Towards genuine racial reconciliation

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ctor Romany Malco has weighed-in well beyond the media limits of Martin / Zimmerman:

To constructively discuss Trayvon would require empathy, introspection and an understanding of America’s social and economic history. This is why the open forums we have seen thus far seem to fuel more ignorance and bias than reasonable debate…And from where I stand, anyone who still relies on corporate-owned media pundits to support an argument isn’t equipped to offer worthwhile solutions.

from A Message to Trayvon Martin Sympathizers

Saturday saw a multitude of Justice for Trayvon rallies across the U.S, about a hundred in all. Though the Justice For Trayvon Martin Facebook page boats 299,000+ likes the combined turnout for all the rallies was considerably less. USA today put it in the “thousands” a number echoed by CNN.

The case the non-U.S. based RT provided more details on rally numbers: around 800 in New York, 2,000 in Atlanta, 500 in Miami, 200 in Indianapolis, 1,000 in Washington and 500 in Chicago. Carry this average to all 100 cities and just north of 80,000 protested. As these are the larger cities in the country the actual turnout was probably less. (This site claims 3,000 in Chicago.)

If this Justice for Trayvon rally slideshow from HuffPo is any indication, participants were overwhelmingly non-white.

Participants in the Justice For Trayvon rally, Oakland, GA. (Image credit)

Participants in the Justice For Trayvon rally, Oakland, GA. (Image credit)

Support for Martin or Zimmerman falls along, predictably though not exclusively, racial lines. An African-American friend of mine declined to write an article for this blog believing it had been discussed enough already. Another simply did not respond to the same offer. A third welcomed the opportunity, and I hope to publish his article soon.

[pullquote]Even followers of Christ are not on the same page[/pullquote]Racial reconciliation in the U.S. has proven an elusive goal. Some whites point fingers toward Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson spitting “race baiter” while some African-Americans point to Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and see only racists with microphones. It seems to many whites that African-American churches do nothing but talk about race, civil rights and activism, while most white churches never mention race, civil rights or activism (unless you count abortion and adoption). Even followers of Christ are not on the same page.

During my last year in the pastorate Black History Month rolled around in February as it does annually. One Sunday the African-American grandmother of one of our bi-racial kids was visiting from out of town. After the service she asked if we would be emphasizing Black History Month. I said, “No. We have no plans to do that.” She asked, “Why not?” I said, “It just hasn’t been something we’ve done historically.” “Well,” she continued,”I really think it is important for my grandson to know these things.”

I was not really sure what that meant or what our church had to do with it, but I ended with this promise: “We have two African-American families at our church. I will contact them and see what they say. If they say we should observe Black History Month we will try and make plans accordingly.” (One of these families was headed by a husband and wife who are African-American, the other was an interracial marriage with the husband being African-American.)

The African-American couple responded, “No. We don’t expect the church to do anything like that.” The man in the interracial marriage was very forceful, “Absolutely not. In fact, if this church observes Black History Month we will leave the church.” “Why?” I responded, not a little taken aback. “Because,” he preached, “the church isn’t about race. It isn’t about racial history. The church is the place where we are not supposed to focus on race. It’s supposed to be about Jesus!”

And, amen.

It does seem to me, though, that racial reconciliation remains rather elusive because there is too little interaction between people of different races. Personal racial profiling remains as strong as ever whether it ever occurs on a rainy Florida night or not.

All old white guys are not crackers.

All African-American men in hoodies are not criminals.

Think all Asians are good at math? Why? Which Asians would those be, anyway? Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese? What about the Yemenis, Afghanis, Indians, Lebanese, Uzbeks, Sri Lankans?

All African-American women are not on welfare.

All white men are not Klansmen.

All Hispanics do not have pink and purple houses.

All African-American men are not deadbeat dads, wantonly fathering children all through the ‘hood.

All white women are not “The Housewives of .”

This list could go on for a while.

Are so many white people unwilling–or unable–to see the connection from the Scottsboro Boys to Emmitt Till to Medgar Evers to Amadou Diallo to Trayvon Martin as many African-Americans can? (Or just see the head scratching example of former Chicago police officer, Howard Martin, an African-American, who was shot 28 times by four white police officers only to find himself charged with attempted murder.) If we try and understand it, should we be condemned if it is not natural and normal to us?

I remain convinced the biggest obstacle to racial reconciliation is God’s people, of all races, not being intentional enough in talking to each other, getting to know each other, and sharing life together. Let someone preach on Jesus’ breaking down all barriers between Jew and Gentile and there is a hearty “Preach it!” But, break for lunch and you will see mostly segregation by choice. There is comfort in not crossing racial boundaries. It is a lot easier to wag the head at a guy with sagging pants or laugh at the guy who spent $2,000 on a lift kit for his redneck truck than it is getting to know them.

If you are white do you even wonder why a black man feels persecuted in the land of the free and home of the brave? Is it not possible–yeah, even probable–that we are missing something? If you are black do you wonder why white people do not see what you see, why we are not moved viscerally the same ways you are? Surely we are not all racists.

Perhaps we should approach racial boundaries the same way Jesus did: He broached them with intentionality. He “needed” to go through Samaria to meet a mixed-race woman at a well. He got in a boat and sailed to Decapolis, where were located ten cities worth of people the Jews did not like. He ministered to a Syro-phenician woman whom Jesus’ racial kindred viewed as dogs. He called a sympathizer with the Roman occupiers to be a disciple (Matthew), as well as a man committed to overthrowing that same government (Simon the zealot). He made it clear He had sheep not of the Jewish fold. It appears that Jesus considered any hostility creating racial or cultural boundary something to be torn down.

The apostle Paul wrote that God is God of Jews and Gentiles (that’s everybody folks, Romans 3:29), that salvation is offered to each without distinction (Romans 10:12), that Jews and Gentiles comprise the same body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6), that those in Christ are utterly equal (Colossians 3:11). I cannot imagine any stronger wording describing racial unity than that used by the apostle: “Christ is all, and in all.”

What can Christians of all races do?

1. Intentionally befriend people of different races and/or cultures. I do not need multi-cultural friendships so they may all be astounded by my wisdom. I need them because I am incomplete in their absence. I need understanding.

2. Be open about differences, disagreements and ignorance. No, I do not understand why so many African-American guys wear pants so loose their undies are showing. But, that lack of understanding need not keep me from attempting to be friends.

3. Keep at it. It may seem weird. It may be weird. But, there is not reason to stop.

4. Be slow to respond to racially sensitive public debates until talking with someone of the affected race. Sometimes our perspective not necessarily wrong, but the timing and content of our response may not be helpful. It is worth the wait not to deepen our cultural rifts.

5. Grow to appreciate other cultures. We are not in competition. God created culture and allows the flourishing of a breathtaking variety of human cultures. Appreciation encourages learning and learning brings greater appreciation.

Racial and cultural unity among believers are evidence of the gospel’s influence. To elevate one’s race or the politics of one’s race above the unity of Christ’s body is to denigrate the very gospel we all claim. Likewise, to pretend differences are unimportant and hurts imagined is to deny the very power of the gospel to sanctify us to the uttermost. God’s people cannot play that game. If we do, we will find we are losers at every turn.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Susan Barkley Scott

    Well said as usual, Marty. This is a timely post for our family as a mother, claiming to be a Christian, has asked her daughter not to date our Korean son. This reminds me of Rick Warren’s words, “Racism is stupid. It’s an insult to God, arrogantly implying that God goofed-up when he chose to make us all different.”