason away the validity of those cries. And I can imagine that when some of you read “cries for justice” you picture those whom you deem to be “hoodlums” blocking traffic and looting and think that being unloving is acceptable. Why would we ever think that being unloving is acceptable? I could speak in the tongues of men and angels but if I don’t have love I’m just banging a garbage can. That’s why this is a gospel issue. Christ commands us to love our brothers, and if there was ever a litmus test to genuine saving faith… it is this, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And think of the witness for Christ this will be when Sunday morning is no longer the most segregated time of the week, when Martin Luther King Jr’s dream is being lived out in the name of Christ. Think of when the descriptions of Christ centered loving community pictured in Acts and the Epistles is lived out, warts and all, across ethnic lines in America. Think about what that would say about Christ’s glory.
“We would love that,” you say. “We don’t know why more black people aren’t interested in coming to our church,” you say. “We’ve invited them and they’ve visited but they don’t come back.” It may be because you don’t realize the paternalistic attitude you’ve inherited. “Everyone’s welcome to come and join us in doing things our way. And I know we’ve had a messy history. About that, just forget it. It’s in the past.” Consider that this is what is presented to our brothers and sisters of other ethnicities. IT’S TIME TO LISTEN.
So, for the love of Christ, if you have a black brother or sister in your fellowship, ask them how they feel about the violence in the news. Seek to go beyond a shallow understanding. Ask them how they feel about the Sunday morning worship time. Ask them if they think there are still inequities in America, then humble yourself and listen. Don’t defend yourself or your perspective. Listen and take into consideration everything you hear and pray about what to do with it.
I know this isn’t safe. Most of the times I have spoken out about the racialized state of our nation it has been met with silence, or counter arguments. And I get it. It’s a complicated issue. It’s uncomfortable for us who have the privilege of not having to deal with race every day. And anytime anyone makes a statement about race there are always going to be other angles and perspectives that justify a critique of the statement. And I realize I’m no expert. I’m not even a minority, so everything that I think I understand about the experience of minorities is rather new to me and second-hand. And it’s probably safe to say that I really don’t quite “understand” it, because I haven’t lived it. I come from rural Tennessee, a conservative, 92% white community. Once upon a time I was someone who didn’t understand what the fuss was about when the black students protested at our high school. Our mascot was a “Rebel” with a confederate flag and our football team’s fight song was Dixie. I never did understand until after coming to a more diverse community where I experienced being the minority at the local “Food for Less” (grocery store), and attended a school that patiently and lovingly confronted the majority culture (mostly suburban white kids) with the experience and perspectives of minorities. I really haven’t changed from who I was 8 years ago. I was always capable of empathy and listening, but I just wasn’t close enough to hear the voices of anyone who was different than I.
So my goal here with this blog is to provide a non-threatening opportunity for multiple ethnic and cultural perspectives and thoughts to be expressed and respectfully engaged and understood. There’s a type of communication going on in social media that seems to be further dividing. I want this to be a place in which we can engage in a deeper way, and not simply seek to reinforce our own perspectives and opinions.
Now the question remains, why would you want to take the time to understand someone so different? Why bother? Because of the love of Christ, and the spiritual reality that in Christ we are one people. We are one people with a unity that transcends culture, skin color, and economic class. We are family. And the spiritual bond that we have supersedes the natural bonds of blood and culture. I think that is a starting point that we all have to recognize. John says, “…if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” One of the most unloving things we can do is to dismiss the voices of our brothers and sisters because we don’t understand them. I don’t intend to give authoritative solutions to the problems in America. But I simply want to assist a conversation. I want to provide a platform for people of differing perspectives to be respectfully heard, for the love of Christ. I want to urge the body of Christ towards maturity, towards having God’s love perfected in us.
Please comment below with any questions that you would like to see addressed in this blog. I will do my best to find those who are able and willing to answer respectfully. And pray with me that we can share the humility and love of Christ as we venture into this conversation.
To My African American Brothers and Sisters,
I want to apologize. I apologize for the actions and oppression of my fathers. I apologize on behalf of all my ancestors who were a part of taking your ancestors from their homes and making them slaves. I want to apologize for my ancestors who were a part of a trade that removed fathers from families repeatedly, destroying families again and again for profit. I apologize for my more recent ancestor’s and my own previous inability to understand how the current plight of black Americans, in many ways, is a direct result of having families destroyed again and again for centuries. I apologize that my ancestors were a part of a system that allowed and participated in the oppression of your ancestors. I apologize that your parents and grandparents had to fight and protest and risk their lives to have the basic rights of a human being in our nation, and even after it took an act of congress to give those rights, the fight still wasn’t over, and in some ways hasn’t ended. I apologize that your parents and grandparents were not allowed the same access to financing for homes, or even access to the same neighborhoods and schools. I apologize that my ancestors were part of a system that denied access to the American dream to non-European Americans. I apologize that my ancestors were a part of stacking the deck and then criticizing and castigating your community for failures, that were a direct result of their decisions. I apologize that I and my ancestors were a part of creating and / or allowing the current conditions in America, in which it is dangerous to be a young black man – dangerous in ways my sons will not know. I apologize and renounce the actions and inaction of white Christians who wrongly twisted scripture to misrepresent the heart of God concerning justice, and even used their religion to justify oppression. I acknowledge that I have a privileged position because of my skin color. I acknowledge that often strangers give me the benefit of a doubt that they wouldn’t give you. And I acknowledge that the post-racial society narrative that I’ve been handed is inaccurate and that there are still inequalities to be addressed. I am grieved over the divisions in the body of Christ. In the name of Christ, I commit to use my voice to bring equity, and to struggle with all His energy that he powerfully works within me, towards maturity and unity in the body that Christ for the sake of his name.
On that note, I also want to apologize to all the descendants of any of the indigenous peoples of the Americas on behalf of my ancestors for any suffering and oppression that your ancestors endured at the hands of mine, and for the ongoing results of that suffering.