Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Challenging the Racial Divide: Fight or Flight

T.D. Jakes was being interviewed on Racism by the 700 Club. He said some important things:

1.     Racism is endemic in the USA today.
2.     The Black community continues to suffer.
3.     The Church should be playing a leading role.
4.     However, racism remains the elephant in the closet. The Church will not touch it.
5.     Separation remains.

Indeed, the interview reflected this very problem. The interviewer played it safe rather than to do the risky – to enter into a genuine and needful exchange of perspectives. He declined to challenge Jakes’ ensuing narrative of Black victimization, opting instead for superficiality and avoidance. Result – the distance remains.

This reminded me of a film I attended in the mid-eighties, while in seminary. It presented us with a vivid portrait of the problems that plague the African American community.

During the subsequent discussion, I naively asked, “What can I do?” I was essentially slapped-down. The white speaker explained that this isn’t what it’s all about. It wasn’t to provide an avenue for the white to conveniently expiate for his guilt. And admittedly, there had been horrible injustices perpetrated against African Americans.

Well, what was the purpose for showing the film? I mulled over this issue for years. I finally concluded that it was about being shamed and made to suffer for what “we” have done to our African American brothers. It was a matter of accepting our corporate guilt by virtue of our skin color – a narrative that seems to lie at the heart of our increasingly polarized culture. Besides, it is an absolute conversation-stopper.

This is a narrative that many Whites just cannot receive. After all, they hadn’t been proponents of slavery or even Jim Crow. Why then should they have to bear the guilt! And even if they did play a role, doesn’t the blood of Christ bring forgiveness and cleansing from all sin once we confess?

Therefore, many Whites remain on the sidelines. Others remain on the “sidelines” in a different way. Instead of engaging the liberal and inflammatory narrative that the US is still the same racist nation, trying to keep Blacks down, they embrace it entirely for the sake of “peace” and “love.” But is this love? Will it bridge the racial divide or will it further isolate and disenfranchise the Black community?

I recalled talking to a tour-guide in East Germany. I had asked her what she felt about all of the suffering that had been inflicted upon the German people after the war. She passionlessly stated, “We deserve it!”

I was shocked! Yes, there are just consequences of sin and criminality. However, she and many Germans are still bearing the guilt and shame of the Nazi era.

Is this healthy? Well, it has certainly led to hard work and economic advancement. But does it lead to brotherhood and love? While shame can lead to needful self-examination, can persistent shame lead to other-centeredness or does it lead us to retreat into a “safe” and controlled cocoon, containing only people who think like you?

Persistent shame leads to flight. If we cannot find comfort within ourselves, we cannot find it in the presence of others, especially those who refuse to accept us. I tried to engage our tour-guide further, but it seemed fruitless.

What will it take to build the Body of Christ? We cannot run from this question. This is central to the heart of our Savior. He prayed to the Father:

·       "My prayer is… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

What is the answer? Prayer! Also, we must embrace, to the fullest, the concerns of our Savior for love and unity, especially among the races, so that the world will believe. This determination must take precedence over our desires for comfort, of being right, of wanting to punish, of resentment, of jealousy, and of everything else.

Meanwhile, we have followed the world. Instead of trying to honestly hack our way through barriers, speaking truth in love, fearful of the consequences, we have taken the safe way – the way that has replaced comfortable platitudes for real engagement and relationship.

We have to say, “I want to be your brother, but will you let me be me? Will you allow me to speak honestly in love, even if I say painful things that you don’t agree with?” Why? We will never agree on all issues, right? However, love doesn’t depend on that. My wife and I don’t always agree, but we can still love each other. Why then do we have to deal with these divisive issues?

These are festering pustules that must be lanced by the medicine of true Christian brotherhood. Without this, the distrust, cynicism, and distance remain unchecked. I think that the old ways – the superficial affirmations and platitudes – haven’t worked. It seems that they have even contributed to the distance. Instead, we have to commit ourselves to prayer and to His Word:

·       Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Even though speaking the “truth [of the Gospel] in love” is central to this context, it also pertains to the truth of our feelings and convictions, as Paul later reflected:

·       Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Let us lead the way showing forth honest, yet respectful and loving dialogue. Let us show the world that, for the sake of our Savior, we can disagree and still love.


Now, let’s bring all of this theology home where it belongs. An elderly black woman friend recently called me aside. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!” she confided with a smile. She knew her statement would lure me in, and it did!

She continued, “I needed to buy a house, the same house where I still reside and where I raised my children, but I didn’t have the money for the down-payment. It was a white woman who co-signed for me!”

For my friend, that was the deal-maker. What influence - the transforming power of a single act of love!

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