Wednesday, July 14, 2021

From The Red Summer To Today: The Lived Experiences Of This Generation (Planting The Wind; Harvesting The Whirlwind, Part 3)

This is the third in a series on the history of slavery and racism in the United States.

In Part One, "1619 To The Civil War: Slavery Before Emancipation," I noted the biblical basis for caring about the history and the legacy of racism in our country before giving an overview beginning in 1609 through the Civil War and Emancipation. Basically, we should care because Jesus cares. If you have not yet read the first post, I encourage you to do so. There is a lot of information that will add context to what you are reading.

"Emancipation To The Great Migration: Jim Crow, Reconstruction and Sundown Towns" continued to look at the sinful impact and harsh legacy from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. 

We pick up our narrative in 1921. Starting now, there are still people alive today who experienced these things. 

Emancipation To the Great Migration: Jim Crow, Reconstruction And Sundown Towns (Planting The Wind; Harvesting the Whirlwind, Part 2)

 This is the second in a series on the history of slavery and racism in the United States.

In From 16019 To Emancipation, I started by noting the biblical basis for caring about the history and the legacy of racism in our country before giving an overview beginning in 1609 through the Civil War and Emancipation. Basically, we should care because Jesus cares. If you have not yet read the first post, I encourage you to do so. There is a lot of information that will add context to what you are reading. 

We pick up our narrative right after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

From 1619 To Emancipation (Planting The Wind; Harvesting The Whirlwind, Part 1)

We learn some important things about how we, the followers of Jesus, ought to be present in the world simply by looking at how Jesus was present with the people in his time.

·    He “saw” people[1] (It’s a loaded word - see Matthew 9:36 – but it led to compassionate action.)

·     He listened and thoughtfully responded (See the Rich Young Ruler[2]; the woman who touched his garment[3]; the woman caught in adultery.)[4]

·     He spent time with them (He was that crazy ‘friend of sinners,'[5] an insult Jesus embraced.) 

·     He invited himself into their homes. (Zaccheus)[6]

·     He went to their unclean neighborhoods. (Samaria)[7]

·     He empathized with them (Hebrew 4:15). [8] “In our pain; Jesus is pained. In our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t… his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress.. His human nature engages our troubles comprehensively.”[9]

·     He poured out his life for them. (#crucifixion)

·     He offered them hope. “I have come that you might have life.” (John 10:10)

This is what the love of God looked like expressed through Jesus. We model the loving example of Jesus when we see, listen, spend time together with others, seek to sympathize and empathize, and pour out our lives so that we might faithfully and lovingly re-present Jesus in hope-filled attitudes, actions, and words.  

Because I want to write about an aspect of life that ought to inspire a motivating sorrow as we see the impact of evil in the world, it’s worth noting that a key way in which is described: “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”[10] 

“Twice in the Gospels we are told that Jesus broke down and wept. And in neither case is it sorrow for himself or his own pains. In both cases it is sorrow over another – and in one case, Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and in the other, his deceased friend, Lazarus (John 11:35). What was his deepest anguish?  The anguish of others. What drew his heart out to the point of tears? The tears of others.”[11]

There is a movement of people leaving white evangelicalism (#leaveloud) because of ongoing frustrations with how the brutal legacy and ongoing painful reality of racism is (or isn’t) being addressed. A recent Barna survey revealed that “more than any segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African American brothers and sisters.”[12] It doesn’t feel to many non-white evangelicals like the church is a place where the heart of Jesus for those hurt by sin is on display. Their experience is that the church is refusing to see, listen and take seriously the ongoing legacy of the pain of racism. That feels a lot like a refusal to love by a refusal to empathize.[13]

Here’s a practical example about what’s at stake. The Nation of Islam began in the 1930s and quickly became an alternative to Christianity for many black people who had become disillusioned with the Christian religion’s seeming impotence in the face of racial prejudice. Muhammad Ali once explained that he had embraced “the Nation” as a teenager after a NOI member gave him one of their newspapers with a cartoon depicting a white slave owner whipping an enslaved black man while also telling him to pray to Christ.[14]

Maybe the lack of honest tackling of this issue is happening because there are a lot of ways for this discussion to potentially go wrong. We are seeing that on display as our nation tries to address it. But I also know this: not talking about is a way that will definitely go wrong. With that in mind, I am walking into this praying that this will go right. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation [15]; we can’t be part of that if we don’t understand what needs to be reconciled, and how, and why. 

