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Last fall, I bought Dr. Tony Evans’ new book, Oneness Embraced: Through the Eyes of Tony Evans.  Personally, I’m a fan of this pastor and his radio show, The Alternative.  A few years ago, I also had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of his daughter, Priscilla Shirer, at a women’s conference held by my church.  Seeing Dr. Evans was taking up the topic of race and racism in the evangelical church, I immediately got a copy.  Unfortunately, it took me several months to get around to reading it.  I can say that this book, written primarily to white and black audiences in particular, is a confident yet diplomatic invitation to those interested in building unity amid diversity and division in the church.

Dr. Evans begins by identifying white evangelical culture’s call to return to the good old days for what it is: an intensely problematic romanticism that overlooks the theological error and human cruelty committed by revered historical figures.  Evans is gentle, generous and gracious in explaining this to his likely resistant and privileged audience:

For far too long Anglo Christians have wrapped the Christian faith in the American flag, often creating a civil religion that is foreign to the way God intended His church to function.  Our nation’s founding fathers are frequently elevated to the level of church fathers in the arguments for the U.S. being founded as a Christian nation…Our founding fathers’ failure to apply the principles of freedom that they were espousing to the area of race is a prominent reason why many minority individuals are less than enthusiastic to join in with those in our nation who want to exalt or restore America’s history and heritage…what is often missing in our appeal to the return of the heritage and faith of our founding fathers is an acknowledgment and reversal of a major theological contradiction that many held–that of proclaiming justice for all while denying it for many…[We] have often appealed to that heritage while simultaneously ignoring the moral inconsistencies that were prevalent in its application. (19-20)

Evans dedicates a large section of his book to educate his audiences about the evolution of the black church in America.  This is perhaps the most valuable component.  While this abridged history may seem like an oversimplification for students of the subject, Evans’ presentation of the material piques one’s interest and would be engaging to any relatively uneducated audience (like me).  Unlike many of his white peers, Evans, himself a mainline evangelical, acknowledges the contributions of black liberation theologian James Cone, while making clear his own points of contention with that dogma.  He encourages his readers to engage in a discerning exploration of Cone’s theology:

While evangelicals would do well to listen to James Cone in the areas where he has argued correctly, we must also recognize the areas of disagreement.  Primarily, Cone’s black theology greatly overemphasized the black situation of oppression to the point of compromising biblical truth.  It also focused heavily on racism to such an extent that no real basis for reconciliation was afforded.  Likewise, Cone’s interpretation of the relationship of Jesus Christ to liberation failed to integrate it into the whole of God’s salvific purposes for mankind. (193)

Evans goes on to address how Cone’s theology affected earlier emphases of the black church and how those shifts interacted with the social and political realm.  Evans’ discussion of these historical topics is scholarly and thoughtful, inviting conversation and accepting that there are differing opinions on these topics within the black church.

Following this section, Evans lays out a proposal for establishing a multi-cultural church that addresses the reality of the racialized context of black-white relationships.  Evans’ hope for unity and reconciliation in the church is not a naïve one.  He confronts the situation honestly saying, “Both sides must be willing to experience the potential rejection of friends and relatives, whether Christians or non-Christians, who are not willing to accept that spiritual family relationships transcend physical, cultural, and racial relationships.  He even cites Ephesians 4 and one of our favorite verses here on the blog.  Evans describes the “kingdom-minded church” both metaphorically and practically (each paired with Scripture references that I’m omitting for the sake of brevity):

Someday a big show is coming to town and it’s called the kingdom of God…God has left His church here to provide clips of the major production that is to come.  Unfortunately, most of our clips have been so weak in demonstrating the power and wonder of a feature film that few people show interest in picking up a ticket.  Instead of previewing an epic, we often merely reflect the sitcoms and soap operas around us…While there is war in the world, there ought to be the existence of peace in the church, and prayer for peace by the church.  While there is oppression in society, there ought to be liberation and justice in the church.  While there is poverty in the world, there ought to be voluntary sharing with the goal of meeting existing needs in the church.  While there is racism, classism, and sexism in the world, there ought to be authentic oneness in the church.  Thus the world is presented with the option of Christ by being what the church is supposed to be in the world–an alternative model for the world–a community functioning under the rule of God in the mediatory kingdom on earth. (247-248)

