Everybody wants to talk about race.
Nobody wants to talk about race.
I read something about the Donald Sterling situation yesterday by a white author (I’ll get to why I think that matters) where, after basically belittling the experience of African-Americans, he wrote the phrase that always makes my toes curl and my heart sink: “I know I’m right.”
Truly, I don’t think I would have minded Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck saying the same thing, but this particular author self-identifies as Christian, and as a brother of his in Christ, I felt cut.
I don’t want to condemn people. I really don’t. My wife and I were talking about this last night and she talked about using her online platform to love and encourage. I like that. I think that if Jesus blogged—lets just leave that argument for later—he would have blogged for those reasons. So I’m going to ask myself WWJB and measure my words. I love the Church. I’ve dedicated my life to the Church. I want to encourage the Church to talk about race in loving, open, and Christ-filled ways.
Probably one of the most life-changing things I ever learned was this: race isn’t about skin color, it’s about power. Even as I write that, I know there are some who disagree. Many think that race is skin color, and that’s all. In this thinking, the term “racism” usually only refers to one person actively thinking less of another person because of the color of their skin. Ideas like “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “Black/Latino/Asian experience” are liberal academic ideas, unrelated to the real interworking of American society. This view led a one popular political firebrand to recently proclaim: “there is more cholera than racism in America.” She came to this conclusion because her definition of racism is very narrow. We have laws against discrimination, so racism is dead.
Race has become a politicized issue. Unfortunately, labels like “liberal,” “conservative,” “left,” and “right” start to define positions and people start to take sides. As a pastor, my concern has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the people of God. I have an opinion about the Supreme Court’s treatment of affirmative action just like I have an opinion about Rand Paul’s connection to Cliven Bundy, but those opinions mean nothing to me compared to how I feel about the witness of the Church to the world.
And I’m worried about our witness.
I’m worried that the Church is the most segregated institution in America. I’m worried that many Christians put their political beliefs, left or right, ahead of their concern for their neighbor. I’m worried that we worship a God who became human and understands the human experience, but we more often than not don’t try to understand the experiences of our brothers and sisters. Truthfully, I’m worried for my sons and the world they are going to live in. That Joseph, our son who was adopted from Nigeria, will have troubles and concerns that our biological son Asher will never have breaks my heart. I know the world is broken in ways that only Jesus can heal, but I’m worried that we who make up the body of Jesus aren’t doing the healing.
I believe that race is a social construct that is primarily about power, not skin color. As a white male, I recognize that I occupy a space of privilege in society that minorities do not. That does not mean that a minority can’t be successful or a white person can’t struggle through life, nor do I think it means that all white people are terrible and racist. What it means is that my culture is the “default” setting for media, education, marketing, and even Christianity. It means that I’m the “tall guy,” the “guy with long hair,” or the “loud and crazy guy,” but never the “white guy.” It means that I don’t get second looks when I walk into stores or profiled for my race by police. It means that I can move freely through life without wondering if my skin tone is causing alarm, generating stares, creating curiosity, or even becoming a topic of conversation. I have default status.
The reality is that I wouldn’t recognize any of this if I didn’t take the experiences of minorities seriously. If I didn’t have Hispanic friends who had to constantly hear Mexican jokes despite not being from Mexico. If I didn’t listen to black friends talk about being followed through stores by security or being pulled over simply so a police officer could “find out what they were up to.” If I didn’t talk about race, and more importantly, if I didn’t listen about race, I wouldn’t know that people are hurting. That people are being made to feel less than. That people are being otherized in every sphere of society.
As a follower of Christ, I affirm the inherent dignity of every human as an image bearer of God. And as a Christian, I believe the Church must be a space where Paul’s incredible vision of radical equality found in Galatians 3:28 is a reality. Unfortunately, there will always be inequality and stratification in society. I celebrate how far American society has come, but I am heartbroken by the realization that until Jesus comes, the world can never be fixed. But I have hope that the body of Christ can be a beacon to the watching world. That the Church can be a place where all nations gather together to worship, each bringing a unique and beautiful experience that enriches how we all understand and honor God. I have hope that we can talk about race and love our neighbors for the people that God created them to be. And I have hope that, in Christ, we can be a people who are always more concerned the dignity and experiences of others than we are for ourselves.
That’s what Christ did for us what he’s called us to do for others.
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