I have preached a lot of sermons and done a lot of posts calling out sin and discussing the impact with which sin lands on its victims. This is just as true for racism as any other sin.·     


      If we don’t rightly name sin for what it is, we can too easily dismiss sin, not see sin, or fall into it rather than pursue righteousness. I will define racism as the dismissing, demeaning, objectifying, discarding and/or brutalizing of image bearers off God simply because their ethnicity or melanin differs from one’s own. Globallyracism is not unique to one group of people.[20]  In the United States, the legacy of racism directed at particular groups of people by other groups of people has historically been focused in particular ways, and that’s what we will look at: our history in the United States.


      If we don’t rightly see this sin, we will not see the victims of sin; if we do, we won’t see how profoundly it lands.  We see and listen so we can know and understand how legacies have shaped our collective national and American church history so that we might clearly intervene with righteousness and move both victims and perpetrators toward healing and restoration.[21] In the Old Testament, the Israelites constantly recited their history. They did not forget. Read Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9. He begs for God’s mercy for the actions of generations past; Daniel was not responsible for their sin, but he was responsible for what he did with the legacy they left him. Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in relation to the compassion Jesus felt, “When [Christ] saw the people in misery, his bowels yearned within him; the works of grace and mercy in Christ, they came from his bowels first.”[16]


      If we don’t see how profoundly it lands, sin will continue without Christians moving into those sin-ravaged places and stopping the chaos and pain by bringing gospel healing to those who are the victims of it. What we learn should provoke us to love well so that we might have more wisdom on how to be faithfully and lovingly present in attitude, action, and word with those who have both experienced racism - and perpetrated it. 


      If we don’t move into those sin-ravaged places, especially as it shows up in the legacy of the church, the presentation of the gospel and the experience of doing life together with God’s people are going to suffer great harm. We want the community of the church to become a compelling place that embodies the heart and mind of Jesus for a world that is groaning from the weight of sin in every corner as it awaits redemption.[22]

The Bible is clear that there is a legacy of sin that gets passed down (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Deuteronomy 5:9). Ken Wytsma, a pastor in Beaverton, Oregon, looks at how racism leaves a legacy by summarizing our different American histories this way:  

“Much of our identity is derived from our past, our cultural heritage – where we’ve come from…The white American ‘creation story,’ as it was framed in the melting pot analogy of the 1940s and ‘50s, is positive and exciting: a country forged in the ‘untamed wilderness’ out of nothing more than a healthy dose of curiosity and courage and a thirst for liberty, freedom, and – ironically – equality. The black American creation story, Asian American creation story, Latin American creation story, and Native American creation story are rooted in tragedy, kidnapping, enslavement, theft, coercion, rape, murder, genocide, inequality, exclusion, terrorism, and oppression in this country, all because of the color of their ancestors’ skin. There is no denying the powerful psychological influence of such a heritage, nor the difficulty involved with forging an identity out of such a painful past.”[17]

There is no doubt our histories form us; the legacies of which we are a part shape our view of the world and the stories we tell ourselves about our place in it. Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah talk about Historical Trauma Response (HTR), a diagnosis developed by a social worker working with Native Americans. It’s a type of trans-generational trauma that happens when any people group endures widespread and prolonged trauma on a communal level. It’s “transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors via complex post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.” One example will, I hope, suffice: The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are overrepresented by 300% in referrals to child psychiatry clinics in comparison to the general population.[18]

We have to take the legacy of sin seriously. We must see how racism has landed like a bomb in particular communities, sometimes for generation upon generation. We must not ignore how trauma lingers in a broken creation crying out for redemption. Not seeing this is refusing to see reality.

And yet.... Ezekiel is clear: when we are committed to righteousness, our history is not our destiny any more than our ancestors’ history is our destiny (Ezekiel 18:19-20) [19]  The whole point of the Gospel is that God can bring beauty from ashes, and that God’s people have the opportunity to spread the righteous and just boundaries of Eden into the wilderness of the world, bringing life and hope into places of death and despair. 

So, we are going to look at racism in American and specifically American church history. If what follows feels really personal to you – like I am attacking you as an individual or you as a white person - then you’ve got something going on I don’t know about. 

I’m not going to shame you, or tell you that you are a racist, or that being white automatically makes you complicit in racism.  As far as I know, nothing I cover will overlap with what you have done in your life. If it does, own it. If it doesn’t, don’t project false guilt onto yourself. 

Because I have been reading and listening to black and Native American evangelical writers and podcasters this past year, their historical experience will by my primary (though not sole) focus. There is going to be an avalanche of information, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

This will be a four part series: 1619 To Emancipation;  Emancipation To the Great Migration: Jim Crow, Reconstruction And Sundown Towns; From The Red Summer Until Today: The Lived Experience Of This Generation; and Where Do We Go From Here?

I beg of you to see and listen in order to build sympathy and provoke empathy, so we can be a loving, righteous and ultimately hope-filled presence in our culture and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.