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Showing posts with label race. Show all posts
Showing posts with label race. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Necessity of Humility for Racial Healing


It's no secret that racial tensions in this country are the highest they've been in many years. The different high profile shootings of black men and of police officers have raised tensions to extreme levels and both black and white Christians are trying to understand how they should respond.

It's clear that Christians should have a response. Christianity holds to a very clearly defined moral understanding of the nature of human beings as ones who reflect God's image, and the sanctity of life. Both issues are central to this crisis. Further, Christianity has always taught that differences of race, culture, sex, or socio-economic backgrounds matter little in the inherent worth of an individual (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12:12-13).

I've previously written that the church should be the place where blacks can turn in their pain and fear. How we as Christians can reach out to our community and begin to promote healing is a little tougher question. Recently, I was able to attend an event hosted by Sandals Church and Pastor Matt Brown entitled "A Real Conversation About Race and the Church" that brought together several black pastors as well as law enforcement and local government officials to talk about the role of Christians in bridging the divide that seems to grow wider with each news cycle.

Stop Asserting Your Individuality

One of the more common themes mentioned by the participants throughout the evening was that of humility. Pastor Jonathan Bilima of Relevant Church told of how he would intentionally reach out to others in his community by not exercising his preferences or his freedoms, but by trying to present an atmosphere where others would be more comfortable. He said even in his church services, he would prefer more musical styles associated with traditionally black churches, he chose to "turn down a little bit of my identity in order to bridge the gap of ignorance."

I think Pastor Bilima put his finger on a key factor in reconciliation and healing. As Christians we have an amazing amount of freedom to worship and live. However, if we elevate those freedoms to be primary over the needs of another, we sin. The Corinthian church had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as that's pretty much the only meat one could buy. The Apostle Paul understood that those idols were not real gods and told them they could do so. However, he added that if their freedom to eat the meat might stumble another, they should spit it out of their mouths. He wrote "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:31-33).

The Ultimate Model of Humility

Jesus modeled such humility more than anyone else. He didn't regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he humbled himself so much that he submitted to his own torture and death in order to save those who were doing the torturing and killing. He understood that placing the needs of those who were in the wrong above his rights was the only way to reach them and heal them. This is the model we as Christians are called to follow.

Certainly, the pursuit of justice is important. I do not believe we as citizens should dismiss wrongdoing. However, that doesn't mean as Christians when engaging others in conversation, even in conversations online, we should begin our conversation with calls to justice. Perhaps beginning with calls for understanding and empathy would be better. Empathizing is a great way to build real relationships because it tells the other person you value their feelings and experiences. It is one way each of us can make a difference in the lives of those who see things differently from us. It is one way we can draw each other closer to Christ instead of drawing distinctions.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Why Isn't the Church a Sanctuary for Black Lives?



I'm aghast at the news. Within a 24 hour period, two police shootings have left two men dead and cell phone videos showing the aftermath. Both victims were black men who seem to be in non-threatening positions and their deaths add evidence to the charge that there is a serious problem in our country with racial engagement.

Were these shooting racially motivated? Uncovering internal motivation is a pretty tricky business. The details are still being investigated in these cases so it would be premature to pronounce guilt or innocence. But what we can judge is there is a natural reaction to such incidents. Is it any surprise that blacks are scared for their lives when they see law enforcement? Is it a shock that these people have cause to be concerned about their welfare being threatened by the very people who have sworn to protect them?

The Church Must Do Better

There is a judgment I can make and it is the evangelical church is failing these people. We are failing. Those who are scared don't see the church as a sanctuary where they will receive support, empathy and protection. They don't see evangelicals as advocates for them like they are for the unborn. Mika Edmondson said it well when he addressed the council members of the Gospel Coalition in May of this year:
Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to "mourn with those who mourn." The unique calling of the church (as opposed to the institutions of the world) is not simply to tolerate one another, or even simply to understand one another, but to mourn with one another and bear one another's burdens. To deliberately devote ourselves to listen to one another for understanding, and then to empathize with one another to the point of shedding tears with one another. That's certainly not what so many of the talking heads on cable TV and talk radio are advocating. They're not talking about mourning with those who mourn.

But in the church, white suburban men are called to cry tears with the black inner-city woman scared to death her husband is going to be the next Eric Garner, or that her teenage son is going to be the next Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. And if you are so entrenched in your socio-political camp that you can't shed some tears with Tanisha, something is deeply wrong. Because that's who the church is called to be. That's the kind of thing that makes our unity in Christ really conspicuous and causes people to see that there is a unique power at work in the church unlike anything in this world.1
Realize that Dr. Edmondson is not claiming that all police are hunting down black people. He isn't assigning guilt in any shooting incident. Rather, he's talking about ministering to hurting people in a time of tragedy. That is clearly what Jesus taught his followers to do.

