Saturday, August 7, 2021

Where Do We Go From Here? (Planting The Wind; Harvesting The Whirlwind, Part 4)

This is the fourth post 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. So what can we do as Christians in response to racism and discrimination? I see a response happening in three different ways:  how we respond personally, how we respond in our churches, and how we respond in political policy and governance. 

In From The Red Summer To Today: The Lived Experiences Of This Generation, I ended by quoting Esau McCauley:

Jesus asks us to see the brokenness in society and to articulate an alternative vision for how we might live. This does not mean that we believe that we can establish the kingdom on earth before his second coming. It does mean that we see society for what it is: less than the kingdom. We let the world know that we see the cracks in the facade. Hungering for justice is a hungering for the kingdom. Therefore the work of justice, when understood as direct testimony to God’s kingdom, is evangelistic from start to finish. It is part (not the whole) of God’s work of reconciling all things to himself.  

This is the focus of this post.  

How we respond personally


Christians are called to the most basic and most daunting of commands: to love others as Christ has loved us.[1] It really does boil down to this. The book of 1 John is clear that if we don't love others, we don't love God.[2] Paul makes clear in his writing that there is no room for artificial divisions or hierarchies in the church.[3]  To his first century, predominantly Jewish audience, the divisions were male/female, Gentile/Jew, and slave/free.  These kinds of barriers fall once we do life together with Christ as our Lord as God intended. 


There is no room whatsoever for judgment or the assigning of worth and value based on irrelevant distinctions. It doesn't mean that we ignore that these differences exist -  I mean, men and women are different -  but it does mean that those differences do not order the attribution of value, worth, or dignity.  So it is with us today in the discussion of shades of melanin. If Paul were writing today, I suspect he would add black/white.


This is the fundamental foundation on which we Christians build. We love each other. The church is meant to be a foretaste of what eternity will be, when every tribe nation, and tongue is gathered around Christ[4] and living in perfect community and harmony in a kaleidoscope of glorious color. In anticipation of this, we honor all people, we look out for each other, we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice,[5] we keep a sharp eye out to exercise both justice and mercy,[6] and where we see these things lacking we move in to offer to the world the hope God has given to us.


Jemar Tisby uses the acronym ARC – Awareness, Relationship, Commitment.[7]


Awareness  Start by learning the history of United States, really digging into areas of which you were not previously aware especially in the area of race relations. Watch documentaries, listen to podcasts from racially and ethnically diverse sources, read books that represent minority voices. “Studying history teaches us how to place people, events and movements within the broader scope of God’s work in the world…we have to develop an awareness of the context to properly exegete the times and apply biblical solutions.”


Relationship  Purposefully pursue a more diverse group of people with whom to interact. Ask them how they are experiencing the world, particularly in areas of justice. Find new places to hang out (stores, shops, gyms, book clubs, etc.) that broaden your experiences. 


Commitment  Get involved in doing concrete action to combat racial injustice. “Create something. Write a blog post. Write a book. Do a sermon. Do a Sunday School class. Host a forum. Write a song or poem…join (or donate money to) an organization that advocates for racial and social justice. Speak with candidates for elected office… vote.”


How did this mean you need to order your life? Well, that's up to you and God. I don't know where you live, what your opportunities are, what challenges you face. I do know this: you are surrounded by people who need to experience the love of God through the love of his people. If there is a way in which you can embody that love in a way that brings reconciliation into broken race relationships, pray for the wisdom to do it well.


How we respond in our churches


On a day-to-day basis, it looks like the previous section. In addition, the task of the church is to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We followers of Jesus believe that He makes sinful hearts pure and broken lives whole. We believe God can bring something beautiful from the ashes of slavery and racism by transforming perpetrators and victims into the likeness of Jesus. The Gospel is about redemption, beginning in human hearts and spilling inevitably into the world around us as we spread the vision of the peaceable kingdom of Eden into all the world. 


That’s the heart of our mission. With gospel-changed hearts and minds, we pour our strength into spreading the hope Christ brings – which includes water to the thirsty, clothes to naked, hope for those in bondage, and every other expression of creation’s groaning in its fallen state. [8]


Corporately, I think there are ways churches can creatively seek to address racism and its legacies. This will vary from city to city, as demographics are very different and church membership can vary considerably. 


