Our vehicle is having technical difficulties, and so I’m writing this in a waiting room at the Subaru dealership near St. Louis, Missouri. Yesterday, H and I got up early(ish) and drove nearly eight hours, from our home, to Missouri. There, we witnessed the marriage of our dear friends’ daughter to the son of a missionary who has lived much of his life in Kenya.
Driving down the highway on the way to the wedding, it struck me that it’s been nearly a year since a group of us traveled to St. Louis. Last August, four of my writer friends and I traveled to Ferguson, in the aftermath of an altercation between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. That altercation ended with Michael Brown dead, a season of riots, and many people reeling with questions about race in America, policing in our country, and the role of the Church. Back then, I needed to know more. I needed to see things for myself, with my own eyes, and unfiltered by the media, and that includes social media.
I didn’t realize it’s been almost a year since we made that trip, until yesterday, driving down the highway with H.
One of the very best things about a long drive with just H, is that we get to talk. H is a wise man. He teaches me a lot and, of course, we talked a lot about race and faith and God and white people and black people and church and the body of Christ and stuff like that. We talked about it before the wedding, and we talked about it after the wedding. And, believe it or not, we talked about it at the wedding.
At the wedding reception, we sat with John and Lori. They were kind and sincere and they engaged us in conversation and welcomed us warmly. Lori asked me, “Didn’t you come down here to Ferguson last year?” And that sort of opened a door to a conversation you don’t usually have with people you don’t know at your friends’ daughter’s wedding.
It turns out that John grew up in an integrated church in St. Louis. The church was the very first in St. Louis to vote to integrate. John wasn’t sure, but he felt that vote had been taken back in the ’50s. At that time, there were about 2,000 people who attended the church. But, when the church made the decision to integrate, according to John’s recollection of the history, about 1,000 people left the church. When the dust settled and the church hit its stride again, there were about 800 dedicated members, with a pretty even demographic: half white, half black.
John is my age, so he wasn’t around when all of that was happening. When he arrived at the church as a child with his family, he arrived at an integrated church, and it was all he knew. John’s only experience of church was of an integrated church, and he thought it was a good thing.
Now, let me just take a minute for those who are new here, to say that I believe integrating our churches is an important step to healing the deep, gaping wound of racism that our country seems to keep falling into. Needless to say, I was intrigued by John’s story.
So, John grew up in a church that was active in social justice issues and, specifically, in working to end racism. There was a lot of talk, John said, about black and white issues. Eventually, John went away to college and, in his freshman year, he had what he called a “born again” experience. John said that, when he returned to his church that next summer, he tried to tell his church family about this new experience, but, he told us, the church just didn’t seem to “get” what he was saying. Disappointed, and looking for some direction, John eventually left that church and joined a large, white church where the emphasis was more on the Holy Spirit and not much at all on social justice.
One day, John’s mother visited him at his new church. She looked around and said to John, “It’s nice, but there aren’t any black people here.” John told us he got the impression his mother felt the church just didn’t measure up.
I made a mental note of that.
And, here’s something else: Over time, John and Lori’s church has begun to attract some people from India and, as a result John and Lori have developed friendships with some people who are different from them. Lori leaned in and told me how these friendships have helped her recognize and press through some stereotypes she had held. “Recently,” Lori said, “we got some new neighbors, and they are from India. And do you know what? I walked right over to them and introduced myself, because I felt very comfortable with them!”
So I told John and Lori how I believe the Church would have a lot more credibility in the conversation about racism in our country, if we could figure out how to worship across racial lines. I pointed to Lori’s experience with the Indian members of their church and how that helped build a bridge between her and her new neighbors, and John and Lori nodded their heads. We were sitting at a table at the wedding reception and the Maid of Honor had taken her place. The toasts were about to begin, so my conversation with John and Lori ended there. But, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
In the year since our trip to Ferguson, I’ve had lots of questions rumbling beneath the surface—questions I’d like to ask white people. Over the past few years, you have proven that this blog is safe place to ask tough questions, and I have toyed with the idea of asking you my questions here. I’m like you. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth, or step on you with it. But, love hopes the best, right?
The other day, Lecrae posted a video, asking some of the questions I’ve been asking. I shared that video on my Facebook timeline, because it articulated my feelings so well. Seeing Lecrae ask his questions made me start thinking, again, about asking you my questions. And then, my conversation with John and Lori sort of sealed my fate. This may be a one-time thing or, it may unfold over a series of posts. We’ll see. But for today, I’d like to ask a few questions and offer you space and grace to answer them, in your own words. As always, this is a safe place. And, let’s be kind to one another, as we always are.
Here’s some of what I’m wondering (and I realize one white person doesn’t speak for all white people). Feel free to answer them all, or pick and choose and, thanks in advance:
- If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough?
- Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most?
- What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different?
- As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country?
- If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that?
- When you read about John’s disappointment with his integrated church, what was your reaction?
- When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction?
- What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race?
I’m going to go first, because I’m here and I love you. 🙂
1. If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough?
No, my church does not talk about racism…until very recently, that is…and by very recently, I mean three days ago: a small group of us got together for the first time to talk about racism and racial reconciliation. I am hoping this is the beginning of something new (and, just to be clear, I attend a largely all-white church).
2. Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most?
Honestly, I don’t typically hear anything off-putting about the tone of people of color who talk about racism, but I often cringe when I hear white people talk about racism on social media. That said, occasionally if a person of color is really angry, I do cringe a little, because public confrontation (any confrontation, really) makes me uncomfortable.
3. What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different?
Until very recently (in the last 6 months to a year or so), I never gave the term “white privilege” a second thought, and if I did, it was to assume that the term didn’t apply to me. As I’ve begun to listen a little more in the past months to different voices, both in print and online, I’ve begun to see how I am privileged as a white person living in America. Honestly, I feel a little guilty about that – sometimes my response is, “Hey,it’s not my fault! I was born this way!” But mostly I am curious. Truthfully, Deidra, some of the conversations we’ve had, and some of the statements/observations you’ve made (without even trying to “make a point” – just in regular everyday conversation) have brought the issue of white privilege to my attention and helped me realize what it is and how I am part of it.
4. As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country? Yes. I also think those advantages coincide with the fact that I am highly educated and was raised in a middle class family. That said, I am realizing that those advantages, too, cannot be separated from my racial identity. It’s all connected.
5. If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that? N/A [haven’t used that phrase]
6. When you read about John’s disappointment with his integrated church, what was your reaction? I don’t know…I don’t even feel like I can answer this question well. I’m not part of a Pentecostal or “born-again” church community, so to me, in a lot of ways, they are another kind of “other.”
7. When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction?
Ok, this isn’t fair, I realize, but I cringed a little. My reaction was, “How nice for her. The Indian people helped her become a better person. Glad it worked out so well for her.” That said, that’s kind of how it works. We typically have all sorts of views/stereotypes about people we consider “other” or different from ourselves. When we have the opportunity to get to know those we consider “other” personally, when we move toward real community and connection, often many of those views/stereotypes fall away.
8. What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race?
Well, I don’t know the bible backwards and forwards, but I do know that Jesus intentionally moved toward the people in his time that society had deemed “other” – the prostitute, tax collector, leper, etc. He also didn’t shy away from asking the hard questions – in fact, Jesus seemed to ask more question then he offered concrete answers. So it seems to me that if we follow Jesus’ example, we should be engaging with people we consider different from ourselves and asking hard questions, not necessarily with the goal of determining the right or only answer, but in order to engage in conversation and move toward understanding Truth.
I was so afraid there would be crickets. Thanks, Michelle.
So, tell me more about why you cringed. Yes, I’m going to put you on the spot about this one, since you love me and I love you. 🙂
I apologize for my delayed response!
So yeah, I felt a little cringe. I’m not sure exactly why. I think perhaps it has something to do with it seeming like she was boasting a little, like her Indian neighbors were a diversity feather in her cap. I realize that is entirely unfair, given the fact that one, I was not there to hear her tell her story in person and two, I have not observed her relationship with her Indian neighbors in person. So really, it’s a bit of an undeserved cringe, now that I take the time to deconstruct it a bit.
