Candy Hearts, Real Hearts, & Race Relations
It was February and I was in second grade. I was ravaged by white guilt. This guilt was a result of the enslavement of black people. The blood of my ancestors was on my hands and I had to do something about it.
I remember going home and listening to the “I Have a Dream” speech on loop. I remember the first time I sat down with my CD player and tuned the radio to 101.1 The Beat, a local hip-hop and R&B station. I remember when Valentine’s Day came around I could afford only 2 of the Valentines that were to be delivered during the school day. Though we weren’t that close I chose Chelsea and Shawn, the only black students in my class. With each disgusting box of antacid hearts I felt that I was beginning to make reparations for the history of wrongs done against the African American community.
I learned to let go of this guilt that I carried and realized that sending Valentine’s to second grade acquaintances was not the most effective way to go about racial reconciliation.
But there are some things I do, some things I say, some things I think that still linger from the days gone by. There are some things deserving of guilt that I have ignored. There are some things that I have long thought were straight because I have been crooked. There are things that pretending to be colorblind made me blind to.
The death of Mike Brown and the outcry of Ferguson have brought an apocalyptic revelation to the United States, showing light on the hidden corners of systemic racism that structures the United States, and the Church is called to respond.
“Ha, oppressed?! I’ll show them oppressed!” one believer said.
“If they think they’re being oppressed they oughta just go over to Liberia where the rest of ’em live!” another suggested.
After all, the protestors are “ignorant" and “animals.” And the looters have been stealing “all of the orange and grape soda,” but “no work boots.” others reported.
But you know, maybe we shouldn’t talk about it. Especially since, “They always make it a race issue.” Who really cares? “Yeah, why don’t we talk about something that matters.”
It’s not about evidence. It’s not about the choices of others. It’s not about what people with social power think is or is not racist. It’s about how we choose to respond to unrest in our society. It’s about how the people of God are to respond to a call for justice.
This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’ Zechariah 7:9-14
It is clear how God feels about oppressing others. It is clear to whose defense he will come.
It’s time for the white Christian community to pay attention to what’s going on in our world. It’s time for us to turn toward the issues and uncover our ears. It’s time for us to soften our hearts to the downtrodden, to the poor, to the oppressed. It is time to listen to how God is using the events of today to convey his message to the world. It’s an opportunity for the church to respond to voices that have been silenced for generations. It’s an opportunity to break the stereotypes that have been so deeply engraved in our society. It’s an opportunity for the united body of Christ to act as it is called to act. It’s an opportunity to live out the impartial love of God in a world of hatred.
It’s not about opinions. It’s about acknowledging the realities and struggles of our fellow man as Christ did in his human incarnation.
In second grade I broke my wrist when I (gracefully) fell off a scooter. My friends were laughing at me. I could still bend it, so they just gave me some Advil. A few days later a doctor took a quick glance at it. He said it was fine. It wasn’t until a week later when I broke down crying in the middle of a pizza place after trying to carry a glass of water that I realized there was a real problem. I had to cause a scene to justify finally getting an x-ray and discover that my wrist was broken. It didn’t matter that I could bend it. It didn’t matter that everyone, even doctors, told me it was fine. It was still broken & we wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t taken a real look at what was going on.
We’ve got to stop diminishing the struggles of black Americans and pretending like they don’t exist. We’ve got to stop degrading their rage and start asking why it’s there. People don’t protest all night & lie down on the interstate for no reason. Just because we live in America where they can bend doesn’t mean they’re not broken.
More importantly, believers must stop publicly degrading other humans. They are called to a higher standard than the world and to reflect the God who made those humans and the church he built for them. Don’t defame his name by defaming his creations or increase the burden of the church in its ministry of reconciliation.
I can’t count the number of awful performances my parents sat through over the years. I was in atrocious ballet recitals, embarrassing elementary school musicals, four years worth of high school theater, and two humiliating seasons of cross-country. None of that mattered to them, but they were there. They were there because it mattered to me, and because they loved me, it mattered to them too. If we love our sisters and brothers who are oppressed because of their race, their pains will matter.
Ten black mothers sat on a stage describing the lengths they went through to protect their sons and prepare them for inevitable racial profiling. They recall when they had “the race talk,” most of them having that talk with their boys several times. They asked the mothers in the audience what they were telling their sons about race.
Voddie Bauchum, pastor at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, TX, writes about his experience as a black American and father of seven boys. He was continually marginalized because of his skin and he taught his boys how to react to situations that were fueled by racial tension. He reminds them that they are not justified in having a chip on their shoulder. He reminds them that vengeance belongs to the Lord.
New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson wrote a Facebook post saying that he was angered by the injustice, frustrated by the media’s promotion of ” an invincible attitude,” fearful for his own safety as a black man who is often seen as a threat, and embarrassed by those who in their rage validated many of the stereotypes he is fighting against. However, he is also hopeful because he knows that the situation is better than the generations before him and he is encouraged because “it’s not a skin problem, it’s a sin problem,” and “God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel … the Gospel gives mankind hope.”
Pray for Peace, Solutions, & Reconciliation
I don’t know what the solutions are. I don’t know how we overcome centuries of dissidence. But I do know that God has overcome the world. I do know that prayer is accessing his omnipotent power to be used according to his will. I do know that it is in his will that the oppressed be liberated, the church be one, and all people be reconciled to him.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God! What a blessing it would be for us to find peace with all people of all colors and together be called the children of God. That will only happen when we become peacemakers, people who step into situations of unrest, and bring about peace. That will only happen when we see the face of God in our sisters and brothers. That will only happen when we stop blaming and start understanding.
May we pray that God will direct our churches in his will and that he will give us opportunities to become a singular body for his glory. (“A Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond?”)
Seek after God’s Heart for the Oppressed
God has always been a fan of the underdog. He sets the lowly at the royal table. He sets free those bound to tradition and social standards. The prophets preach against the people of God who have forsaken the poor. Luke criticizes the Pharisees whose chief flaw is the neglect of those deemed inferior to them. Again and again God incorporates these people into the kingdom.
Many black Americans are the face of the oppressed today. The oppressed is the one who causes you to lock your doors when you see them coming down the street. The oppressed is the lady in the hijab whom you fear at the grocery store. The oppressed is the homeless man you pass on the street without ever seeing.
Heaven is going to be quite shocking to those who have built a foundation of faith upon the sands of racial, socioeconomic, and ideological homogeny. God calls all to be reconciled to the divine, and he has a special compassion for those who didn’t catch all of the breaks. We should all be putting our hands up to him, acknowledging him as the maker of all and the fountain of mercy, which should be overflowing out of us. We should be putting our hands out to others, uniting as the diverse body of Christ on earth, to live and speak as he would so that the world may see something different about us, something that attracts them to the glory of God.