I care a lot about racial justice. One of the main reasons is that, for a long time, I had no idea I was racist. I was living comfortably in mostly white community and thought blissfully that racism was a thing of the past.
Sometime in high school I started getting the feeling something was off, but I didn’t call it racism until college. And only then because I went to a particularly diverse college (yay UTA!), studied Anthropology and Linguistics, and took classes in Sociology.
Let me repeat that. In order to recognize the racism all around me and in me, I had to take college courses about language, culture, and society while living in a unusually diverse community.
If I had lived in that community and studied nursing or engineering, I might not have had my eyes opened to racism as abundant as oxygen. If I had studied those topics at a mostly white university, I might have been able to maintain the idea that racism was a thing of the past and not something going on inside my own heart.
It still took time. I shutter when I think about some of the things that I said in class discussions in my first few years of college. Yet these are things I still hear white people saying: “reverse racism”, “White privilege isn’t real”, …
Racial Unity is in the Heart of God
Another reason is that I care about the unity of the Church. Around the time I was learning about racism in our society, God was mercifully opening my eyes up to his heart for unity within his Church. John 17 wrecked my understanding of the priority of unity. (It hadn’t made my list of important things before.) Jesus spent the last night before his cruxifixction pouring out his heart for the unity of his Bride. Unity is a priority in the heart of God.
Around that time, I was blessed to learn from people who had been working toward unity for a long time. But the focus was the denominational unity. While denominational unity is important and should be worked and prayed for, it falls short of the fullness of the vision of unity in Scripture. It is good and difficult work, and I don’t want to for a moment discount the value of people who have spent years forging partnership and friendship between leaders of different denominal backgrounds. Jesus is so in that, and so blesses the communities that emerge from that work. And he uses them to bless others.
But Revelations does not paint a picture of a multi-denominational church before the throne of God. It’s multi-ethnic. It’s multicultural. It’s multi-racial.
That picture is not reflected in the church in America.
Unity is Humility
Racial justice demands deep humility, especially on the part of white people.
We will need humility to see that the way things are is not ok. We will need to let go of our comfort — a comfort that is derived from white voices shaping evangelicalism to the exclusion of our brothers and sisters of color. We will need to let go of the ”colorblindness” that assumes our own perspective is neutral and not influenced by our whiteness.
We will need humility to learn from people and contexts that make us uncomfortable not because of the message being shared, but because of the way it’s being shared.
For example, I’ve been reading about the different traditions of preaching in white churches and black churches. First, I have to realized that the style of preaching I am used to — which has been deeply formative in wonderful ways in my life — is simply a style. It is not the only way to talk about the truths of scripture. It is derived from a culture I am comfortable within, therefore it seems neutral to me.
However, whenever I hear a black preacher preaching in a style that is derived from the culture of the Black church (in reality a variety of cultural traditions, but all of them so different from my own that I have trouble seeing the nuanced differences in them — not a issue I have within the variety cultures of white churches), I have trouble following the train of the sermon. Though I can recognize sound doctrine and have been blessed by hearing sermons, it’s more work for me learn from these sermons.
That’s on me. Not the sermon.
Do the Work of Learning
I care about racial justice, especially within the church. But more and more, I am learning that while talking about racial injustice is of vital importance, I also need to be actively seeking out my own blindspots and doing the work of learning.
Learning not in an effort to appear more woke. Learning not in an attempt to become an expert in the Black experience. (How could I?) But learning because I care about people. Learning because I see that my own culture, while historically dominate, is not more valuable than other cultures. And learning because my own spiritual growth is hobbled if I don’t learn from people different from myself.
Seeing this takes a measure of humility. Pressing into it and continuing to learn, will take more than I think I want to face from where I’m at right now. However, because I care about racial justice and unity within the Body of Christ, press in I must.
The unity Christ died for is at stake.