1. No, but there is an emphasis on the global church. We often have visiting priests from other countries.
2. I do not believe social media is the place to discuss such a sensitive topic.
3. Of course white privilege is real.
4. Yes, definitely.
5. I don’t use the phrase.
6. I understood. Churches tend to have things they specialize in–what was important to him at one time was different at one time than at another.
7. I just wish I lived in a community that was broader than simply white and Latino. My daughter is getting a much more diverse experience at her school, especially since most of the boarders are international students.
8. There are lots of different races in the Bible, but it isn’t discussed in those terms. I think distinctions were more about culture than color. All I know is Jesus loves everyone.
Hi, Megan! I’m glad you commented!
I’m thinking about your answer to number two. Part of me feels like you’re right. Social media isn’t the place for this. But, there’s another part of me that thinks maybe there’s a way for the Church to elevate the conversation on social media. I’m wondering if we can figure out a strategy so that, when topics like this get raised on social media, we can make it mean something more than it is right now. Here’s the thing: social media is raising people’s awareness (some might argue we’ve got more than enough awareness, thank you very much). I wonder if we would have known about Trayvon Martin without social media. And, would it have been better if we’d never heard of Trayvon or George Zimmerman? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I’m sure trying to work my way through them.
I am not a regular commenter here but I do follow you and read this blog and I am going to try to answer these questions.
1.If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough? Probably not enough. I can remember one message my pastor preached in the last few years that was specifically about this topic. It was clearly presented as a sin. I will say that in general my Pastor does not preach topical or issue driven messages. He mostly preaches expositional style messages.
2.Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most? Sometimes it feels condescending or angry and that tone is off- putting. I try not to let that keep me from learning because I can understand anger. Sometimes I have questions about the situations they are referring to or why they see it that way but I am afraid to ask because I am not sure how they would take it. Sometimes those questions, if I get answers, would really help me see it their way. I tend to follow most those who don’t automatically assume horrible motives but address the systemic blind spots we have that are leading up to these tragedies. If the person is yelling racist, evil, white person, I probably will read once and then walk away from that conversation. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are horrible, evil , white racists. I KNOW there are but I think for most people it is an underlying bias that infects that we don’t realize we have that is causing the most trouble. I think for those people a kinder tone that doesn’t assume the worst motive goes farther. Again I get the anger- I really do.
3.What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different? I believe white privilege exists, I just don’t know what to do with it. I didn’t’ ask for it, I didn’t try to benefit from it and I am not to sure what to do to fix it. All I have done is live my life and it is a very modest life. So I guess when I hear it, I feel guilt – but for what I am not sure- and sometimes just helpless.
4.As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country? I guess this ties in to the above answer. Yes, probably, but what is my action based on that?
5.If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that? I don’t use that phrase.
6.when you read about John’s disappointment with his integrated church, what was your reaction? Sad. I think integrated churches are so needed and sad that a church meeting that need didn’t understand his experience.
7.When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction? I think I just recognize how hard it can be for anyone to reach out to someone who is different. I am glad she did and I think we all should- I just know it can be hard.
8.What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race? I believe the Bible teaches it is a sin. I was taught that from an early age by my parents, school, and church. I do think I come from a church background that highly emphasized personal choice and accountability so pretty much each person is going to search their own hearts and if they feel they are not committing the sin of racism they will not feel inclined to recognize systemic bias. It really is just taught as a personal sin. I hear this a lot in my conversations with loved ones who would never dream of treating a person of color differently but yet they just don’t see anything systemic.
Hi, Stacy! I’m so glad you took the time to read and then answer these questions.
You’ve made an important distinction. You distinguished between people calling our attention to “systemic blind spots” vs people “yelling racist, evil white person.” That is such an important distinction. I don’t really have time or patience for people calling other people racists or evil. When I talk about racism, it’s important to me that people understand I’m talking about systems in our culture that benefit some and oppress others.
See? That would have been missed entirely if you hadn’t commented!
Wow Diedra great questions. Like you, I have questions regarding how my being white affects the way I look at the rest of the world and vice versa. I’ll skip number one as I don’t belong to a church and I don’t believe in religion.
Number two. With some of the tones I have heard (or read), I feel people are not stepping into the shoes of the person on the other side of the story. I believe all stories have more than two dimensions.
Number three. White privileges. I’m not offended by those words, as I see the advantages of being white throughout history. I have also seen the disadvantages, as in living in an area where you take the blame or hostility for being white.
Number six. I can understand John leaving the integrated church to become closer to the Holy Spirit, because the church wasn’t providing those instructions. I don’t believe his leaving had anything to do with racism.
Number seven. As for Lori, I’m happy that she is learning more about her personal stereotyping, but I question her approach to her neighbors. Her wording of Walking up and introducing herself because of their ethnic background, sounds a bit like using them for her own personal gain and had nothing to do with them.
Number eight. I believe the Bible does not teach racism. We are all the same in God’s eyes, sinners, in need of His grace and love. We are all connected and dependent on one (even though everyone of us is blessed with different gifts) another through His plans.
dSouthernGal, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me. I need the reminder about empathy or, stepping into someone else’s shoes.
So I’m white, but married to a black man for 27 years… 4 girls, 2 son-in-laws (one black, one white) and two of the cutest ever grandsons…
1. If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough?
Every once in awhile. Not near enough… We attend a mostly white church. Black attendance has been up since we’ve been there (11 yrs).
2. Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most?
I’ve read posts by white people that are off-putting. What turns me off is the immediate criminalization of victims of police brutality, etc.
3. What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different?
White privilege is real. Since I am what I am, it doesn’t make me feel defensive.
4. As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country?
5. If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that?
6. When you read about John’s disappointment with his integrated church, what was your reaction?
I understand.. I don’t think you should attend a church just because they are integrated… You can join a social club for that. Our church attendance is based on doctrine first.
7. When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction?
I thought it was sad that she didn’t feel she could have approached them before, or that she had to feel comfortable to do it… but yay for recognizing that in order for things to change, we’ve got to interact in meaningful ways.
8. What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race?
We’re all made from one blood… God is no respector of persons and … He punished Moses’s siblings for talking bad about him because of his black wife, so kind of makes it clear to me how God feels about it.
Desi, thanks for joining the conversation. I think we all want to see pictures of your grandsons, now!
Meet James and Liam (with his great grandma)
Oh my! You are SO right about them!!!
Thank you! 🙂
1. I’m brand-new to my church (1 month in) and have only made it to one service since working there so I can’t answer the first question. The senior pastor has been on vacation the last few weeks but it’s a question I already planned to ask him upon his return. We appear to have a fairly diverse congregation and I see many staff reading and sharing articles about racism and #BlackLivesMatter so I’m hopeful this comes up from the pulpit too. Prior to that, I don’t remember racism ever being discussed at churches I attended up until last year, the week after Michael Brown was murdered.
2. The only thing I find off-putting about it is from white people who just don’t get it and don’t appear to want to get it. Their status updates offend me and do not make me want to engage with them any further about anything.
3. White privilege absolutely exists. I don’t know that I was aware of that particular term until a few years ago but I studied the concept in college and grad school. It was really important for me to be aware of the privilege skin color carries with it. Even so, I have to continue to be aware of the ways it shows up in my life. For instance, I’ve long paid attention to the diversity (or lack thereof) of who’s speaking at conferences but I didn’t really think about the lack of diversity of the hosts of the podcasts I subscribe to until I wrote a post about podcasts a couple of weeks ago. While the subject matter and the people interviewed are diverse, the hosts were all white and many of them men. So that has me thinking about the ways white privilege shows up in the podcast realm.
