If you missed The Gospel and Race – Part 1, you can catch up HERE.
One of the beautiful results of the work of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection is that the hostility between racial lines was destroyed. That is for the Christian there is no longer a separation between Jew and Greek and thus no separation between Black and White. So then, how do we pursue racial harmony to the Gory of God?
As I said earlier, this is a serious matter of Christian conscience. It is simply not enough to acknowledge the equality and value of all races. Racial harmony is not something to be merely accepted – rather racial harmony is something that is to be pursued. This can be uncomfortable, awkward and scary. But when the glory of God is at stake – we cannot stop in the face of discomfort and fear. No, we must press on in the glorious pursuit of racial harmony for the glory of God.
In thinking on these things it occurred to me how extraordinarily foolish and short sighted it would be for me to write about pursuing racial harmony without seeking out the insight of someone who has experienced racism. I’m a 33 year-old white male. I’m as privileged as it gets. To have a conversation on race and the gospel…well you have to have a conversation. A few weeks ago I spent a couple of hours with my friend Butch. We come from different worlds. Butch, of African American descent, was born in New York. His early childhood days were spent in a school that where the student population was almost entirely Black. Major change came to his life when his family moved to Knoxville and he attended a school whose population was entirely White. I grew up in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. The only Black kids in my school also happened to be our family’s neighbors. Butch was born the same year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. He was 4 years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I’ve never needed legislation to guarantee that I could watch a movie, drink from a water fountain or spend the night at a hotel. Butch’s story and insight has been extraordinarily helpful in developing the following thoughts on how to pursue racial harmony.
1.) You must recognize and own your failures, insecurity and fears.
One of the things I really appreciated about my conversation with Butch was how at the onset of our meeting he was quick to put me at ease. I was sitting with a friend of a different race talking about racism. It’s awkward…at first. What if I say something unintentionally that offends him? What if I reveal a prejudice that is embarrassing? The pursuit of racial reconciliation for the glory of God will require some discomfort. It may require having conversations that you don’t know how to have. It may cause you to be very uncomfortable. It might require you to admit some ideas and moments from your past that you are embarrassed of. I grew up as a kid thinking jokes that demeaned African Americans were funny. I even retold them. It was a learned behavior of the culture I grew up in. It was prejudice. It was the kind of thinking that could produce racism. Owning my own sinfulness and prejudice has been liberating.
2.) Recognize that privilege comes from being in the majority.
When we step into the shoes of a minority race or culture it creates a certain sense of empathy within us. Now, it is important not to confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy is understanding and appreciating a plight. Sympathy is demeaning because it pity’s someone for what God made them to be. If you’ve never been subjected to outright racism, it is hard to understand what it is like to be denigrated for something you didn’t choose to be. It violates the very creative work of a wise Creator in us. Recognizing privilege also produces humility. A clear sign of arrogance is when you tell a suffering people group how they should ‘feel’!
3.) Have a conversation.
Good intentions are only admirable if they lead to good actions. If you want understanding of what life is like for a person of another race or culture – talk with them! When we neglect to have real conversations with real people it leads us to believe many false assumptions. Recently, Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was revealed to have made some very racially offensive remarks about specific individuals. In the aftermath Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, denounced the words of his colleague. Additionally, Cuban admitted some of his own struggles with prejudice. In doing so he was accused by some of setting the table for Donald Sterling to get a moral pass on racism. It would be easy for me to prejudicially assume that Butch, an African American man – offended by Donald Sterling’s racist comments, would agree with the criticism of Mark Cuban. After all, several African American TV personalities had asserted the same opinion. However, when I asked Butch if he thought Cuban was trying to pave the way for Sterling to get a pass – he said, “No way.” In reality the accusation against Cuban made him angry. Butch’s opinion wasn’t dictated by his skin color. In our world it is easy to make certain assumptions. Conversations can help eliminate hurtful assumptions.
4.) Get to know people who are different than you.
This takes the conversation further. Invite people who look different to your home. Go to dinner with people of a different race or color. Be intentional about broadening your relational world. Butch told me that he learned this from his father. As a young boy Butch saw his father develop diverse friendships. He told his son that it was essential for his future success to get to know people who were different than him. That meant pursuing friendships with White people – even if some you met along the way were racist or belligerent.
For the Christian you could sum up these suggestions by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even your Black, Asian and Hispanic neighbors.
It is easier to do nothing, but essential to do something. Make a call. Send an email. Have some coffee. Read history. Do something to pursue the purposes of God in racial reconciliation.
Butch and I also talked about how the Church can pursue racial harmony. I’ll address this in Part 3 of The Gospel and Race.