I am white. In high school I was nicknamed Mork, the other-other white meat. It has never been much of a secret to anyone who knows me that I am white. According to Stuff White People like.com my whiteness is undeniable and inescapable.
And more so, being this is a letter to White Christianity, I don’t want to seem disassociated as being a White Christian. But I feel the need to write this letter because there is an elephant in our living room. We have altered our lives to it. Never making eye contact but appeasing all of its needs to continue to exist in our room.
The elephant, the problem, is Race and the Church. I know we don’t want to have this conversation. But please roll your eyes back towards me and hear me out. As believers in Jesus Christ, the divide within the American Church is astonishing.
“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
If we say we care about race, we care about Justice and we care about the cross, then we have to understand the past.
Chains on the wrist
America means many different things for many different people. But what some of us celebrate and revel in is what others of us were tortured and abused in. American Slavery was one of the worst cultural norms our world has ever known. Some people tracing its inception to the 1600’s, it wasn’t until April 1865 that it was even considered illegal. That is over 200 years. And that doesn’t include many events prior to the 1600’s and after Emancipation that proved slavery was flourishing across the US. These dates are all heavily debated. But regardless, Slavery was not long ago. It wasn’t long ago that Church Pastors were beating slaves they owned. (Read THIS about slavery. Read THIS and listen to THIS about the bible and Slavery)
Chains in Writing
But it doesn’t end there as many of us know. After emancipation, freedom was not a word that could be identified to every american. Jim Crow laws were laws that kept invisible chains on African-American’s all over america but especially in the southern states.
These laws were accepted by church leaders and theological institutions all over america. They were so prevalent that it wasn’t until recent years that African-American’s could attend any theologically conservative institutions they wanted to. It’s sad to think about the fact that many African-Americans couldn’t even step foot on certain theological campuses because of the color of their skin.
The Jim Crow Era’s end is considered by many to be in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was made one year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is all to be heavily debated by many.
We all have a decent understanding of all of this. Many white evangelicals know history and dates. In fact, it’s a cool thing for some to know about the history.
But has racism ended?
There is a gap from these time periods to today where the division of black and white in the church is still pretty heavy. Multiethnic churches for most people is a dream that will only be seen in heaven. If you can name or list on your hand how many minorities you have in your church, you’re far from multiethnic.
The Problem: People think that racism has ended. Many people believe that with the election of a black president it was the flag of equality and the end of racism. But with the election of a black president, there has been progress, and that’s it. Our country is stained. The ladders of society are bent. They are bent from a racist past.
The stains our country now has though reminds us of the stains sin leaves. It is ruthless. It has marred everything. Racism is completely and utterly drenched in sin. It’s continual existence should be of no surprise.
The difficult thing about this conversation is like many white evangelicals I talk with, you have this all figured out. You assume because of life experiences that this isn’t an argument worth having because racism is dead. But please think this through, the world you have known is a very different world then the one by most African-American’s. You were most likely born with what is called privilege.
Being white, you have lived common life not knowing you were white. You walked into stores anywhere(except the “bad” part of town) and didn’t have problems with your skin tone. You weren’t raised by parents that were spit on daily for their skin tone. You didn’t grow up hearing stories from your grandparents that were beaten for their skin tone. You didn’t wonder when you got that ticket for running a stop sign instead of a warning if it had something to do with your skin tone. You aren’t nervous to drive outside the city because at gas stations and small towns you may get stared at, harassed and possibly given sub par service because of your color.
As well, though you grew up with real dreams. You grew up believing you could be whatever you wanted. You haven’t thought about prison statistically being your destination. You haven’t been nervous about the lack of a financial/social support system. When applying for a job you always had friends of your parents in high places who could “pull a string” for you. If you struggled some, there may have been people who could help you out some here and there with things.
There are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have never known these privileges. Instead they have known a different society. Grew up with different conversations. Had different experiences in school and work. Had different views on their hopes and dreams.
White Christianity, if we are going to desire to live our lives committed to the cross, we must first realize where we have been and where we are. My main purpose in this first letter is that the church would become less ignorant of the deep issues that lead people to misunderstand race. As well, that we’d understand what privilege is.
Though this is geared between the African-American experience and whites, privilege effects all other minorities(Native American, Asian American, Latin American, Refugees and many more).