5. I don’t use that phrase.
6. In some ways, I could relate but from the other way around. When I still lived in Nashville, church was a hard thing for me. I had to take time away from going altogether and when I was ready to return, I realized I wanted to find a mainline church. I couldn’t find any multicultural options so I started looking into churches pastored by POC but when I started looking into their theology, it didn’t match up mine and while I’ve spent years attending churches that didn’t match my theology, that was why I needed a church sabbatical in the first place. Church wasn’t a safe place so I needed to start with one that lined up with my beliefs. Even though I really value diversity. I don’t like that I had to choose between two things I hold dear and I’m sure other people would have chosen differently. Now I’m at a mainline church that is also diverse and it feels like finding the holy grail.
7. Honestly, I cringed. She wouldn’t have felt comfortable going over there before? I’m not always good at introducing myself to people but it’s never had anything to do with their race or culture and everything to do with my introversion and insecurity.
8. I’ve not really thought in terms of a biblical view but I absolutely believe God created us equally and we are all a reflection of Him and some aspect of He is and that means the color of our skin and our personality and our body shape- all of it- points to the beauty and strength of God. He does not value one person more than another. Not for any reason. And that means racism, classism, homophobia- none of it stacks up to God’s character or what He would want for us. Racism is wrong, it’s evil, full stop.
Michael Brown was not “murdered.”
Leigh, thanks so much for taking the time to respond.
I’m particularly interested in the theology piece. More and more, as I live into this whole “let’s figure out how to worship together across racial lines” thing, I realize the theology piece could be another barrier.
I was talking with someone about something like this the other day on the phone. We were talking about scripture and how some Christians use scripture to support their point (not just about race and racism, but also about climate change, homosexuality, abortion, women in ministry, etc.) and others don’t. And then we talked about the fact that Christians don’t all interpret the scriptures the same way. So, sadly, the scriptures aren’t always the best starting point when sitting a bunch of Christians down to talk about a hot button issue (or, maybe any issue at all). I don’t even know how to begin to process that.
Anyway, this was one of the things H and I were talking about in the car yesterday and he said some very wise things to me about that. Things I’m still pondering and praying about.
Deirdra, these are such lovely questions. Thank you.
1. My church doesn’t talk about racism. It actually has a Hispanic service, which I attend regularly, and our pastors have taken brave stances on immigration (in a border town, probably losing congregants, which is amazing of them). But the underlying toxic racial power dynamics in OUR church, racism in the community, and ways in which we ourselves marginalize the people _right_ in our church is not addressed. (I have brought it up repeatedly, but leadership hasn’t engaged me on it.) so it’s complicated–people can be brave and blind all at once.
2. I think before I understood the idea of white privilege, hearing the rage of people online–people talking about “white people this and white people that” made me demonized, ashamed. Now, it does not bother me at all–I realize it’s about systems/my socialization, not about me personally.
3. It has honestly been a relief. I can now understand _why_ I felt so uncomfortable going to a Hispanic church at first–it’s not just that I was a bad, deliberately racist person, it was that I was going against the training and systems that kept me feeling comfortable.
4. Yes yes yes yes yes.
5. I don’t invoke this phrase, but my husband brought up Martin O’Malley getting booed–he thought him being booed was awful, and we had a discussion about it. He thought it was about demonizing white people, instead of lamenting the fact that black lives aren’t treated with respect. We had a similar discussion about the #yesallwomen/#notallmen tags–he really didn’t realize that women (including me) endured a kind of harassment that he never experienced, and thought the tag was about demonizing men.
6. I feel a little frustrated, though I can imagine doing the same thing when I was “on fire” for Jesus (i.e. super evangelical). I wish white people were more aware of what we lose when we’re in all-white churches. I have trouble believing the Holy Spirit can act with freedom when we’re in a bubble created by the oppression of other people.
7. It sounds like something I would have said a few years ago, and also it makes me cringe, but it also sounds like fertile ground to go deeper and figure out more of the dynamics that separate us. Sometimes when we white people lean into these discussions we are more offensive, initially, because we’re engaged/taking risks and thus expose our own unconscious racism. How else we’re supposed to grow I don’t know, though.
8. Years ago I began to think about what the Bible taught about women–and that Jesus broke down barriers between the sexes. That helped save my faith–I needed to know God saw my pain. That opening made me start asking questions about the other barrier I saw around me, being a very pale Spanish speaker in a border town. Hearing preaching from that perspective has also helped me see that God is speaking first to the disenfranchised of all kinds. It has made me so much more incredibly excited and in love with Him.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful words here.
“Brave and blind all at once.” Yes. And, I often wonder the ways in which I’m guilty of that.
It’s really important for me to hear these stories about how what people are saying make you feel. So, I am very, very grateful for your honest and candid admission of feeling demonized and ashamed. Thank you so much for sharing that here. Those are words I need to carry with me as I talk with others. Others may not tell me if or when my words make them feel this way. I don’t want my words to make anyone feel that way. And so, “hearing” you “say” that here is so very important to me. Do you think there is (or have you seen) a way to talk about white privilege that invites people in and—as Elizabeth mentioned—helps to build a bridge rather than make things worse?
What you’re saying about being offensive is also important to me. I believe it’s going to happen as we make our way through this. But the offense doesn’t have to be the end, right?
“Do you think there is (or have you seen) a way to talk about white privilege that invites people in and—as Elizabeth mentioned—helps to build a bridge rather than make things worse?”
I think hearing the discussion broadened to all kinds of privilege vs. white privilege exclusively has been helpful. (i.e., right-handed people have certain privileges, tall men have certain privileges, etc). I think _everyone_ can relate to feeling excluded or less-than in SOME area of their life, so inviting them into seeing that as part of the conversation helps defenses go down.
And yes, I don’t want people to stay at the offensive level. I am so grateful for people further ahead of me being gracious–especially people of color for whom my gaffes were especially painful. Which is why I think your questions are so lovely–how else can we learn unless we have these uncomfortable conversations in safe places? Thank you for your leadership.
Ah. Thank you, Heather.
Your comment reminds me of a workshop on cultural sensitivity I attended, in which the presenter went to great lengths to define “culture.” That definition put us all on the same page, and made the conversation that much more accessible to everyone.
Every one of these questions has to do with a person’s emotions or subjective perception. As such they are irrelevant to any meaningful discussion of race issues. Interesting as triggers for emotional response, yes, but no more helpful than any other type of “how do you feel about . . .?” question would be to any issue whatsoever. I have heard the phrase “Black skin privilege” used, with a formidable argument presented establishing the concept’s validity. So, how does that phrase make you feel? Does it even matter? What is needed is examination of the phenomenon asserted and analysis as to whether it is adequately supported.
“Social” media is, I think, the worst venue for substantive examination of issues. But, be that as it may, why do you insist on singling out “off-putting” tones relative to the race issue presented on social media? The problem I see on social media blogs is the uncritical, positive enthusiasm, the ready acceptance, the praise, of the blogger. (Certainly that is true with this particular blog). This is as subversive to understanding as anything.
The people who are trumpeting the “Black Lives Matter” (and at the same time pointing their accusatory fingers at people who say “All Lives Matter”) do not believe their own saying. This is transparently obvious when you examine the particularity and narrow focus of their concerns. Both slogans are vapid substitutions for the actual responsibilities of thinking.
John’s church clearly did not understand his encounter with a reality that Jesus posits as a necessity for entry into the Kingdom of God, whatever the wonders of their social progress may have been. He was suddenly a spiritual alien to his church by reason of an encounter with Jesus Christ. This ought not be all that surprising. I had a pastor, years ago, who regarded a group of young adults in his church with grave suspicion and guardedness. Why? Because they had actually responded to a spiritual outreach initiative and had suddenly become enthusiastic and serious about their faith. Happens quite frequently. John apparently grasped the center core of the meaning of his faith. His church, which was making an ancillary, secondary offshoot the primary reality was, unsurprisingly, clueless.
Lori’s encounter with her neighbors was nice, the right thing to do, and probably more normative than what we might think.
