“I hate to admit it, but I have reached a stage in my life that if I am walking down a dark street late at night and I see that the person behind me is white, I subconsciously feel relieved.”
-Reverend Jesse Jackson
So by now most of us have heard of the recent Harvard professor, Henry Gates, unfortunate arrest by the Cambridge police, and you’ve probably heard sound bytes of Obama’s unfortunate statement about said arrest, saying the police there acted stupidly. Which only furthered both sides of self-righteous indignation about the incident.
But I have another question…I’ve grown up in the South, I have had racist friends, and said racist things in my life. But the one thing I’ve noticed is that we don’t talk about racism that much, except to deny that we are a part of it.*
Did you know that in a recent survey only 6% of Caucasians said they believed that racism was still a problem? Just to put that in perspective 12% of Americans surveyed believe that Elvis is still alive.
So the possibility of racism existing is only half of that of the King still being around.
But 93% of African-Americans believe that it’s still a problem. And some of these are men and women who I deeply respect and honor. So I have to ask, is it possible that Caucasians (myself included) don’t know about it because it doesn’t really affect us? If a system is working for us then we rarely notice it’s flaws. This is why the prophets were so un-popular, they gave a voice to those who weren’t being heard.
But I don’t think racism is really a white problem, or a black problem…it’s a human problem.
The bent of humanity has said, since the fall, that the tribe that we belong to is a bit better than the tribe you’re in. So what if racism is deeper than a worldview, or more than just a symptom of some kinks in the system. What if it was a spiritual force or power?
Than I would think the church would be the one group who could do something about this.
I grew up in a church of 10 people. And when I went off to college I would come back from time to time to preach for this group of people that had shown me how to follow Jesus. And sometimes, we would bring a crowd. We wanted to give them a shot in the arm and encourage them.
One Sunday that we did that, Brother Foy, who is one of my all time heroes, stood up to say something to this huge crowd (of 40 people) before I preached. But Foy was always a loose cannon. You never knew what he might say. And here’s why.
Around 30 years earlier, Foy got convicted that he was a racist. So he moved to an all black town, and spent the rest of his career teaching at an all-black school. He lived out the word repentance to a tee. He took me and a few other younger guys to black churches often, just so we could rub shoulders with people who we weren’t familiar with, just to see how much we had in common. From the time that I knew him he had African-Americans living at his house with him, and had a black brother with him that morning.
But we didn’t.
We had brought 40 Harding students, and we were all the same.
So Foy stood up to say a few words, lead a song or two, he looked out over his audience and immediately said, “Good morning, I can’t help but notice you are all white. I brought a black person this morning. Where are your black brothers and sisters?”
Which was a bit uncomfortable. We laugh about it now, but I’m glad Foy (as politically incorrect as that question was) asked us that. I wish every church had someone asking that question.
Now we weren’t racist at that point in our lives. Nobody there had excluded anybody based on race, Foy’s point wasn’t that we were racist, but that we/I wasn’t pro-active about inviting people different than us.
Churches have come along way. Philip Yancey writes about growing up in a church in Atlanta where the deacons would wait in the foyer for any African-Americans to come in. And if they did they would hand them a card that said this:
“Believing the motives of your group to be ulterior and foreign to the teaching of God’s
word, we cannot extend a welcome to you and respectfully request you leave the
premises quietly. Scripture does NOT teach ‘the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood
of God’. He is the Creator of all, but only the Father of those who have been regenerated…”
It’s a tragedy that 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of our week. We have Black churches and white churches, Korean churches and Vietnamese churches, but rarely do we see a church that is filled with a mix of people from all backgrounds.
Dallas Willard once said that for some of the people of God the flames of Heaven will be hotter than the flames of Hell. I know that sounds strange, but this is a good example of what he means. If what we believe is true, that there will be a day when God makes a New Heaven and a New Earth, and people from all nations are there, than maybe we need to start getting ready.
It would be rough to spend your whole life thinking less of a group of people, only to find yourself surrounded by them forever.
Maybe this is the reason God gives us the ministry of reconciliation, I think that what Paul said is still true. That in Jesus, God is making a new humanity, where the things that have marked us as different don’t matter nearly as much as what we have in common.
So maybe the next time someone asks you why you spend time with someone of a different race or background, maybe the best answer is, “I’m practicing.”
*I am not trying to add my voice to the “white guilt” that can be a part of our culture. That’s not productive. And I know plenty of people in the South and elsewhere who don’t have a racist bone in their body. The point of this post is that racism is a spiritual evil, one that the church is called to address.