Race in America

Race in America

Today we take a break from our study of 1st John. We will pick it back up next week.

In light of the events that have happened this week in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and in Dallas, we need to talk and we need to pray. Like most of you, I have been deeply burdened by what I’ve seen-men shot and killed by police officers and a mad man reacting by killing police officers.

I have wrestled with this question for the last several days. How can the church respond? What is our role in all of this?

To be fully honest, the church, as a whole, is mostly silent when things like this come up. Sure, there are a few Facebook posts-people will go on social media to share a photo and say that they are praying for a city or a race of people or a certain family but that simply isn’t enough. We cannot pretend that things are not what they are and have the heart that says when it affects me personally then I will engage the situation and respond properly. As Christians in this country, we have a duty to respond, to seek justice, peace and love. We must make our voices heard and that voice has to be one that is centered on unity, understanding and Christ.

I lived most of my life in the south, not far from where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pastored his church, not far from the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, just outside of Birmingham where some of the worst events of the civil rights movement happened. I have seen firsthand the ugliness of division and hatred. I have seen people mistreated because of the color of their skin, both black and white.

And in a country that prides itself in freedom and equality, there are some nasty, hateful issues that we must engage in if we want to give our children a future and a nation they can be proud of. We can no longer just be satisfied to live our lives and ignore the world around us. We can no longer live to protect our livelihood and believe that the racism and hatred we are seeing is someone else’s problem in some other city. We have to face the issues and challenges even if that means coming to grips with our own racism and passivity.

The most segregated places in our country are not neighborhoods, universities or work places, but the church houses on Sunday mornings. Jesus’ message is very clear, the world would know that we love Jesus and follow Him because the love we have for one another. If we are silent, if we do not act and show a strong resolve to end any injustice, what message are we sending? What difference are we making? I do not claim to have the answers and I know that this isn’t something that will be fixed with a sermon or simply acknowledging the problem is real.

Most of the time as a church, we gather inside of the safety of our walls with people that look like us, believe like us and, for the most part, live the same kind of lives that we do. And we preach about the problems and we pray about the problems but we do little in our communities to remedy the problems. It’s like watching someone drowning and just standing there describing what the water is like and praying they get rescued when we have the ability to jump in the water and save them.

We must engage, be involved and do our part to find a solution. In order to start there are a few things we need to do to begin the process:

Acknowledge that racism remains.
The issue of racism is very much alive in our nation and in our neighborhoods. As a white person, it’s hard to know how to respond other than to not participate in it and teach my children the demonic nature of it. It’s difficult for those of us on the outside of an issue to fully grasp the complexity and the hurt of those who are from a different background and effected.

Yesterday a friend of mine from high school with posted something on Facebook and it really shook me when I read it. He said, “To my white friends, please stop posting every time a traffic stop of a black person goes right.” We all see those types of posts, but because I am white and would be considered as being on the outside of that issue, I never looked at it the way he does.

In his eyes, people are trying to minimize what many African Americans feel. And that is that they are profiled by police officers or even worse. When someone posts an article of a traffic stop of a black person that has gone right, it feels like what they are really saying is, “Look, every now and again a bad cop will act in a way that they wouldn’t if the person was white and someone may lose their life, but look at how many times it goes right. Get over it.”

I am in no way saying that that feeling is right nor can I speak to the hearts and motives of every police officer, but I can tell you that I don’t know what it’s like to feel that way. I am saying that I don’t understand what it’s like to experience racism. My grandparents didn’t have to use separate restrooms, sit in the back of the bus or have police dogs turned loose on them at a peaceful protest. But many of my black friend’s grandparents did.

African American blogger, Lisa Harper wrote a blog about racism in our country and she called it, “The Lie”. In it she said, “’Bring it you animals!’ There is is-the belief that usually resides deep beneath the surface of conscious thought, safe from examination and extrication, but was born in biblical times, solidified in the days of the Enlightenment, and codified into colonial law in 1660 through the racialization of Virginia slave codes. Then 14 years after the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed ‘all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights’, the lie was embedded in the U.S. legal structure through the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred the rights of citizenship from both free and enslaved black people. These are the roots of the lie. Here it is—plain and simple: Black people are not fully human.”

