When I was six, I lived next-door to one of the most bigoted people I have ever encountered. There was a public field behind our houses, and if we walked through his yard to get to the field, he would come outside to yell at us. He even put up a one-foot high garden fence between our houses to show us the division.
One day I made the mistake of walking through his yard. I was headed toward the field, where my friends and I had built a treehouse. But once I got about half way up the treehouse ladder, I felt something pull my leg so hard that I fell flat on my back. It was my neighbor. I was completely shocked.
Each time I tried to stand up, he pushed me back down. And he kept saying the same phrase over and over: “I thought I told you to stay out of my yard, nigger!” Each time he spoke, I could smell the whiskey on his breath. This went on until I made it back to my yard. I think he only stopped at this point because he thought our yard was too dirty for his boots.
“Do we really need to talk about racism in America?” As a black, bi-racial, pastor in a predominately white church body, I get this question pretty often. Not in a malicious way, but in a “this topic is so completely uncomfortable, let’s talk about anything else” way.
But this is exactly why we need to be talking about racism. People have been avoiding the conversation since the Civil Rights Movement came to its “completion.” But pretending something doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Otherwise my wife and I would never change a poopy diaper.
People that I speak to also hope that it’s a generational thing. “Times have changed,” they say. “Young people are more accepting of differences. We’ve come a long way in our society since the days of slavery.” But if you’re paying attention to what is being said around our country you would know that this isn’t the case. If anything, it seems to be getting worse.
The thing about racism is that it’s not caused by genetics. Nobody is born thinking people with a different skin color are niggers, crackers, or whatever derogatory word we can think of. It’s an ideology that is passed down from one generation to the next. So if we aren’t actively teaching that racism is a problem, then racism will continue to be perpetuated in our country. In our country racism is also an issue that affects minorities. So, why talk about it?
Unfortunately it also exists in churches and in Christian circles. Now I’m not saying that there’s a gang of white pastors who get drunk and push me back within the borders of Ferguson while calling me a nigger. But if we look across the landscape of Christianity in America, it’s still extremely segregated. People go to church with people who look like them. We can do the easy thing and say “Birds of a feather…” But is that really acceptable? Is that the approach that would be pleasing to God? Or should we be doing the difficult thing?
I’m a firm believer that true reconciliation only happens within the Christian church. I do believe people who aren’t Christian can overcome differences—ironically in my experience they tend to accept differences more readily than Christians do. But Christian reconciliation isn’t determined by my attitude or what I do. Christian reconciliation is determined by what Jesus has done for us. Romans 5 in the Bible tells us that we were reconciled to God through Christ, while we were still his enemies. The only condition for this reconciliation to take place is God’s love for us. He didn’t reconcile himself to people with the right skin pigmentation. He didn’t even reconcile himself to people with a particular nationality. God calls himself the God of all nations. He also created all men in his image, so if we say that we hate people with different skin color, then we are saying that we hate what God has created. Instead we should be trying to find how we can love one another, and be reconciled to each other.
The challenge with racial reconciliation is that it’s difficult. It isn’t simply a change in attitude. It’s a change in lifestyle. It requires us to look at and engage with people who are different from us, and do it from a position of love and empathy. It requires us to say and do something when we see people being victimized because of what they look like. And if we do these things, then we expose ourselves. We expose ourselves in a way that isn’t always becoming in society–in a way that society says is foolish. We put someone else’s well-being before our own. We tell people who look like us that we care for people who don’t. And that’s terrifying.
Let’s have this conversation. Lets talk about the amazing and beautiful diversity that God has created for us to enjoy and marvel at, because this post only scratches the surface. We have a lot of history to work through together before we’ll see a difference.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on racism from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.