Race Matters

"This new story begins and ends with God and offers people of all races and ethnic backgrounds a plot worth living"
Brenda Salter McNeil

There are a few things that properly raised people are not supposed to talk about in public, as they are simply to divisive.  Politics, religion, and race are topics that are essentially off limits.  So we have superficial encounters with one another in a variety of settings striving to get along, when the things that most separate us we dare not discuss.  Its this 800 lb gorilla in the room that keeps us in this quiet, but vicious cycle of distance and irrelevance. 

Here's the cycle:

We do not speak about our racial, political, or religious differences out of concern for offending the other.  Because we do not understand the racial (more accurately described as ethnic), political, and religious views of others, we speak and act in ways that are clearly offensive and hurtful.  We then react out of woundedness and develop erroneous stereotypes of one another that are reinforced by fear, a polarizing media and ignorance.  These stereotypes often support cultural superiority and we maintain our arrogance by never confronting the issue, using the excuse that we do not want to offend others, when the truth is that we do not want to appear bigoted, intolerant, or ignorant.

In every urban center across the United States, there are racial divides.  These divides offer a startling contrast in the understanding and interpretation of reality.  Within these preconceived stereotyped filters of reality can be true poison.  The serious venom of hatred and contempt that eventually is expressed in violence towards self and others.  By violence, I am not simply speaking to physical violence, but also economic, social, and structural violence that entire cultures can commit against others.

Nearly a decade ago, Sociologists Emerson and Smith (Divided by Faith) published their work on the differences that race, culture, and theological tradition had on its understanding of the worth of people of other races and how that understanding allowed for the formation of apathy and disdain towards one another.  What is clear, is the even among people who identify themselves as Christian, there are deeply held, divisive and destructive beliefs about others based upon race in most Americans.  This statement is multi-directional.  No race or ethnicity has the corner on this.

I believe that the time is right to begin a movement that demolishes the divisiveness and the dehumanization that is fostered by generations of stereotyping and isolation.  I believe that we have wounded one another to the point that we are in protection mode, but not healing mode.  I think that healing is possible between cultures but we need to recognize a few principles:

1. Race Matters:  Race still effects how we see each other.  There is no such thing as a post-racial society.  Understanding ethnicity allows us to see each other in the richness and fullness of our existence.  Failing to see ethnicity is dehumanizing by definition.

2. Colorblindness is pathological: In the field of opthalmology, the condition of colorblindness is not normal or healthy.  Somewhere, in America's civil religion (common beliefs of Americans), we developed the notion that we need to get to the point of not ever recognizing ethnicity in what we do.  That resulted in an inability to see one another realistically and under appreciates    the experiences and traditions that formed many ethnic cultures.

3. A healthy sense of racial identity in all of its nuances is essential for understanding others.  Many anti-racist activists, such as Tim Wise, have argued that one of the problems with many White Americans is that they do not understand their own whiteness.  That is, White Americans fail to understand that being White in America has its own roles, relationships, and responsibilities.  In other words, it has a unique culture.  The same goes for all ethnicities.  The goal is not to eliminate the beauty of ethnic traditions, but to recognize the patterns and assumptions that frame our thoughts and actions so that we can "be real" with ourselves in order that we may "be real" with others.

4. Real Reconciliation is a movement of God, reconciling people to Himself then to one another.  In the Bible, in Genesis 11, we see humanity split by a confusing of language.  Thousands of years later, we see in Acts 2, the reunification of people  through the giving of God's spirit.  The New Testament confirms that on of Jesus' purposes was to bring reconciliation among diverse peoples.  Our dependence on God, and the bearing of the image of God bond all cultures togethers.  It is this commonality that allows us to suspect that God has a plan for us, that radically involves people who are distinctly different than us.

In the month of May, the church that I have the privilege of pastoring will begin a sermon series called "Color, Culture, and Christ" with the goal of allowing God to begin with us to reconcile color and cultures (http://www.newhopefree.org/).  I pray that you will allow God to make you an instrument of His peace and an ambassador of His love this day.

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor