Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Race and the Christian Church

I've grown up as a pastor's kid. My father is the pastor of a Black Southern Baptist Church. My dad has also been a strong proponent of racial reconciliation. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he's had a conference over a weekend in February about racial reconciliation with various pastor's from different racial makeups in the community. And every year, for as long as I can remember, white people seem to be practically non-existent in attendance. Sure, there's a handful of members who came to support their pastor, and the one or two white people who come every year (God bless their souls, really great people, too), and other than that its mostly black people, members from my dad's church, and number of Hispanic people.

Fast forward to the latter half of my First-Year in college and the beginning of my Sophomore year, I regularly attended a white non-denominational church. It was a pretty small church, which I loved, and everyone was friendly and such, but I was also the only black person there. I think by the end of my Sophomore year, I had come to place where I couldn't really deal with the racial isolation (I also started solely attending Mass, instead) coupled with the fact that there was no talk about race or racism or anything having to do with that whatsoever.

And those are the churches I've been privy to. A Black SBC with an emphasis on racial healing and reconciliation to a White Non-Denom Church that didn't have to talk about race at all.

My brother works on his campus, trying to bring about racial reconciliation as well, and he comments that a lot of the white people he talks to use, "But its hard to talk about race" as their excuse to not talk about it.

And perhaps this is my biggest problem with the usual handling of race relations in the church. It tends to become like a diversity rally and its shallowness begins to show. It becomes more about making friends of a different race than it is about acknowledging the real reason we aren't able to be really reconciled racially, which is racism.

Perhaps framing discussions of race in the cloth of "Racial Reconciliation," is not as frightening to people as framing the discussion in terms of "Racism." But what a disservice is being done, and what a stagnant body of work.

Maybe I am just bitter after watching my father work tirelessly in this area, and always having such difficulty getting white people to show up. Maybe I am just tired of White Christians who think just because we love Jesus we should be able to forget about Racism and all have a good time. Maybe I'm just tired of White Christians who say they love me with their lips, but not their actions.

Because if you loved me, you would love me enough to really know me, and not isolate me through your coded white-is-right rhetoric and bs explanations of why things are the way they are in this country. God, if I hear another person say "But I don't think of you as Black."

I'm all for being friends with people of different races and having honest discussions, yadayada, but that is not the point of racial reconciliation. Its not about us all being able to hold hands, cause we can all hold hands now. Its about there being a problem. There being something broken in the world that needs to be set right. That is real reconciliation. Working as fellow believers to set right the injustices of racism is the goal, not learning to be friends. But the great thing about working together with people against injustice is that friendships often do flow out of that work. Real, honest friendships.

If the church wants to see some real growth, some real healing across racial lines, it has to start addressing real obstacles and real wounds, not the consequences of racism. Because when one begins striking at the root of the problem instead of the branches it is a far more powerful action than if one starts with the branches. In fighting racism, institutionalized and overt, in acknowledging racism in our history and in our present, and certainly in our future, in fearlessly confronting the isolation and separation that sometimes comes with this kind of counter-cultural work, only then will walls really start to fall, and only then will we really be able to be unified.

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