My step back from the hostility of racial reconciliation

By August 20, 2017 One Comment

Recently, I penned a post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to my White Evangelical Church that drew a bit of attention. To be honest, it was a post that had been stewing for several weeks and one in which I reasoned I did not have the courage to write. The reason is quite simple: by doing so I knew I would lose something, an affiliation with those who deem race dialogue to be of utmost importance. I’ve been working on a follow up with a focus on the issue of social justice though it’s been slow going. I hope to parse out some issues that I think are getting conflated with a gospel centered response of the church’s relationship to the world. Hopefully, I will get to that.

It occurs to me there are there are two kinds of people who positively reacted to that post. One group really does not want to face any kinds of infractions and easily dismisses those who would raise any issues. These are folks that don’t want any discussion of racial issues or take any opportunity to examine where in fact there still might be discrepancies. On the other hand, and where I hope these questions resonated, concerned people like myself, who are deeply cognizant of historical infractions and want to, at a minimum, bring awareness to how racial prejudices have had a long standing impact. But they also don’t want to lose sight of what it means to be united in Christ and keep our union and identity in Christ as the overarching priority. Like, me they having growing concerns that this priority is getting lost.

If you’ve known me personally, or followed me on Facebook or Twitter for any length of time, you’d know that I have been squarely on the side of this second group. I have tried to provoke an honest examination racism, racial bias, white privilege and yes, even white supremacy.

To this end, I’ve had some intense on-line interactions with those I have at least perceived to be in the first group. I’m finding something really interesting happens when that perception is present. When you are on the bandwagon to show how these issues still prevail, it doesn’t take much for that agenda to take on a life of its own. I was reminded the other day of an interaction I had a couple of years ago on the topic of white privilege. A white sister tried to assert how her mother experienced extreme poverty and that the idea of white privilege does not account for white people who have suffered. Aside from the fact that this sorely misunderstands what is meant by privilege in that it’s not contingent upon economic circumstances, the reality is I really didn’t care to hear it. I was only interested in showing how black people have suffered under the hands of white people because of what society deems as acceptable. But it also made me reflect on other such conversations I’ve had where the overarching agenda is to prove how subjugated black people have been.

We do this under the guise of reconciliation

But I’m discovering what happens is anything but. The force of the agenda does provoke a shutting down of those we deem opponents. It starts off innocently enough but then turns into something else, something counterproductive, something that does not produce the fruit of genuine reconciliation. And yes, I’ve been guilty. And this is why I’m stepping back, observing and asking questions. I’m asking, do we really want reconciliation or to cast judgment on those we deem don’t measure up to our expectation? Do we want redemption or retribution?

A friend of mine who does professional development and works quite a bit with race and equity issues sparked an insight in a recent conservation regarding implicit bias. We typically see implicit bias as that thing white people have against black people where we determine that they must have some sort of racial prejudice based on preconceived stereotypes concerning black people. This conversation provoked the idea that it can certainly work both ways. How often do we respond to white people as if they must automatically by guilty of having these kinds of attitudes? We can form our own stereotype of what must be going on with that white person and then respond accordingly. This is implicit bias and it doesn’t take too much for that to transpire into a hostile interaction and a requirement for silence.

I was struck by this comment left on the article about the white church from Alex.

Every time we use words like “white privilege”, “unconscious bias”, and other culturally charged words at our church (specially in sermons) I cringe. I’m a Christian at a church that preaches Christ. I’m also a minority and have issues with these concepts; what they mean, their implications, and the narrative around them.

In the video link below, the professor talks about the “test” which was used to promote the idea of unconscious bias. I have not heard a helpful counter argument to the concerns this University Professor brings on the implicit association test which is used to bring the idea of “unconscious bias” to the forefront of cultural discussion on racism.

At least you are asking deeper questions and trying to work out the conclusions of the proposed narrative. I don’t have things fully flushed out in my mind on this topic, but I’m not willing to adopt these cultural ideas and run with them. They lead to bad places, places where Christ warns us not to go. Pull the log from your own eye before you take out the “unconscious bias” in your neighbors.

These ideas do a disservice in dealing with the issues of racism and more deeply, suffering/evil and our identify in Christ. Ideas like “unconscious bias” have only driven fear deeper in people and created real animosity. Again, thanks for writing this article and hopefully this doesn’t detract from the discussion.

I think Alex is on to something. Using the racially charged words as the lynchpin for supposedly resolving issues has only driven a deeper divide. Not only that, I fear that by anchoring resolutions into full out acceptance of we have created broad based categories to define those who are not supposedly on the side of freeing the church from the sin of racism. Particularly in light of this last election cycle and the advent of Black Lives Matter we are lumping people into two broad based boxes: the Trump loving, Republican/conservative, minority oppressing racist bigot OR the Black Lives Matter supporting, protest endorsing, imago Dei advocate, oppression fighter. The room to parse out actual concerns from rhetoric and hyperbole is becoming smaller and smaller. This animosity creating battle does nothing to actually bring the kind of reconciliation that those who proclaim Christ are supposed to have. Furthermore, I think it impacts how we consider responses to our current cultural dilemmas but again, I hope to flesh that out in a final post.

I am convicted by the truths of Scripture that if we truly are meant to be one body, working out our family differences, it must be anchored in the barriers broken down by Christ himself (see Eph 2) so that through him, and through our identity in him, we might consider that our union in Christ actually trumps whatever racial divides might see to prevail. When Jesus prayed his high priestly prayer in John 17, I’m pretty sure that he had in mind the kind of hostility that racial/ethnic hostilities his people could breed. After all, the root of all such animosities were born and bred in the Garden of Eden that spread it’s tentacles far and wide.

We who are in Christ have a greater compulsion and motivation prescribed by the Lord himself: by this all people will know you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:34-35). It’s not just a matter of mere sentiment or lip service to say oh look, see what we are doing in this effort. But it’s a submission oriented rending of our own self-interest to elevate unity in Christ above all else. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth where it is needed concerning the sin of partiality.  I will still do that. But it means we subject all truth to the overarching goal of being one in him. This is what dispels hostilities and what for what the church must aim.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Holly says:

    I am very happy to read your article. I have long thought that by keeping our eyes on racial issues rather than on Christ above all else we are creating more problems than we are solving. Yes there are things that need to be changed in the church, and yes it is good to work to see those changes occur. But by focusing with tunnel vision on the problem, we find more to divide us and miss the answer to all our problems, namely Christ. Christ loved and forgave us when we were still His enemies. He is our example. Do we love and forgive others when they are still our enemies, so to speak, or do we want others to pay first before we offer love and forgiveness? Christ broke down the barrier walls, and He called us to unity. We are rebuilding the walls and withholding love and forgiveness.

    Married couples are advised to give their spouse the benefit of the doubt, and after ten years of marriage, I can see the wisdom in this piece of advice. My love for my husband rises or falls based on what I am focused on in the relationship: am I looking for him to fail and keeping a record of wrongs? When I do that, I am quick to judge and slow to forgive because when you are looking for another’s faults, you will find more than enough to keep you apart. Or am I giving my husband the benefit of the doubt and remembering what he has done right? When I look for good in my husband, I have more patience to wait to find the truth in a situation, and I have a desire to extend grace when he messes up. I am certain that if Christians would give others the benefit of the doubt in racial relations we would begin to experience more of the unity and peace that Christ desires to see in His body.

    The church always gets in trouble when it lifts one issue above Christ.

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