Earlier this month, a group of Moody Bible Institute students held an event called Theology of Remembrance. Art, poetry, and photography was presented to help remember the injustices our country has seen. Guests were guided through a showcase depicting the horrors of our history from the near genocide of Native Americans, enslavement of African Americans, Jim Crow Laws against people of color, and the ramifications of all these that carry until today.
It was, as desired, a somber night filled with personal reflection, conviction, and discussion. The artwork submitted was powerful. The spoken and written words were poignant. The evening was, in a way, praise-filled.
Through the sorrow of the art and writing conveyed, a sense of praise was felt as we did what we are called to do: remember, mourn, and feel—as best we can—the pain of our brothers and sisters.
As I, and nearly a hundred others, made my way through the exhibit of art, I couldn’t help but be struck with the reality that all of these terrors took place, not in spite of the church, but often because of it. Not to say there weren’t firm objectors to the blatant racism throughout our nations history, but the vast majority of Christian’s voiced their support of racism loudly through their passive silence. And many misconstrued the Bible to justify their racial prejudices—take “A Call for Unity” by eight clergy in Birmingham, Alabama for example.
As I passed through the art gallery thinking all of this, I found myself pondering the question, “What was it like to live in a time where the majority of white Christians lived with the reality of racism and did nothing to voice their objection?” But then it hit me, as if in my mind I had fantasized the present so much so as to think we have somehow reached the end of racism.
Racism is still alive.
Just a couple years ago, the notion that racism was still alive and well in America would have been a foreign concept to me. I knew racism as a historical horror, not a present predicament.
Living in Chicago, having friends from various backgrounds, and personal study and exposure has convicted me time and time again of not only the reality of racism in America today, but also in my own heart.
While our nation wants to make racism a political issue, “do black lives matter or blue lives matter?” our call as Christians is to rise above the divisive controversy and see racism as a systemic spiritual issue.
If we are all made in the image of God (which we are), and if Christ came to love, live and die for all (which He did), and we are called to imitate Him in all He did (which we are), then we should not see racism as a political issue to side on but a deeply spiritual problem to address.
Racial healing is not an easy task. It requires humility. It requires patience. It requires time. But when done with the right perspective, it’s always worth it.
But sadly, we rarely care enough to see change done in our personal lives, our communities, and our churches. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached early in his advocacy days, “I am ashamed and appalled that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.”
We show our prejudice through our separatism.
The early church was recognized by non-Christians because of their radical inclusion of all people into the church. In Christ, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), and with our new lives we are reborn to a new identity which is not marked by our race, gender, or cultural background, for we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
This is not to affirm the bad theology circling today that, “God is colorblind.” This is utterly inaccurate and horribly damaging to the cause of healing in our nation, communities, and churches.
God sees color. God created color. God loves color. And so should we. But this color does not define our love for others. God’s love transcends cultural boundaries and so should ours.
But why does all this matter?
Are we to simply reach a place where we can coexist with Asians, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans without conflict?
Not at all! If we settle for this, we are completely missing the point Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 about reconciliation.
Recently, I heard a sermon preached by Dr. David Anderson where he asked the question, “Is there a difference between multicolored and multicultural?” To be multicolored is to coexist; to be multicultural is to be codependent. If we make diversity our goal, we will receive very little other than a personal pat-on-the-back for doing our part to “end racism.” But if we see diversity as a means of growing closer to Christ and others, then we can become multicultural.
When we see diversity as a means of growth instead of an end in itself, we gain a beautiful image of the life Jesus lived and calls us to live. When we build relationships that cross cultural bounds, we gain something from our brothers and sisters of varied backgrounds that we cannot get from ourselves. When we know brothers and sisters from other ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, they offer us a new perspective on life and God that challenges and encourages our walk with Christ. That is, if we let it.
But what does this look like? What do we do to cultivate this type of culture in a polarized “colorblind” American society?
First, we need to educate ourselves on current issues that are affecting people of other racial backgrounds than us. What are their struggles? What are their joys? Do we care enough to know?
I realized this past year that I talked as if I cared about racial reconciliation, but I didn’t know much about it. So I began reading on my own, engaging in conversations with friends of diverse backgrounds, and involving myself in a community that talked about tough issues with race.***
Second, befriend someone of a different race or cultural background. Spend time in their context to get a glimpse of what their life is like. Invite them into your home, and maybe they’ll do the same for you. Having friends from diverse backgrounds will enhance your view on life and current racial issues.
Third, don’t be afraid to ask questions, admit your ignorance, or enter into dialogue about difficult issues. Whether it’s Colin Kaepernick’s controversial move last fall, debates on police brutality, political issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline, or questions about movements like Black Lives Matter, enter into these conversations humbly as a learner and ask questions wisely, always using Scripture and Jesus as the foundation of your thinking—not a political ideology.
In the same sermon mentioned above, Dr. David Anderson quotes an African proverb.
“When I saw him from afar, I thought he was a monster. When he got closer, I thought he was just an animal. When he got closer, I recognized that he was a human. When we were face to face, I realized that he was my brother.”
This is why racism is a family issue. When we finally begin to see people of other races and cultures as our brothers and sisters, then we can’t ignore the problems prevalent in our world today.
Let us not let fear, passivity, or ignorance paralyze us from being prophetic voices of truth in our culture. Racism is alive and well—and we, as followers of Jesus—cannot sit idly by and act as if it died with the end of Jim Crow laws. Let us march into our spheres of influence with humility and boldness to be a voice for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Let us not see issues and turn a cold shoulder, but let us stand up and be people of action and love. And together, we can help destroy the powers of racism and unite the beauty of our multicultural family.
*** Resources to learn more:
Read (or watch) Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail”
Read Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson
Read America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
Read The White Man’s Indian by Robert Berkhofer
(Photo and art courtesy of Ravin McKelvy)