The Model of Ambrose

We need to work harder so blacks feel that evangelical churches are places they can go for sanctuary. We talk about sanctuary, but do we really understand what that term means? It means coming under the cover of an entity that will provide comfort and stand for what is right

We have a model in the early church. Theodosius I was emperor of Rome in 390 AD. He was a Christian and began aggressively banning pagan activities. "The Law" began oppressing pagans, which lead to a riot in Thessalonica where some of the citizens killed Theodosius's representative in protest. The slaying angered the emperor so much he gave his soldiers carte blanche to punish the citizens. They in turn devised a scheme and slaughtered a large number of men, women, and children of the city.

Theodosius was the most powerful man in the world, yet his actions were rebuked by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who excommunicated him for eight months until he repented of his actions. In one famous retelling, Ambrose stood outside his church and forbade Theodosius' entrance. William Stearns Davis recounts the story:
When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who—on his return to Milan—desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying "You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes. Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.2
Alvin J. Schmidt notes the event is pivotal in history since it is "the first instance of applying the principle that no one, not even an emperor or king, is above the law."3 Ambrose's bravery tuned the culture, establishing the rule of Law above the rule of power in the West.

Calling out sin, promoting justice for the oppressed, and standing strong for the Gospel have always been a part of the Christian legacy. We need to comfort those who mourn and stand beside the fearful. Non-Christians who wish to uphold natural marriage or protection for the unborn feel confident the church stands with them in their fight for justice. We need to work harder so those in the black community hold similar feelings.

References

1. Edmondson, Mika. "Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?" The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition, Inc., 24 June 2016. Web. 07 July 2016. .
2. From: Davis, William Stearns, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 298-300. Reproduced online at https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/theodoret-ambrose1.asp
3. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print. 250.



Friday, June 12, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal Ordeal Shows Why Race, Like Biological Sex, is Sacred



The Internet is abuzz this morning on the breaking story of African Studies professor and Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal, who is a white woman that has been identifying herself as black. Dolezal had claimed she was a target of racial profiling by police, but questions arose about the events as well as her background. It was then discovered that Dolezal has no African-American heritage, even though she had claimed such on an application to the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission.1 In fact, Dolezal's parents confirmed her heritage is Czech, Swedish and German.

The news about Dolezal broke just eleven days after Vanity Fair's unveiling of Olympian Bruce Jenner's sexual metamorphosis as a woman. That event brought many plaudits from those who push the idea that sex is somehow fungible; whatever sex one identifies with, one is. For a week, the Jenner story led many of the transgender support community to ride a wave of acclaim and public acceptance for that premise. Many of the same people don't accept Dolezal's identity as black, even though one's sex is much more clearly a description of biology than race can ever be.

The Sacredness of Race

The denunciation of racism is moral and proper for at least two reasons. Firstly, to ascribe a lesser value to a person because of their race means you are not taking the individual seriously, you are commoditizing them and doing so using a criterion that is inconsequential to do so. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, people should be judged on the basis of their character, not the color of his skin. Secondly, racism dismisses the history and heritage of an entire people group. With a hand-wave it denigrates any contributions a person's culture and traditions had in shaping the character of that individual. While certain traditions may be unhelpful or even evil (think female genital mutilation), one cannot dismiss an entire cultural heritage without dismissing every person who comes out of it. The values and traditions our parents passed onto us are formative and valuable. They are integral to who we are and they link us to our past. That's why, as Ravi Zacharias said, a person's race is sacred.2

That's why the Rachel Dolezal deception is galling. She was trading on a culture and history of which she had no part. She sought to change those very same superficial attributes to appear that she had a common history and culture. Her attempt again reduces the individual to inconsequential criteria. It's still racism, but played in the opposite direction.

The Sacredness of Biology

If Dolezal's act is galling, then how much more galling is the idea that one can change the outward appearance of one's hair, face, and genitals to appear as sex different from your biology. The transgender community would reduce the definition of a man or a woman to injectable hormones and plastic surgery. In fact, it's telling that Jenner wasn't featured in Vanity Fair as a 65 year old female, but closer to the idealized pin-up, a caricature of womanhood. Some of the very same publications who cheered Jenner's photos decried as demeaning similar images when they appeared in cartoon form on a scientist's shirt. The scientist's shirt is denigrating women while Jenner's poses are epitomizing womanhood. How is this consistent?

The fact is that reducing a person's worth based on their sex is offensive. If racism is wrong, then sexism is wrong and for the very same reason: using inconsequential aspects of a person to demean them. For instance, one's sex has absolutely no bearing on one's ability to function as a scholar, a chef, or a scientist. But just like one's culture, sex does have bearing on important aspects of shaping the family. Only women can give birth and only men can father a child. Those aspects of who we are so shape us and they do matter.

When my family was on vacation a few years ago, our travels took us through Tonopah, Nevada, a town literally in the middle of nowhere. At a gas station, I found myself in line behind Dennis Avner, the man who sought to change himself into a cat. I had seen images of Avner on one of those filler cable TV shows, but he was here in real life standing before me and paying for gas. No one mentioned to Avner that cats cannot pay for gasoline or drive a motor vehicle and he didn't seem to mind taking advantage of the benefits of being human as this point.