The Bible teaches that in Christ artificial distinctions of ethnicity, race, class, etc. are of no account. That means that race is an irrelevant factor in the perceptions of believers. That means, for my way of thinking, race-obsessiveness, whether manifested as racism or fanatical “anti-racism,” is a heresy and a sin.
Well. I sure hope we get a chance to talk about these things face to face some day soon.
Emotions are important, and they don’t mean people aren’t also thinking. So, there’s that. And, I appreciate the grace with which people interact here. It doesn’t mean everyone is nodding like Stepford Wives and if it does, dear readers, please cut that out. 😉
I’ll have to research “black skin privilege” and get back to you.
You may be right. Social media may not be the right place for this. Check out my post about Facebook and you’ll see I’ve been wondering about this, too.
I don’t think it’s fair to say the people don’t believe their own saying/s. You can’t speak for what other people believe about that statement any more than I can. What you can speak to is how the statement makes you feel. Or, how you feel about people who make the statement. And, just to be clear, not all people saying Black Lives Matter are pointing an accusatory finger at those saying All Lives Matter, and the opposite is true, too.
Spiritual alien is a good term. And, I’m also surprised that people cringed at Lori’s story.
I guess I’d need you to define fanatical anti-racism for me. And, perhaps I’d need you to define fanatical. I mean, who gets to decide what’s fanatical? Surely, some people in their day considered Harriet Tubman, The Quakers, Martin Luther King, and even Jesus fanatical, right? And what about Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom? How much anti-racism is too much? Where is the line and who gets to draw it? And by the same token, how much racism is okay? Where do we draw that line, and again, who gets to draw it?
Thanks for your comments, Richard. I know you like to spice things up and keep us on our toes!
Carol Longenecker Hiestand
First a reaction to some of the comments: I feel uncomfortable in the questioning of Lori’s encounter. she said ideas she USED to hold. So I say, we are all learning. Who among us has always had it right. I happen to find it easy to talk to approach others. it’s part of my DNA. So it’s easy for me.
a few comments on above questions.
White privilege. I relate to one of the commenters here who said she has felt accused – as if she created it, and uses it. And was all along aware of it. It felt personal and off-putting to me.
Racism: As I have started to listen, it often felt as if because I am white, I am automatically racist. I looked up the meaning of racist – it is thinking I am superior to another race. i do not feel that way.
Exchanges with you have helped sort those two things out for me.
Our church does talk about racism. We now have a group meeting monthly on these issues. I have not participated, but it is an active group. I think we’d like to be more diverse. Right now we are mostly white with one of our pastors being Asian. We do reflect our community. that’s not an excuse, but it is that way. I know there is a big concern and care about the topic.
I believe the bible teaches me all are equal in value before God.
And I do feel this is a safe place and you are a safe person. Thank you.
Carol, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I’m curious about people’s reaction to Lori, too. I thought the encounter with her new neighbor was great, and I was lifting it up as a positive exchange. I agree. She said these were thoughts she used to have but, because of friendships she’s built at her church, she has been able to move beyond some impressions that may have served as barriers before. I also believe these stories are part of what made John and Lori so sincere and inviting toward H and me that night.
1) Racism is not a topic we often talk about but, as leaders, we try to set an example of loving people of every race. While our church ‘s majority is white, I think about 30% of our congregation is latino, asian and black. At one time we had a large group of Jordanian believers as well.
2) Re. racism, I think there is definitely more of a sense of taking a “side” in many who post on social media instead of building a bridge. I think this hurts more than helps.
3) To be honest, I hate any label that further separates people, and I believe this does that. While white privilege certainly exists, it does not exist for all white people or in all cases, just as not all black people are impoverished.
4) I think not all people are afforded the same privileges because whenever sinful human beings get involved in anything, it is imperfect. I believe that overall in today’s America, a person of good character and a strong work ethic, in our culture of entitlement, stands out against the “do just enough to get by” mentality and can have opportunities because of that no matter what their race. However, I live in the PNW, and have noticed that things are not the same in all parts of our country re. opportunity.
5) All lives matter mean that every human being, no matter their color, gender or age are valuable to God and should be to me.
6) I took John’s comment to mean we can base a church on social justice, and forget the foundations of the gospel re. salvation if we aren’t careful.
7) To me, Lori’s lifestyle should be the lifestyle of every believer. We live in a neighborhood where, when I am out on my run, I am more likely to meet someone who’s primary language is not English than someone born in the U.S.
8) The Bible teaches that in Christ, race should not be an issue. Just as I wouldn’t put a label on a friend, “she’s my skinny friend”, “she’s my tall friend”, “she’s my fat friend”, (though our physical appearance does impact the people we become), I don’t think we should label our friends or sisters in Christ by their race, (though our race does shape who we are). I think labeling in the body of Christ is contrary to the concept of us all being one in Christ. This is my sister/brother in Christ should be our attitude toward all who love and follow Christ.
Elizabeth, thanks so much for taking the time to respond! I appreciate your candidness. I’m thinking about that phrase, “culture of entitlement.” I’ve been talking with someone else offline about these things, and they’ve been raising the issue of entitlement, too. If you see this, and feel so inclined, I wonder if you’d say more about that? No pressure. I’m just curious about what that means to you and how you see it playing out in our world. Thanks!
Hi Deidra! To expand on what I said about the culture of entitlement here’s what I think for what it’s worth. I think the culture of entitlement is more cultural/generational than racial. Over the past several decades the idea has grown that it’s the government’s job to take care of us. When we were younger, and in our parent’s generation, governmental assistance was the exception, not the rule. (I can remember, for a season, needing food stamps when we were pastoring a very tiny church on a former Indian reservation. I was also certainly grateful for that low income assistance to help me go to college since I was the child of a hard working single mom. ) But now so many have become government dependent, which, in my opinion is rather equivalent to becoming a bondservant, for with increased government dependance comes decreased freedom. People used to depend on God, on hard work, and on one another, their family, their friends, neighbors and their church, in hard times. People helped each other. The churches helped people. While that still happens to some degree, the default thinking is that the government is there for us, it’s our safety net. I think this is an unsustainable ideology financially, as seen by our astronomical debt and teetering economy. I think the biggest thing that bothers me, however, is that it seems to rob people of the desire to do more than survive, of the desire to thrive, to succeed. While for some it’s a temporary help til they get on their feet, for all too many it becomes a crippling dependency. (I’m not talking about those who can’t work for some reason.) I don’t know how the cycle of entitlement and dependency can be broken. Now, to be clear, not everyone who needs government help/assistance has a sense of entitlement. And a culture of entitlement is manifested in our culture in many more ways than in areas of government dependence. It’s seen in a general lack of pride in a job well done, in not “getting it” when your boss expects you to be on time and do your job well and to not be texting your friends or playing on your phone or computer during work. It’s seen in a general lack of pride in excellence, in a “just do enough to barely get by” attitude. As pastors we have seen that decline in our 20 and 30 somethings as compared to former generations. In our mentoring of them, we’ve tried to teach them that being a conscientious hard worker who is on time and has a spirit of excellence will cause them to be like the cream that rises to the top. They will stand out. Those who have embraced that have seen that it actually works! There’s exceptions to that of course, this world is fallen and isn’t always fair or just by any means.
Well, this is probably more “Elizabeth I think’s” than you ever wanted or needed to know!
A bit of background before I respond. My parents (who could best be classified as 60s hippies WITHOUT the sex, drugs and rock and roll) adopted my brothers from foster care when I was 5/6. Both are biracial black. This has obviously shaped my world view and now, I have three children who have (as we call it — intentionally) beautiful brown skin. In fact, my sister has the only white kids in the family (which makes me smile). Anywho, that informs a lot of what I think/feel/believe and thought it relevant to this discussion.
If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough? We now attend a church plant called Renewal Church of Chicago. http://www.renewalchicago.com. It is the first integrated church I’ve ever attended and I crazy love it. Our lead pastor is black but our congregation is about 50/50 white/non-white. Oh how I love this for my kids. Yes, we speak of race relations. It is woven throughout the fabric of sermons. And in February, we had a Sunday where we spoke directly about race relations which I thought was completely appropriate.
Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most? I’m not turned off at all and find it a bit puzzling myself. I commented on the Lecrae video that I think it may be making people feel attacked, although that does not resonate with me.
What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different? I don’t feel defensive at all. One need only spend time with a black man to see how differently I am treated from that man. There is a privilege; I know it; I’m not sure what to do about it.
As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country? Without a question.
If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that? No. I use black lives matter. Just like celebrating one person or heritage on one day doesn’t mean the rest don’t matter, reminding our souls that black lives matter does not mean that all do not. Indeed, it’s because we’ve treated black lives as less than mattering that we need the reminder.
When you read about John’s disappointment with his integrated church, what was your reaction? I can relate to this. While I didn’t grow up in an integrated church, I grew up in the Church of the Brethren which is very focused on social justice and movements. I loved that. But as my relationship with Jesus grew, I found that my faith growth needs were unmet and joined the white evangelical church movement. I have always wished there was a place with BOTH AND.
When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction? I agree that when we open the door to our hearts to someone new/different, it can be beautiful in a host of ways!
What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race? Gosh. There is no jew nor greek nor male nor female…. they are ALL part of the body of Christ. Lord, forgive us for acting otherwise!!!
Hugs Deidra. Thanks for being brave.
First, a confession. I don’t attend church at the moment, actually it’s been several moments, but in all the years I did attend not once did I hear a peep from the pulpit – from the Methodist church of my youth, historically more liberal on social justice issues, to the latter years spent in congregations of Bible churches. White churches all. I think this speaks to your question of privilege. If I am – privileged – why talk about race? That issue doesn’t bring tithes and might, as in the case of your new acquaintance John, cause funding to go perilously low. Which is the question of Why? For myself, there is a squirm factor I feel when confronted with my own prejudices- it crawls over race, class, gender – I feel it like a slow moving spider over my skin. It carries a yuck reaction inside my soul and I recoil to think it’s inside me. It’s easier to just practice mind over matter, pretend it’s not there. To remove it requires touching it – yuck – in order to do something about this egg-laying parasitic nastiness. I need empathy, humbleness, which might mean, and has meant, experiencing prejudices painfully, and re-evaluating, a “come to Jesus moment” in the mirror to see just where to pluck out the nasty – the wisdom of the Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in all its glorious squirmy truth. Biblically, how can I ignore it? In Jeremiah, it was a lack of social justice and concern that brought God’s Chosen People to their knees at spearpoint, including how they treated those of a different race and religion – called “resident aliens” in the ESV. Jesus was constantly knocking down walls of racial, social, gender indifference by his actions and words. And when Paul was asking for the blessing of the church leaders in Jerusalem, they gave it, with one caveat- that they remember the unprivileged, the poor, those without a voice, “the very thing I was eager to do”, says Paul. Can I do less and call myself a Christ-follower?
I answered you via private message on Facebook 😉 XO
Got it. Thanks, sister! 😉
Good questions, all. I wish I had the time to offer thorough answers to all of them. Can I respond to 5? It’s upsetting to me when people counter the phrase “Black Lives Matter” with the phrase “All Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter. Every person matters. Yes, yes! But when we say Black Lives Matter, we’re standing with our brothers and sisters of color, seeing the injustice and saying we won’t stand for it. We’re not saying “Black Lives Matter More Than White Lives.” We’re not saying “Black Lives Matter More Than (fill in the blank).” We’re saying Black Lives Matter. Period.
Anna is 11. Her iPad screensaver for the last month has been “Black Lives Matter.” I’m not telling you that, to make my kid sound super socially aware. I’m saying that because if even a child can see the value in those three words, couldn’t we all?
Here are my thoughts, thanks for opening yourself and your blog to this.
1. I rarely hear the word “racism” in church, although at times it might be exactly what the pastor/leader is trying to address. Just the word seems to set people off in different ways. Our pastor does spend a lot of time stressing the need for us ( mostly white) to proactively welcome our specific neighborhood (very diverse in culture, color and language) into our sanctuary.
2. Probably those statements that sound like their experience and opinion is the ultimate and only valid one being expressed, doesn’t matter which side it’s coming from.
3. I think this statement used to make me feel defensive. Sadness is what i feel more now, along with probably just acknowledging its existence.
5. I don’t use this phrase, mostly because i think it has a way of invalidating the pain of those stating that #blacklivesmatter. IMO it misses the point and possibly does more damage.
6. I’ve felt the same way in different churches i’ve been a part of over the years, so I’m not sure the disconnect had to do with the fact that his church was integrated or not. I also felt disappointment that his new church did not seem to have an appreciation for integration.
7. Happy that she was able to cross that barrier, i probably would not be so bold.
8. I don’t see where the Bible explicitly teaches about racism, (ie. again, using that word) but instead teaches the positive opposite. Love your neighbor. The OT has a lot to say about God being the defender of the alien, the widow, the orphan. The book of Ruth. The book of Jonah. The book of Esther. Jesus had no problems crossing cultural/political/ ethnic lines. Peter was commanded by God to reach out to and associate with the Gentiles, which was totally unacceptable for the Jewish population. I could probably write a paper on this. 🙂
Racism is a part of the human condition in any country you land in, not unique to the US. But in the Word you see the theme that God desires every part of his creation to be with Him, forever. Revelation 7:9 “And I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” This verse is where we are going. If there is something in me that does not appreciate who God appreciates, I need an attitude adjustment. We as believers carry the responsibility that we all get there. A few months ago i was part of a training at a house of prayer here in my city. They train people in a certain worship & prayer model that attendees can take back to their own churches and develop, tailor to fit their own church/style. I suddenly noticed that we were a very diverse group, even though there were less than 20 people in the room. We were White, Black, Latino, and Asian. We were all worshiping together, focused on Him. Just a glimpse of our future together.
You didn’t ask this but i’m going to add…I saw on another thread probably on fb the notion of racism in our country as opposed to other countries. I was aware of it living abroad, but as an outsider I never really got a handle on the depth of it. I was referred to/called out often by the color of my skin. Not in a negative way, but that was just how they talked there, no matter what color. (Colombia) But I did know that the different regions of that country, separated largely by terrain but also the color of skin and custom, had deep negative feelings for one another. I think in our particular circumstance in this country, that there is great spiritual significance to us being able to address this issue and see it the way God sees it, which is also apparent because of the opposition to those calling it out to bring conviction and seek healing. Deep thanks for your part in calling our attention to this.
Thanks for taking time to answer these questions, Jennifer. I’m truly grateful for the insights offered here, and in all of the answers people are giving. It’s an honor to be trusted with this information.
I think about the people in our church as I read your answer. We are a diverse congregation—racially, ethnically, economically, generationally, and in pretty much every other way you can imagine. But, we haven’t quite figured out how to work together, yet. Sometimes I think it’s our pride in our own heritage that makes it difficult for us to cross over the invisible divide. We are afraid of surrendering our own culture and having it get lost or swallowed up with someone else’s.
I don’t know if that makes sense…
Deidra – I’m coming to the table late, but I’m sitting down for a bit:-) First – I love that you are vulnerable and say you have questions you are afraid to ask white people. I have some of the same fears when I talk about this issue – I have honest questions, but I don’t want to offend.
My church does not talk about racism and it DRIVES ME CRAZY.
