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“I am a racist”: My Speech at the Church and Post-Christian Culture Conference

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Below are three excerpts from a speech entitled “I am a racist” that I gave at the “Church and Post Christian Culture” Conference, put on by several Anabaptist denominations, some evangelical churches, and Missio Alliance last month. The goal of the conference was to see what evangelicals and Anabaptists can learn from each other. It was not a conference on racial reconciliation. Still I was asked to address what two largely white Euro historical traditions could learn from each other in confronting the racial issues of our day. The speech was on what I believed we (evangelicals) could learn from Anabaptism if we would go forward in working for reconciliation of the racial divisions among us and in our society. It’s just 3 snippets off the script from the speech. It’s less than half the speech. The full presentation should be available on line in a few weeks. The speech was received well by some. There were many who were disturbed by it. It had some biblical exposition in it which I don’t include here.  I offer it as thought stimulator. Tell me what you think?
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I am a racist

I am a racist. I am a white male in his 50’s. I have been born into and bred in socio cultural systems built by white men. White men’s ways of thinking and operating built into its power structures. There is a socio-cultural history that dates back to at least the 15th century that makes me blind to the ways my life is advantaged in society. Therefore I am a racist.

Even if I wanted to, I cannot with the snap of my fingers undo my habits that have been formed within this culture for me for hundreds of years. I see the world in the way I was brought up to see the world. I cannot see it any differently without the help of people who are not white and male. And so, today, I confess, I am a racist.

I suggest that what I just did is the starting point for a revolution in racial reconciliation. The act of confessing I’m a racist, the act of submitting myself to you so that I can learn all the ways I am a racist,  so that piece by piece,  in a community of the King, I can be transformed, is a starting point for the political revolution of the Kingdom. It is the starting move of mutual submission.

Ironically, this mutual submission has been uniquely cultivated within a Euro-white Christian tradition called (in broad terms) Anabaptism.

Mutual Submission

This idea of confessing is primarily a posture. For sure it is “confession,” but beyond that it is a posture of submitting myself, in all my vulnerability, and sinfulness to the new community God is creating in Christ Jesus according to Ephesians chapters 1 and 2. It is made possible in a community where Jesus is Lord. For it is in this new world where Jesus is Lord that I can submit to you and believe you will not kill me.

It is this new community that will not obliterate me that actually makes a new “me” possible in a new space created for the transformation of the world by the work of God in Jesus Christ … the incarnate Lord

In this space, of His new community, it is His Lordship which enables the “giving up of myself, the dying to my flesh.” His Lordship reigns and so it is safe to submit to one another. It opens up space to give up violence, hate, resentment,

I can submit to you and believe that you will not kill me.

It is the beginning of the new world…

Jesus modeled this new ay of being in mutual submission when he inaugurated the Table in Luke ch. 22 ….

The Face to Face Encounter

There is an important aspect of mutual submission that I’ll close with … It is the fact that this social dynamic demands we be present to one another in local face to face encounter.

We all know the text, confess your sins one to another and pray for for one another that ye may be healed .. the division and brokenenss between you healed…. Jame 5:16

We know Matt 18:15-20 … about going to the brother who has sinned against you …and the fact that Jesus says “I will be there in midst .. when there is resolution ..

There is a presence of Christ that comes in the conflict, when we submit one to another IN HIS PRESENCE  … listening, dialogue, mutual confession, coming out of myself to tend to the other … and tend to the presence of Christ among us  … that is a revolutionary, disruptive and subversive, in a peaceful way.

AND YET … over against this new way of being … we are constantly tempted to take power into our own hands  … and to architect this new humanity ourselves …  take this work into our own hands … and in the very act of architecting it, we commit violence with all its attendant consequences …

At Northern Seminary, our faculty recently went through some training in racial reconciliation, developing some new steps towards actually becoming a reconciling community ourselves. A group from Madison Square Church CRC from Grand Rapids (Congregational Organizing for Racial Reconciliation)   … a church with a long history in the practice of racial reconciling.One of the things we learned .. was that there are three manifestations of racism as an abusive power at work among us. They describe them as Power(1), Power(2), and Power(3). (what follows however are my own words)

Power(1) is the external manifestations of White privilege in a society. For instance when we see all white people at the top positions of authority in an organization, or even more disgusting, whites-only drinking fountains,  segregated schooling, laws that discriminate against certain ethnicities for mortgages and other financial matters etc. etc. Power (1) resides in the obvious external manifestations of racism.

In some sense, these external realities are the easiest to address, with laws, changing rules, quotas, etc. Ironically, these ways of addressing racism are the most common ones that white people like to do. We address the problem,we solve it we think, and we can now feel better about ourselves and move on.  It is what drives quick and easy activism. Gets quick attention. It attracts money. We white people love to deal with Power (1) racism.

Power(2) talks about a second level of racism where despite the changes in laws, and quotas, where now black and white people etc. occupy committees of power, THE WHITE SYSTEMS ARE STILL IN PLACE. We’ve just let black people in to our white systems. The power structures of racism are still there After all, for someone to talk about the “marginalized,” you have to be occupying the center of power from which to recognize others as marginalized. Our very language therefore  reinforces the antagonism. It preserves and maintains privilege for white society. As we learned at our faculty retreat, when we white people solve the Power (1) type of problems, we actually put ourselves more in power, more in control,  and we are able to feel better about it too.

And never do we get to addressing  the deeper more insidious parts of racism of Power (2) and Power (3).

Power(3) identifies the way racism is internalized in people’s very identity. It identifies this complex multi-generational socialization process whereby white people subconsciously learn to believe, accept, and live out superior societal definitions of self in ways that construct and reinforce white supremacy. In the process race is internalized. Race is internalized as part of the way things are to even my black brothers and sisters so that now they too even believe “this is just the way things are” and this is just they way THEY are. White standards and values become subconsciously internalized. And so in our rush to architect solutions at the level of Power number 1, we miss, we actually prevent the more deeper Powers, Power no 2 and Power no.3, to be dealt with.

Overcoming Power (2)and Power (3) therefore must begin in the formation of a new community of presence with one another. We must live face to face in everyday regular life, where I as a white man racist can hear what I said, or see what I did through the eyes and culture of “the Other.” Here I can repent, confess and begin to see the world differently.

In the space of mutual submission, we open up the space that heretofore has been left untouched by confessing sin, listening, mutually submitting, laying bare the racisim that lies within us.

Those (of us) in Power/Privilege Must Go First

For this to truly happen those in power must go first. Those in power.. must lead by becoming servants …  become the humbled, the vulnerable … the servants … that Jesus described in His words around the table

THIS PRACTICE IS LED BY THE LEADER GOING FIRST. THE ONE ENSCONCED IN POWER STRUCTURES LEADS BY SUBMITTING FIRST.

As Jesus says “the last shall be first … and the first shall be last.”  There is a double mutuality … there … and it can be read … in sync with this text .. to say … the leaders must submit to being servants .. and they need to go first (Matt 19:20).

This is not a rearrangement of existing hierarchical power. It is a disruption of the status quo, a leveling of the violent structures, an overturning of all hierarchies.

And this means … that it is inevitable … in the ways of mutual submission … that those in power must go first ….

Ironically it is a band of white Euro Christian traditions called Anabaptists who are most known for making this part of their lives. We are mostly white people … but as we know, sometimes white people need to begin by talking to white people. Deep within the contingencies of our history, we cannot escape our whiteness, but we can open itb up for the new thing God is doing in our day, in our localities, in our churches, in North America. We can break the log jam of antagonisms, the log jam of divisions, and start by going first … and saying … in mutual submission … I am a racist.

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