Her strong words can either offend or cause you to consider why she would say such a thing. No matter what you believe, that is her reality and she is not alone.

We have come a long way with race relations in our country but we have a very long way to go and the first thing we have to do is admit that racism remains.

Initiate a conversation.
Confronting racism includes honest conversations with love. Love does not evade the truth about racism’s continued existence in America. We — black, white, Democrats, Republicans, everyone — must talk with each other about the issue of race. Racism is evil, oppressive to its target group. It creates a culture of anxiety and mistrust. It leads to nothing more than terrible outcomes, as we have seen in several cities this week.

Confronting racism in love and with civilized conversation helps to move our culture toward the unity that we desperately need. Failing to deal with hate’s reality sacrifices truth for fear and will never result in “one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” that the American Pledge of Allegiance promises.

I will admit, I’ve never sat down with one of my black friends and asked questions about racism. I have never tried to understand their point of view, why they feel the way they do or asked if they have ever experienced racism. I haven’t asked questions about the culture they experience or tried to understand their history.

Today I share a story with you that still hurts my heart, a story I am ashamed of. I have a lot of memories of racism and division having grown up in the south. I remember being in 2nd grade and my little sister was starting 1st grade. My mom sat my sister down and told her that she couldn’t play with black kids at school because she would get germs. She told her that she couldn’t even sit by black kids on the bus. One our first day of school on the bus, my little sister was sitting in the seat in front of me. An African American girl asked my sister if she could sit beside her and my sister said no because her momma told her not to sit by black people.

The words I use are not the word my mother or sister used that day. Those words I cannot repeat. Can you imagine the hurt, anger, frustration and rage that the little girl’s parents must have felt when she got home and told them what had happened to her on the bus?

To my shame, I have never sat down with one of my black brothers in Christ and asked if their children have experienced the ugliness of racism. Why, probably because I’ve never experienced it firsthand nor have my children.
But that has to change and is going to. I’ve made plans to sit down and listen. Ask questions and listen because this has moved way beyond who is right and who is wrong. We have to talk to each other. White people have to stop only talking to white people about it and black people have to stop only talking to black people about it.

We have to stop allowing our opinions to be set by what we see in the media. The media is fueling a lot of the hatred we see. The more controversial the message, the more people tune in to watch it and the more money they make. The days of honest reporting and journalism have come to an end. Let your opinions be set by the Word of God and by conversations with people — your neighbors, co-workers and church members, not from sitting in front of a television.

Confront the injustices that exist.
Confronting racism should never become a race war. Black and white people are both victims of this social problem albeit from different positions. We will not achieve a sincere hope for change by turning a blind eye. Even more so, we cannot truly create a culture of unity if white people either evade the conversation or approach the conversation defensively. By the same token, black people will not participate in the healing process by creating spaces for only black people to discuss the problem.
The Christian community must lift up our voices like a trumpet. Why should we be silent on issues that matter to humanity? All too often, Christians cater to political expediency and ignore the painful groans of common humanity.

Racism is evil. The internal norms of the Gospel call for Christians to speak up and to participate in propelling American systems and the culture toward the hope of a society that is free of hate. This is an important time for all Christians to lead in positive extremes of a bright future — tackling evil with love and with intentional efforts to bring unity that is so desperately needed.

There is no greater witness for Christ; no greater stand for truth and unity than to speak up and speak out. Now is the time for all Christians to condemn the lingering negative attitudes on the basis of race and hate in every segment of society. Racial evil is neither a black problem nor a white problem. This is a human problem.

We can no longer ignore racism. We must confront it; name it; reject it; fight it; kill it; and forbid that it returns. If we are to build a better society for our children and our children’s children, we must snuff out the evil that our forefathers dealt with but did not completely destroy.

And respond in love.
Think about all that has happened in the past few years in terms of racism that has boiled over to the events this week. As you consider the following scripture, be deeply honest with yourself about racism towards others. Think deeply and honestly about any feelings of racism you may have.

1st Corinthians 13
1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This is the aim for all races. If we are going to experience healing and unity, we have to start right here, LOVE, not the emotion, but with action.