Since three of the biggest ongoing areas of concern for minority groups in the United States are education, health care, and the opportunity to build legacy wealth, I could see churches being purposeful in focusing outreach they are probably already doing for the impoverished or disadvantaged: creating educational scholarship funds (especially if they are affiliated with local Christian schools), hosting free health clinics, letting their buildings be used for different types of community outreach that address these needs, networking for job creation and opportunity, etc.  


Tisby recommends things like building trust funds for black youth to go toward education or down payments on houses; funding black-led church plants and non-profit religious organizations; starting modern-day Freedom Schools[9] that integrate the gospel’s message of hope; or being part of starting a new seminary that purposefully integrates theology and justice issues in a racially and ethnically diverse setting. 


In a world where the color line is often assumed to be hostile, simply having churches on the forefront of this kind of movement could go a long way in pointing toward the hope and love found in gospel-grounded communities. 


How we respond in policy governance


First, the overlap today between poverty and race is undeniable. “The Intersection Of Race, Place, And Multidimensional Poverty” from the Brookings Institute[10] offers a very clear overview of this. From slavery, the Indian Wars, Jim Crow, Indian boarding schools, and civil rights and other abuses that pushed minority populations into poverty (like redlining; the denials of loans, jobs, education, healthcare etc), public governance at local, state and federal levels has either allowed or enabled poverty-making practices.[11]


The previously mentioned Brookings Institute offered a short summary of ideas: “campaigns and outreach strategies to connect low-income workers to tax policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit; cradle-to-career education initiatives to build skills; work support programs that help people find and keep stable employment; health initiatives to close gaps in health outcomes; and place-based efforts to de-concentrate poverty.”[12]


In education, a very practical ‘leveling of the playing field’ would be to take the property taxes collected for public schools and distribute the monies more evenly throughout school districts in a given state. Many of the impoverished districts are drawn along lines that have a history of purposeful racial segregation. The poverty in the community means less funding for schools. Lower funding correlates with large discrepancies in test scores: in impoverished districts, everyone’s scores go down. Read the footnoted article for an insightful comparison of three cities.[13]


As for enabling the accumulation of generational wealth – which has been undercut time and again throughout out national history – there are ways to address this: very low interest rates for first-time minority home buyers; improved housing vouchers; an increase in college grants  for minority students; the purposeful encouragement of quality businesses in low-income neighborhoods. 


Finally, the criminal justice system is in need of overhaul. Research documents the inescapable reality of the unequal treatment of black people in particular.[14] A visit to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama would take you through the common thread that runs from slavery to current mass incarceration.[15]  One can simultaneously be in favor of the arrest of criminals while simultaneously recognizing that a) passing laws intended to criminalize one group over another or b) focusing enforcement on one group of people more than another is unjust.  Both of these are part of our national legacy. The solution is not to look away from crime. The solution is to right the wrongs in a criminal justice system that is currently weighted against POC. 



[1] John 15:12

[2] 1 John 4:20, for example, but this idea permeates the book of 1 John

[3] Galatians 3

[4] Revelation 7:9

[5] Romans 12:15

[6] Micah 6:8

[7] The Color Of Compromise, Jemar Tisby

[8] Matthew 25:35-40

[11]  Median income for black households, while improving in recent years, remains significantly lower than Hispanic, white or Asian income.

[12] I think a purposeful way to address this is for cities and states to look at the previously redlined districts and see if that area has recovered from that blow. If not, they should invest very specifically in terms of infrastructure, health care, job creation, and education. They could also include places devastated by riots (such as Tulsa). 

[13] “An analysis of achievement gaps in every school in America shows that poverty is the biggest hurdle.”

[14] See :An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System, by the Vera Institute of Justice.  Or read this report sent to the UN by The Sentencing Project.

To be clear: crime is crime. I link to this not to suggest police be more lax, but to point out that the way in which policing occurs is neither fair not just, and that unjust enforcement fall along racial and class lines. It creates a ripple effect in the lives of individuals and families that has a huge impact. This does not mean individual law enforcement officers are racist or unjust; it means the system of governance enables or encourages law enforcement policies that, perhaps unintentionally, have racial implications.

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