I want to pause at ? #2… Because if I’m honest, I often find myself fighting offense to some of the stuff about racism posted on facebook and other social media outlets. Probably the posts that get me the most are the ones that come from people whose heart I don’t know (thus the value of real conversation right!) and who post things that are openly attacking white people, or assuming we are all racist, or seem closed to a non-black perspective. (so for example black women in leadership (I don’t know if that is a real group – just as an example, probably not a good one, but… ) I totally get the value of others who get you, but as someone who works hard to try to understand other racial groups it feels like well, because my group has been excluded for so many years, it’s ok to exclude you… does that make sense? I’m not sure I’m articulating it well. But I often think – if I posted something like that the backlash would be unbearable. And yet, it seems that some post things that if they came from a white person would be considered horrible. At the same time I can argue that other races have had to endure this type of exclusion forever, and maybe it’s just a small taste of what they have had to endure. Does that make sense. I guess mainly, I want to feel like we can sit and talk about this together and not make broad sweeping statements. I also struggle with feeling this is limited to a black and white issue. Unfortunately, it is white vs. all other skin colors in many cases. Look at the outrage over border control, or the fear of middle easterners, etc. We tend to self segregate and that is not ok.
#3 & #4 – yes I totally think their is white privelage and I totally think I have advantages that other non-white people don’t. For example, in my little community, I think if you are hispanic, the odds of you getting pulled over for a traffick violation are about 20:1 over white people. (not a statistic, just an opinion) That is NOT ok. I spend considerable time with these friends in my community and it is very frustrating to hear some of their stories.
#5 – While I do believe all lives matter, I find it in extremely poor taste to use this instead of #blacklivesmatter. We need to take a stand for those who don’t have the privelage we do. Period.
#8 – I think the bible is all about unity. Actually, my opinion is that if we understood the history, we would agree that “white” wasn’t really a thing in the bible. There were black and “middle-eastern” and likely asian, but “white” like we understand it…. probably not so much:-)
Friend – because you know my heart, I pray you will hear the love I speak. Yes, as a white middle class, privelaged woman, but love and a desire to continue to learn and understand and rid myself of offense.
Hey everybody, just swinging through to read the comments. Doesn’t Deidra lead these conversations so well? Always in awe of her grace and grateful for the transparency here. Carry on.
Love you and glad you are helping to lead these conversations as well!
I read this post yesterday and wanted to take some time to think about how to respond because, in answer to #2, things can so easily go sideways when we try to have thoughtful discussions on social media. I’d so much rather talk face-to-face and around the table. Yet, I’m so grateful you’ve harnessed the power of technology to “go there,” and gracefully invite so many of us into the conversation.
You’ve sure made me think about things like white privilege and my own experience of growing up in a cultural that was very much racist.
Sorry. I’m not answering in order.
Re question #!: We never talk about race within my local church, except for that one time that a biracial couple declared that they’d never experienced racism in these United States. Huh.
But, within the denomination of which we are a part, there was a powerful discussion earlier this summer about the need to repent for past acts of racism. In particular, some of the older church leaders admitted to not having stood up against racism, either within their churches or communities when clearly there was a need before them.
Sadly, officials took no action this year, though I understand there was a powerful service of repentance and prayer. And, there has been a commitment expressed to come back with recommendations about what our lily-white denomination can do to address institutional racism.
Since you started me thinking, I’ve been wondering what God is inviting me to do personally. I interviewed a church leader who is passionate about the church reflecting the reality of what is currently going on in heaven–where every tribe, language, nation, and tongue is gathered together in worship. (Question 8)
Also, I believe that because God created such a wide diversity of tribes, languages, nations, and tongues, that we need to celebrate the beauty of his creativity.
But back to the pastor I mentioned – I appreciated his perspective because he didn’t offer his church’s experience as a prototype for what every church should be doing. His recommendation was that our churches reflect the diversity of the communities where we are placed. We need to reach out to those within our community who are different.
That was helpful, because I can easily rationalize that my community looks just like me. But, when I’m being honest, it really doesn’t. It’s just too easy for me to stay in my little routines and not look for opportunities to connect with people who are different from me.
Shame on me.
I hope this is helpful. Sorry I didn’t respond to all of your questions. I love you.
Sarah W. Kinninger
1 – I don’t attend church regularly but the one by me openly declares (via the sign out front) that it’s for all people.
I grew up thinking that racism didn’t exist anymore. I was extremely sheltered but went to an ‘integrated’ church in the city. We had whites, blacks, asians, etc and I thought nothing of it. When I started hearing black people talk about the prevalence of racism, sometime around post-college, I thought they were just choosing to live in the past. I just wanted them to “get with the present” and be in the here and now. I went to a culturally diverse large university and it appeared that everyone was treated the same. So I was pretty cynical that things were as bad as they were saying. I still wonder that sometimes but I’ve learned a lot and realize that my world-view and experience is not the same as others.
2 – I feel very defensive about “white privilege” because for me, as a white person, life was very hard – we were poor growing up in rural America and when I hear “white privilege” I think only of the middle class white people. I don’t consider myself to have “white privilege” because I had to work as hard as the next person to get where I am. I do recall one time with a temp job in college where a co-worker made a claim that we were where we were because we were white and another black co-worker was where she was because she was black. She may have been right. I don’t know and didn’t ask.
3 – No. I do believe that if you work hard and take advantage of the programs, scholarships, grants, and everything else America has to offer, you can succeed in life. HOWEVER, this is perspective of one person in the Midwest where I don’t see a lot of racial tension/issues. A lot of times my first impression is that people complain about the lack of opportunity because it’s easier to complain than it is to do something. ALSO HOWEVER, I know that for many people, this is not the cause and they are experiencing inequality.
4 – I may have invoked that, I don’t know. What I do think of when I hear that is I think racism is bigger than white vs. black and we have so many issues going on right now that I don’t want show some sort of bias. All Lives Matter to me does not tone down the hurt and racism that black people experience – it just means that black people are not the only ones experiencing racism and hurt. If people are racists, then they’re probably not prejudiced against just one group. Why not address all racism at once?
5 – I understand that. I don’t think one should choose a church based only on the demographics but on the spiritual growth. However, one is not going to get much spiritual growth if they are surrounded by like-minded people.
6 – I read this as she didn’t know how to interact with another culture, not that she was being racist. To me, unease around the Indians was because she just didn’t know how to interact with them. There are cultural norms we need to be aware of!
7 -I believe the Bible teaches us that God, Jesus, and the HS are here for everyone. That we are to love our neighbor regardless of their sexual orientation or race. In fact, in the Bible not addressing race, I believe it’s setting the example that all people are equally loved by God and Jesus died for everyone.
Wow… a very powerful post! I am going to try and answer these questions as racism has been a hot-button topic where I currently live and serve (Florida Panhandle, Walton County, DeFuniak Springs). Just Google Walton County and Confederate flag and you will see what I mean… I wrote a letter in support of the movement to remove the “Confederate” flag from the County Courthouse property where it had been flying since 1964 (yeah right, it is flying to honor the dead soldiers on the Civil War Memorial… right…). After that, the hate I received via social media, mail, etc. was not pleasant… the cops even showed up at the church I serve because they had received an anonymous tip that there was going to be a demonstration… it didn’t happen… the racists with their flag-bedecked pick up trucks have been having regular “parades” through town to “celebrate their heritage”. The county commissioners “compromised” by lowering that particular Confederate flag and replaced it with the original Confederate States of America flag (Stars and Bars… lasted about a year because it was too similar to the US flag on the battlefield). Anyhow, I will give it a shot:
1. Some folks talk about racism in the church, I do from the pulpit and in teaching… most ignore it… or remain silent… surprisingly I have not heard anything about the letter I wrote, unlike another colleague who was shamed by his own congregation (also Presbyterian Church USA). This is one of a myriad of reasons my wife and I are leaving the Florida panhandle so I can take a call to a church in Colorado.
2. The “off-putting” remarks that get me are the blatant denials. We aren’t racist, it’s about heritage! Denial that lynchings occurred right up until the 1980’s (Mobile, Alabama and Michael Donald’s lynching, which thanks to the SPLC broke the KKK financially). The fact that I am from the North and have been told to go back up North if I don’t like the way they think. And these are from supposedly Christian folks. Or the veiled threats made by “heritage” folks who don’t like it when people challenge their assumptions.
