The Church, Race, and Justice

David Swanson shares some insightful and challenging commentary on the church and race at Out of Ur.  This is an area where we need to be more proactive, and aware of minorities’ experiences.  It’s not easy to know what that’s like if you’re in the majority here in the U. S.  If you’ve spent some time in a foreign country, though, you can begin to get an idea.  The world can begin to look very different when you look different from most of the people around you.  It’s a good thing for those of us in the majority ethnicity in the U. S. to be aware of that.

Swanson writes,

Whatever the reason for our silence when it comes to race, the result is the same: increasing irrelevance in a culture schooled in diversity. How strange this must seem to a nation whose multi-ethnic population will soon eliminate any one racial majority. What does our ambivalence say when ethnic and class injustice appear in our neighborhoods or local news? The ability to speak to a generation raised within this milieu is compromised by our ongoing silence. In a culture that laughs at buffoons like Stephen Colbert and Michael Scott and sympathizes with the fantastically diverse cast of Lost, our silence may be the loudest voice of all.

With so much media and entertainment chatter around issues of race and racism, why do our churches struggle to join the conversation? (To be clear, there are churches—many African American congregations among them—whose contributions to racial awareness and justice have been many. I’m writing here about the mostly white churches of the evangelical tradition; churches that, in my experience, say very little about these issues.) It can’t be that we don’t care about issues of justice. The faithful care for the unborn has more recently been joined by an active concern for those suffering from extreme poverty and the AIDS pandemic. “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good,” is an accusation that rings hollow for most of us. So why the ambivalence about race and the ongoing racism experienced by many Americans? . . .

In addition to fear, our silence might be traced to our relationships. Without diverse friendships how can we expect to understand the individual and systemic racism that many experience? While serving at a suburban church, an African American friend would sarcastically joke about how often the police pulled him over in our mostly-white town. His crime? DWB: driving while black. Without this man’s friendship I wouldn’t have realized how he experienced our seemingly idyllic and peaceful town. In the weeks before Halloween a couple years ago, one of the homes in this same suburban town featured a dummy hanging from a tree. While I doubt it was the intention, to many it was a horribly accurate depiction of a lynching. Surely this family would have thought twice about their Halloween decor if they had friends whose personal histories of slavery and oppression were known to them. Perhaps some of us simply need to make friends whose lives and stories look different than our own . . . (continue)

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