This article was originally posted in April 2018.
For those who read this blog post, please know that l am first and foremost a believer in the awesomeness of Jesus Christ and have devoted my life to declaring his name among all peoples. I primarily work this out by working with mostly smaller churches and ministry nonprofits through the Christian Ministry Alliance. That being said, I follow many Christian leaders on social media and absorb a lot of differing views from a number of sources, on a myriad of topics. None, however, has captured the attention of the Christian subculture more in the last several months and years than that of race.
A great number of preachers, Christian authors, commentators, and church planters have made sure they have forcefully placed their opinion on social media, supported by video and imagery, that ‘racism is bad’. They will say in their minds. “I feel like I need to make sure everyone knows where I stand” and then will simply move along their day.
But I think this may be the basic conundrum that we face as a people, and by ‘people’ I mean first world humans – that is, stating the obvious on contentious issues, only self-aggrandizes a position already held by every, single, serious thinking person in the country. But simply doing something, anything, to better race relations often raises more questions and creates potential racial divides, than it does harmony or the often-stated goal of reconciliation.
Before I say more, I fully understand that there is a slippery slope to taking both a rhetorical stance and meaningful action, and how it can be perceived by “enlightened” nitpickers. The intellectual do-gooders that will search and eventually find an area of your life or writing where they can publicly proclaim, “HYPROCRITE!” These people are silly. And for those who defend their statements using their Ph.D. status, I will extend deference to your academic accomplishments and amend my label to “Dr. Silly”. This type of critic, I admittedly have little patience for – not because I find their pursuit vapid, but because they wish to impose their critique as something more than what it is – the desire to tear another person down because they disagree. And of course, action should be taken. And, I do not claim to know what specific ideas should or should not be acted upon toward a greater good in this area of racism in the western world. I admit that it is one area of my Christian life in which I find myself trying to find the proverbial hook on which to hang my hat. That being said, I find some of our efforts as a society, and more specifically the church, serve as little more than a band-aid solution rooted in a right desire to be part of a solution, but when played out only perpetuate a predictable end.
Here is what I mean when I ask if our efforts are often misguided when those efforts are raced-based.
As I write this, Christian leaders from all highways and byways around the country are gathered in Memphis to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. And I applaud it. It is appropriate and right to honor Dr. King. And it is right as well to move the needle of racial reconciliation as much as possible through such events and causes. However, sometimes I wonder why our actions, although well-intentioned, seem to perpetuate racism instead of working to stem the tide.
We are thrilled to announce over 1 million dollars has been raised for the MLK50 Dream Forward Scholarship Initiative which will connect minority students in Memphis with Christian schools & seminaries. Learn more at https://t.co/5PtQ3StiJG #MLK50Conference #MLK50 pic.twitter.com/EkGAxatuLZ— ERLC (@ERLC) April 4, 2018
As a matter of record, I LOVE this idea and support it 100%. But in the midst of teaching and leading against racism, a scholarship program wholly based on race is introduced? To represent the skeptic in all of us, isn’t this racism dressed in Christian good works? A majority white movement to reach out to those whom we feel, whether academically or relationally, to be disenfranchised in some way, is itself solely dependent on race? Do the poor, disenfranchised students in Memphis who happen to be white, not deserve the same opportunity?
This is the conundrum.
Blanket statements about how majority white congregations need to repent of racism in large part racist. Not because it may or may not be accurate, but because to make such a statement, the person must believe racism exists by nature of the congregation being white.
This is the conundrum.
To take a hard, long look at the typical suburban church and be broken-hearted about the lack of racial diversity is healthy. But the call to do so without taking a similar gaze into the typical urban church with the same disparity in reverse is racism.
This is the conundrum.
A serious conversation needs to take place about how to remove race as a deciding factor in our society while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing the wrongs perpetrated because of race. As long as race is the predominant conversation in our culture, I don’t know how a full spectrum of unique skin tones can be fully celebrated in our culture.
Racism, whether perpetrated by a black citizen, a white citizen, an Asian citizen, et al, is an all-consuming sin. It is such because we view our race tied to our personal and professional identities. As an example, the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, where I make my home, has at least four different chambers of commerce solely based on race. Five, if you count the Greater Phoenix Chamber, by default of the necessity of the other race-based chambers, as perceived as a “white chamber”.
Human beings are sinful creatures and race will continue to be used as a wedge to either demand a right, or restrict one as long as it is allowed. The only way to land a fateful right hook to it’s glass jaw, is to weaken its pull and persuasion by no longer running to the color of one’s skin as the root of all one’s successes or failures. Human beings are more complicated. And dare I say, so is your and my life situation. God’s not swayed by the color of our skin. He is swayed by the level of our obedience.
But, for the church, it penetrates much deeper. When the church is more consumed with our racial identity than we are with our Jesus identity, the dominant issue isn’t our race, but our worship.