3. White privilege? Makes me feel… shame… anger… frustration… it is a reality and the more I learn, see, and hear from personal experience and the experience of my sisters and brothers of color, the more I feel all of the above emotions and more…
4. I have many more opportunities afforded because I am white… and it is shameful. This has been a journey of understanding and revelation from a kid who grew up in a small, nearly all-white town in SW Minnesota. Minneapolis/St Paul in the 80’s was my first exposure and then of course my 21 years of active service with the USAF. Living down here in the deep South has really opened up my eyes as well.
5. I don’t invoke that phrase. The reason for Black Lives Matter is obvious to me. Society in too many regards acts as though they don’t. White people aren’t being gunned down in the street… white people aren’t being called thugs when they get angry… white people aren’t being racially profiled by law enforcement and others… you get the picture…
6. The experience John had is a very personal and private experience. When that is translated into what church should be all about, then church becomes very inwardly focused with a false sense of piety. How can we follow Micah 6:8 for example unless we cross all barriers? Unless a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior leads you to love your neighbor and actually try and know your neighbor (all of them people, not just the ones who look like you and talk like you), then that relationship is simply a “get out of Hell free card” and not a way of life.
7. Good on you, Lori! Keep breaking down those walls and barriers… As Dr King said (paraphrased), “judge a person by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.”
8. The Bible can be problematic (thus says the preacher who preaches from it every Sunday)… can you say genocide ordained by God? It can also be used to subjugate women… it can be made to appear to condone slavery (thanks Paul…)… even Jesus wasn’t going to care for the Canaanite woman until she pointed out that even the “dogs” eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table (Matthew 15:21-28). My wife has a phrase that she lives by. “Love Trumps”. And we are NOT talking about Donald Trump either 😉 I read scripture through the lens that Jesus offered… Love God, Love Neighbor… All of your neighbors… If we spent more time doing that and less time building walls and barricades, can you imagine how much different this world would be? Call me a dreamer, but that is what I would love to see… and that is how I try, despite my own stumbling and falling, to live my life. That is what really bothers me about the racism and “heritage” crap here where I currently live. It causes me to hate. It causes me to get mad as hell. It causes me to be the very thing that I despise in their actions.
Wow… that was a lot… thanks for asking, and thanks for reading!
Blessings on you as you continue to write, speak, and serve!
Your wife is a wise woman. Love trumps. It does. It trumps everything.
I have to be careful, because it’s easy to hold a grudge against the people who see things differently than me. It’s easy for me to lump whole groups of people together, based on the behavior of a few. I think it’s probably human nature, you know? But still. I say I believe that it all boils down to love, but I often get tripped up by how people’s actions and words make me feel, and that is not always a pretty thing.
When we moved to Nebraska, I wanted nothing more than to move away from Nebraska. I could not, for the life of me, find anything appealing about this state. I painted Nebraska—and Nebraskans—with a broad brush, and I used that broad brush to build up walls between me and them. But slowly, slowly, slowly, I got worn down. As much as I hate to admit it, I became more like a Nebraskan than I ever dreamed possible. It was the thing I feared the most: becoming like them! Arrggghhh!!! In fact, recently, someone told me, “You’ve been out there in Nebraska for too long…”
I don’t know why I’m sharing all of this, except to agree with your wife that love trumps. It does. Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Michael. As you can see, you’ve got me thinking.
I can definitely see that! And I can also understand your reluctance to become a Nebraskan. I interviewed with a church there while I was in seminary in the 80’s (Hastings, NE) and have some very dear friends who live in the Omaha area (courtesy of the AF and they stayed after retiring). Interviewed with a church in Scottsbluff recently before accepting the call to Estes Park. Denise who has been an Alabama girl all her life as she says, can’t wait to become a Colorado Girl! She loves her homestate, but is often frustrated by it (go figure, eh, for a woman who’s heart is Social Justice and Racial Reconciliation).
Sounds like you have done what a dear friend and chaplain colleague of mine in the 90’s once said was his goal for ministry and life… Simply Bloom Where You’re Planted! It’s a pretty good goal… sometimes the soil allows it… sometimes not (as in where I am right now)… Keep on blooming and writing and inspiring!
Firstly, I want to say I think this is a beautiful conversation you’ve started here– one that proves me wrong in my opinion that very little good can come from these types of discussions happening on social media. I am happily eating humble pie!
1. My church does not discuss racism. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. We are a church who is passionate about entering into the social justice issues in the community around us– but we are a new and young church and perhaps are hindered by inexperience? Also, I live in the PNW. There are very few black people here. My church is very very homogenous– and this makes me very sad– I am from the South, so I am accustomed to living with black people. I find it interesting that people here in the PNW who pride themselves on being so “progressive”, act fearful when they pass a black man on the street. Yes, statistically there are going to be more instances of racism in the South because there are more opportunities for it to happen as both black and white people live there( and it is a more aggressively expressive culture than the relatively peaceful PNW). That said, generally speaking, my Southern friends are not fearful and do not exhibit racist behaviour or attitudes. They have learned to live with people who are not just like themselves. I’m not denying racism exists, but I have been blessed to see it NOT exist as well.
2. I find most things on social media off-putting. I’m not on FB for that reason— but I see my husbands FB feed. FB post seem largely polarizing and seldom helpful. This seems true regardless of the topic. Everyone is angry about something and they like to post about it– it all blends together and everyone looks the same to me regardless of what they are posting about. Angry. It isn’t that I can’t take conflict. Much of my life has been riddled with conflict and I see it as one of the ways God works and moves. But I am a peacemaker and there is little room for that on social media as you can’t really move through all the necessary stages of conflict and enter into healing. That can only happen in real relationship and on a much smaller scale.
3. White privilege. It’s a thing. But it’s tied to economic factors. Money changes everything. I’m not saying that’s all it is, because obvioulsy racism happens to rich black people too (until it’s discovered who they are)– but it’s important to acknowlege, because it points to other deep waters we are going to have to swim in if we are going to really grow in this thing.
4. Yes, I am afforded advantages because I am white– unless I am in a place where the majority is non-white– then I am at a disadvantage– the tables are turned. I saw this first hand growing up (as well as in other instances). I went to inner city schools for middle school. It was hard to be a white kid there– it’s hard to be a black kid there. Fortunately, my skin and hair were dark enough that the kids thought I was American Indian– which was way better than being white. I survived by growing into toughness. I defended defensless kids (black or white) and wasn’t afraid of a fight if that’s what it came to. I was left alone until I “developed”– but that’s another topic altogether…..
5. I don’t use this phrase and am embarrassed to say I didn’t understand why it would be offensive until I read some of the comments here. I get it now. Since I purposely hide under a rock :), I sometimes don’t know the ins and outs of the various hashtags going around.
6. I understand being disappointed in a church that is social justice saavy but lacking in biblical teaching. I understand being disappointed in a church that is Bible teaching saavy but lacking in social justice.
7. In my life (growing up, my career, etc.) I have been around many different kinds of people. Lori’s reaction seems… primitive…. like it’s interesting she is just now discovering such a thing as being comfortable with people different from her. But hey, it’s a step in the right direction I guess! It reminds me, though, of how set apart various people groups really are, even today.
8. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female….. Jesus pierces through all of that whether we get it or not.
Thanks so much for taking the time to offer your perspective!
One thing I want to pull out of your really great comments is the fact that dealing with racism—especially in the church—opens up a whole can of worms and makes us look into the face of some of the other evils we try to conceal. That is such a great observation, and one I’ve been pondering for the last few years.
I think many people who have worked toward racial equality (or any other form of equality, for that matter) have come to this realization, too. I believe Dr. King and Malcolm X saw it. I think they knew what was down the road…
I’m so glad you are asking the questions, Deidra, and I am glad to answer and have the hard conversations.
First of all, our church has hardly touched on the issue of racism. I don’t know why, although we have members who are not white and would certainly welcome people of any race. Maybe the church leadership just doesn’t see an issue.
There are some posts on social media that get under my skin and not in a good way. I recognize that there is racism and I do believe that white privilege is a thing. What bothers me are the posts that want to point fingers and say, “you are the problem”. That’s not helpful, in my opinion. Let’s find solutions instead of pointing fingers like I am guilty simply because I was born white.
White privilege is definitely real, and I’m curious to know what it looks like from where you stand. It doesn’t make me feel defensive (what’s to defend?) but it does make me feel a little guilty for being born white. I do think that I get some perks for that, mainly in the area of getting the benefit of the doubt. I think sometimes people assume the best of me just because of my skin color.
To be honest, I haven’t said much of anything on social media but I have to admit that when I see “All lives matter” it reminds me that we are all supposed to be equal. And we’re all the same in God’s eyes. I understand the argument people are making about “All lives matter” vs. “Black lives matter” being similar to waving a sign that says “All diseases matter” at a cancer fundraiser. We are all in this together and setting it up as us versus them is not going to help matters.
About John’s experience with his church, that’s just a reminder that NO church is perfect. We are all just visitors here and perfection will not be attained until Heaven.
I think when you find people who look different from you and yet they share your faith, it can make you more comfortable. When you see people not as white or black or brown or yellow but just as sisters and brothers who serve the same God, I think that’s what God wants from us.
I believe that we are called to love one another. Period. There’s no qualifier about race, and nothing is said about only loving people who agree with you or are on the “right” side of the issues or even only loving people who do good. We are called to love. The end. No qualifiers.
I want to add that I have a daughter who is adopted from China and while the stigma of race might look a little different for her, it’s still there. She is looked at differently because she is Chinese and I see it.
Years and years ago my husband played church basketball in an inner-city league. When we showed up, we stood out. But those were some fun times and we met some wonderful people. The church we attended at the time had a partnership with a so-called “black” church in the inner city and the pastors of both churches did some good work in building bridges. We attended the services of the other church on occasion, and the pastors would sometimes switch churches and preach to the other congregation. It was awesome!
Looking back I realize that I had grown up with racism swirling around in my household and I was making assumptions about people without really knowing them. My stepfather was known to tell a racist joke and use the “n” word occasionally. At one time I think he may have explored being in the KKK when he was very young. This is how he was raised and he didn’t know better. We live what we know, and as I grew up, I learned better. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
I want to keep learning and doing better. Conversations like this help me to be better. Part of my problem is that I don’t know what to do. It seems like everyone wants to tell white people what they are doing wrong and I’m afraid to make a move. What if I do/say something wrong?
1.If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough? N/A Church life is different for me than the traditional expression…. That’s another conversation
2.Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most? I think some of this is my age… Social media may be the worse place to have these discussions… It’s hard to hear the correct tone in words… When writing a blog or an article…people labor over their words to make sure their heart comes through their words…most of social media seems to be an emotional response with lack of forethought for their words.
3.What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different? White privilege is real… And to be honest for most of my almost 60 yrs. I have not thought of my life in those terms…. In high school we had a huge race riot… There was tension all year but it exploded over only white girls making the squad… Interestingly …in the previous year’s …there had been black girls that made it through the regular voting system… So after the riot two black girls were added to the squad… I am going to be honest…one had no skill and the other had little skill… They were both welcomed and received and I am still in contact with one of the girls …both ended up pregnant and only cheered one year… This did influence me in my younger years… Being young and ignorant of the struggle of black Americans … I judged this situation on the surface instead of understanding the deep roots behind the tension… And I think this can be the fruit of white privilege.
4.As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country? Yes I do… And I think white folks need to keep reminding ourselves that we have no idea what life is like to have a history being hated just because of the color of your skin… Of course the Jewish race knows this hatred as well… As trite as this may sound… Movies like Selma and others do help to bring history more alive… Can serve as a reminder of our history of hatred in This country.
5.If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that? I have never used either on… I do not like when one group makes a stand… And then another group thinks they have to bring “balance” to a situation… Why is it in human nature to think we have to police the world?
6.When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction?for me… I want to continue to grow in getting outside tight circles and comfort zones…while at the same time I don’t want to pat myself on the back every time I take a step in the direction I should be walking as a follower of Christ.
7.What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race? … when I want to know what love looks like…how we are to treat others… I look at Jesus… Jesus on the cross… As he walked this earth… He blew up all stereotypes… Woman… Samaritans…etc…. And on the cross…he died for all… Each and everyone of us…
Deidra, thanks for being such a gracious host for a good and challenging conversation!!!
Lauren Rae Hensley
Thank you so much for opening up this discussion. I am in awe of how you are able to tackle such heart-wrenching issues with grace. May God bless you for having the courage to ask the tough questions, and for your willingness to respond with His love.
1. Yes, my church talks about racism, but not as often as I’d like. I have such a heart for social justice and it breaks when these issues aren’t given the attention they deserve.
2. What turns me off is when any person implies that their culture is better than that of another. I don’t care who you are – we are all equal in the eyes of God.
3. The term ‘white privilege’ makes me feel guilty. I was born in this skin, I didn’t choose it. Yet, because of my heritage I am unfairly afforded opportunities that would not be there if I was a person of color.
4. Yes. Absolutely. One hundred percent. It breaks my heart that white privilege is a reality.
5. N/A. I do think that all lives matter, but I understand the meaning behind the phrase Black Lives Matter. These are lives that have been devalued and discriminated against for far too long. The reason (if I understand correctly) that this group of lives is being pushed into the forefront of the media is to emphasize the unequal treatment that people of color have received and to demand respect.
6. I was surprised. I haven’t been to a church that has focused intently on social justice without the presence of the Holy Spirit also being greatly emphasized.
7. I was happy that she felt comfortable. It also saddened me to think that she would have previously been uncomfortable in this situation.
8. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is the verse I most often point to when discussing racism. Jesus wasn’t racist, in fact He was the opposite. He broke societal norms and crossed cultural boundary lines. He died on the cross to save all of our sins – black, white, male, female. 1 John 4 talks about how God’s love is perfect, and how we should each love one another without question because the Father first loved us. Our hearts for social justice are fueled by our Father’s heart. I am so glad to serve a God who loves.
Deidra, I am late with my response, but I do want to answer some of your questions. This post is very important because it cuts to the heart of the issue of the racial divide in the church. So here are my responses:
1)I am so pleased and proud of our church where you and H have boldly spoken out about issues of race and social justice in our society. (We could benefit from even more talk about it in my belief). It helps all of us examine our prejudices and biases, understand the issues, and move toward making a difference. You are prophets for us.
3 and 4) Yes, I affirm that white privilege is very real and it does bring a feeling of guilt. I first became aware of it maybe about 15 or 20 years ago when our friend Lori gave me a copy of an article explaining white privilege and have tried to learn about it ever since. Being married to an African American has made me more starkly aware of it. Movies, documentaries, reading, and a recent trip to visit Civil Rights Era historic sites in the South have helped me learn more about it.
6) When I hear the phrase, “Black Lives Matter”, I applaud it. Obviously, the phrase, “All Lives Matter” is also true. But calling attention to black lives communicates that black lives do not matter as much as white lives do in some people’s thinking. Society’s unconscious assumptions and biases that white lives are more important than black lives makes it necessary to call our attention to the problem. So I am not offended by the use of that word. However, I do question some of the tactics being used in the “Black Matters Lives Movement” at times. Protest actions are good and significant but people need to move beyond protest to proposing solutions.
7) The Bible teaches that race doesn’t matter to God since He made people of one blood and makes His grace and mercy available to everyone of any race. However, I believe the Bible also teaches that many people do not act like race doesn’t matter and that this constitutes sin. Racism is one of the sins Jesus came to forgive. It is important for the church to call us to account for this sin. It is important for Christians to follow Jesus’ example by demonstrating that we are all of one blood by fighting racism inside and outside of the church. Jesus came to break down the barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, according to the Bible. So the barriers are still there and God calls us to join Him in breaking them down. I am glad our church is seeking to be an example of integrating people of different races and ethnic groups and seeking to follow the Bible.