The reality is, no matter how much surgery Avner underwent, he would never be a cat. (Perhaps he would have benefitted if he would have read some Thomas Nagel.) He would be a man pretending to be a cat. Human beings have intrinsic worth because they bear the image of God. All races bear that image and therefore they all share that worth. God also created human beings male and female, and therefore both sexes share that worth. Dolezal's charade attempts to move the value of people to something superficial, but it is only different in degree and not kind from the transgender lobby. If race is sacred, so is sex and we need to recognize both.

References

1. "Credibility of Local NAACP Leader Rachel Dolezal Questioned." Spokesman.com. The Spokesman-Review, 11 June 2015. Web. 12 June 2015. .
2. Nix, Luke. "Ravi Zacharias on Race and Homosexuality." Faithful Thinkers. Faithful Thinkers, 7 May 2012. Web. 12 June 2015. http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/ravi-zacharias-on-race-and.html

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rioting, Race, and the Root of Hardship

I watched in horror with much of the country yesterday as groups of young, violent men rioted in the streets, destroyed and looted property, and threw debris at the police. I listened to the residents who were interviewed and who were angry, not only at the violence, but at what they perceive as a system that is opposed to their success.


Over and over again, the common theme in the protesters and the residents' comments was that these people wanted to be heard. I believe that. While professional protesters and the media elevate tensions, one cannot ignore the real feelings of frustration, entrapment, and profiling those that come from the inner city experience throughout their lives. These people scream in the only way they know, with the violence that has surrounded them.

Are the Right People Listening?

I don't condone riots. This kind of lashing out is childish in its makeup. Those that want a better civilization may protest, but they can protest in a more civilized manner, a fact that Martin Luther King, Jr proved during his life. Besides, screaming frustration doesn't fix anything. You have to get the right message to the right listeners in order for it to be effective.

What is the real message? Who are those that should be listening? If I had to identify the primary disadvantage young blacks face today, I would immediately say it's the lack of fathers in black families. While stats like high school graduation rates for young blacks have risen to historic highs, according to the Pew Center,1 the number of black children being raised in an intact household has dropped enormously. NewsOne reports that 72 percent of black children are born into a single parent household.2 That means while one out of four people in the U.S. start their lives in a single-parent household, nearly three out of four black families do. That's a huge discrepancy.

The consequences of fatherless homes are well known. Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor3, twice as likely to be abused, and suffer from higher rates of school failure, behavioral problems, drug use, and loneliness.4 They are 5 times more likely to commit suicide, 32 times more likely to run away, 14 times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers.5

To me, the protests resemble a tantrum. In poorer communities, a single mother must work to provide an income since a father isn't there to do so. This not only puts incredible pressure on her, but forces the kids to raise themselves. Without a father, there is no anchor to propel the family upward economically or to model what it means to be an adult male in society. All of this was clearly laid out in 1965 in the Moynihan Report, diagnosing the problem of black stagnant economic mobility.6

As I write this, the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments from those who seek to redefine marriage in the United States. Yet, for those who grew up in a culture where marriage was considered optional, where children are brought up without both biological parents committed to rearing them, the results are devastating.

There is no easy answer to the problems in places like Baltimore, or Ferguson, or South-Central Los Angeles. That's because there are no fathers to hear the screams of these children. It's easy to condemn the rioters, and their actions need to be condemned, but the problem cannot be solved by a different police force or a different educational system. To nurture civilly, one must nurture the building blocks of civilization itself, and all civilizations are built upon the family.

References

1. Fry, Richard. "U.S. High School Dropout Rate Reaches Record Low, Driven by Improvements among Hispanics, Blacks." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 02 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/02/u-s-high-school-dropout-rate-reaches-record-low-driven-by-improvements-among-hispanics-blacks/.
2. NewsOneStaff. “72 Percent Of Black Kids Raised By Single Parent, 25% Overall In U.S.” NewsOne. Interactive Media, 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. http://newsone.com/1195075/children-single-parents-u-s-american/
3. “Statistics and Data on the Consequences of Father Absence and the Benefits of Father Involvement.” National Fatherhood Initiative. National Fatherhood Initiative, 2014. Web. http://www.fatherhood.org/statistics-on-father-absence-download
4. Wilcox, Brad. “Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences.” National Marriage Project. National Marriage Project, 16 Aug. 2011. Web. http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/WMM_summary.pdf
5. O'Block, Robert. “Roots of Uncertainty.” Annals of Psychotherapy and Investigative Health, Spring 2008. American Psychotherapy Association. Web. http://www.annalsofpsychotherapy.com/articles/spring08.php?topic=article9
6. Moynihan, Daniel P. The Negro Family: The Case For National Action. Rep. Washington, DC: Office of Policy Planning and Research United States Department of Labor, 1965. Print.
Image courtesy Telefonkiosk - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
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