Monday, July 6, 2015


The following incident occurred 15 or so years ago when I taught at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston.  CBS is a college that was originally founded to give Biblical and Theological training to African-American ministers and other leaders in the black community.  Though it has diversified since its beginnings, the majority of its students is still African-American, though ironically many of the faculty and most of its wealthy supporters are white.  (While my memory may have failed me on some of the details, I believe the story is basically accurate.

Anyway, I'm sitting having coffee with 3 or 4 students; I'm the only white guy at the table.

One of the students cheerfully informs us, "They asked me to give my testimony at the fund-raising banquet."

"Wow, that's great!" replies another.  "What you goin' to tell?"

"I'm goin' to tell how the Lord saved me and I'm goin' to tell about how this school has been such a help in my spiritual growth."

"Make sure you tell 'em about the drugs," says another, older student.  Smirks appear on the other faces (including mine).

"Drugs?" says the first.

"Yeah," says the other.  "You got to tell them how you were saved from drugs."  The smirks turn to grins.

"But I ain't never done drugs!" was the indignant reply.

"Look" says his self-appointed coach.  "That don't make no difference!  There's two things them rich white folks want to know about us black folks.  First, that we been saved from drugs, 'cause we all are on drugs!  And the other thing they want to know is that we ain't goin' after their daughters!"

Well, this white guy almost choked with laughter, as did the others at the table, except for the deflated young testifier.  However, later as I pondered the conversation I'd heard I was deeply saddened at how true the "coach's" insights were.  For quite some time I had recognized the truth of what was so cynically expressed, though I was hesitant to admit it.

On a previous post, AMERICA IN DENIAL, I spoke of the racism that permeates not only our white American culture, but also the church.  I spoke of how we all can find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of racism.  I spoke of our need as the church for repentance, not only of the racism within us but also of its accompanying twin: denial.  I mentioned some of our trite ways of excusing ourselves.  After posting this I learned of some new ways, not only of denying one's personal racism, but of denying that racism even exists.

In my own experience I have found some of the most ludicrous denials of racism coming from those who are most involved in ministry across racial lines.  I am speaking as one who has spent many years attempting to cross racial barriers, as one who has sought to bring about what used to be known as "racial reconciliation."  After all, we might say, aren't we white people the ones who are making an effort to cross these lines?  To "minister" to these people in their need - for the Gospel, for education, for whatever else?  Yes, but what is our motive for this service?  Does our service reinforce our feelings of racial superiority?  After all, aren't we the ones with something better to give?

I have heard my white co-workers, my white fellow ministers making of-the-cuff racist remarks or using racial stereotypes, often unwittingly.  And I suppose that I have been guilty of the same.  I have also heard those of other races express their distrust of white people, as the above episode illustrates.  Is our racism more obvious to those to whom we minister than it is to us?

As I said before, I am pessimistic of any real change in America's situation.  Though we must continue to work for social justice and racial reconciliation, we must also recognize this fact. However, we as the church, we who claim allegiance to Christ need to rise above the racism of America.  If there is to be change, it must begin with us.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some pointed questions:
-- Do we really believe that Christ died to reconcile us to God and to our fellow human beings?
-- Do we really believe that in Christ "there is neither Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free" (Colossians 3:11), that "there is no Jew or Greek, there is no male or female" (Galatians 3:28)? How about black and white?
-- Do we really believe that we have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves?
-- Do we really believe that Jesus commanded us to make disciples of ALL the nations?

This is not and should not be a matter of political preference or regional upbringing.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The Second Person of the Trinity stepped outside the comfort zone of Heaven to become one of us.  If I may say, He crossed racial barriers to become one with those who were his enemies.

The Apostle Paul apparently felt that as a follower of Jesus, he needed to cross those barriers as his Lord had done. "For though I am free from all, I made myself a servant to all that I might win the more ... I have become all things to all that I might same some" (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22a).  He lists those he has "become as".

Are we willing to confess our racial pride and fears and become a "servant of all" even of those who are different, who may be suspicious of us, even hate us?

1 comment:

John Kulp said...

Working for a Japanese parent company 10 years ago, I had many insightful conversations relating to the ability of Japanese manufacturers to achieve much higher quality in their products than American manufacturers. There were many interesting perspectives on cultural differences but one statement stood out. "When there is a problem, you Americans divide and focus on fixing the blame. We Japanese come together and focus on fixing the problem." And, more deeply, "fixing the problem" for Americans usually meant temporary repair with chewing gum and bailing wire. But, for the Japanese it always included a time consuming, thorough, introspective search to identify and permanently fix root causes.

Almost all of what I get sent by Email or on Facebook related to racism is blame focused. "Baltimore was the fault of the police". "Baltimore was the fault of the behavior of young black hoodlums". "The problems in black culture are the fault of black men abandoning their role as fathers". "All of our problems are the fault of Obama". "All of our problems are the fault of George W Bush".

And most proposed solutions are naively shallow. "We just need tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation, and that will create jobs and solve the problem of racism". "We just need to restore cuts in entitlements to improve the living conditions in the ghetto and that will solve the problem of racism".

I appreciate your post as a call for us as Christians to take the lead in looking more deeply within ourselves for our role in the root problem, and a call for us to come together with humility to take positive action toward it's solution.