While much of what Evans presents in the book is done so in reduced, dualistic terms (black v. white, social action v. personal transformation, etc.), there are times when this works in his favor, adding weight to his arguments in favor of a deeper commitment to social justice (something white evangelicals often eschew as a priority for “liberal” churches).  The dualism also gives his point-of-view poignancy, as in his conversation with famed evangelist Billy Graham (who himself struggled for years to integrate his crusades and rectify his the mistakes he made early in his career when he kowtowed to segregationists):

While we spent the afternoon together, [Graham] expressed the concern weighing heavy on his heart.  He told me how individuals would work together across racial lines to both plan and implement his crusades; however, after the event was over, these same individuals had no relationship with each other at all…In response, I told him that this happened because the event was only tied to evangelism and not to community transformation as well.  When invited, black pastors joined with white pastors to put together an evangelistic outreach.  But the heart of African-American Christianity hinged on a broader perspective of the scope of the gospel rather than solely on the gospel’s content.  When asked to participate in the community-impact initiatives by their fellow African-American pastors, the Anglo church has, as a general rule, often not shown the same enthusiasm of partnership that they receive in their outreach requests.  Without a comprehensive understanding of the gospel, we lack the common goal necessary to bring us together to evoke real and lasting change in our nation. (270-271)

Evans ends his book with a short description of how his church has integrated some of these principles in an effort to reflect the wider kingdom of God.  This section is short, but offers a practical template for conducting ministry in light of and with an aim toward unity and diversity.

I’m glad to see such popular preachers taking up these issues and I’m hopeful that my next read, John Piper’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, will also prove edifying.

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Also check out the Korematsu Institute: http://korematsuinstitute.org/

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From Catholic Archbishop of Mobile, Rev. Thomas Rodi (excerpt, full-text at link, emphasis all mine):

This is our right as Americans and as citizens of Alabama. Sometimes people will say that the U.S. Constitution gives us the freedom to worship. Actually, the Constitution gives us the right to the free exercise of our religion. “Freedom to Worship” means that we can come together on Sunday to worship. “Free Exercise” means that, when we leave church on Sunday, we have the right to exercise our faith in our daily lives. This new law prevents us as believers from exercising our life of faith as commanded by the Lord Jesus.

I did not wish to enter into a legal action against the government of Alabama. It is not my temperament to look for an argument. I prayed fervently about this matter, and my prayer kept bringing me back to the motto I chose ten years ago for my bishop’s coat of arms: “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14) Indeed, the love of Christ impels us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19). No law is just which prevents the proclamation of the Gospel, the baptizing of believers, or love shown to neighbor in need. I do not wish to stand before God and, when God asks me if I fed him when he was hungry or gave him to drink when he was thirsty, to reply: yes, Lord, as long as you had the proper documents.

Throughout our history we have been a nation of immigrants. The words of Moses to the Hebrew people should resonate in our own hearts: “You shall not oppress or afflict the alien among you, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20) As citizens we have the right to live our Christian faith. As Christians, we have an obligation to do so.

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From June 18, 2011, through January 1, 2012, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, will be hosting an exhibit called “Race: Are We So Different?

The exhibition RACE: Are we so different? brings together the everyday experience of living with race, its history as an idea, the role of science in that history, and the findings of contemporary science that are challenging its foundations.

Interactive exhibit components, historical artifacts, iconic objects, compelling photographs, multimedia presentations, and attractive graphic displays offer visitors to RACE an eye-opening look at its important subject matter.

Developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, RACE is the first nationally traveling exhibition to tell the stories of race from the biological, cultural, and historical points of view. Combining these perspectives offers an unprecedented look at race and racism in the United States.

Other museums have been and will be hosting this exhibit as well. Current and upcoming locations include Boston, Charlotte, Santa Barbara, New Orleans, Houston, and Durham. Please visit the official website for a virtual tour and the tour schedule.

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…asked a young man of Tim Wise.  h/t Sociological Images and sister Tope for bringing this video to my attention.

**poster’s note:  For more on this subject, check out the sidebar of our Derailment Series or click on any number of the tags associated with the issues of privilege, guilt, and beginning as an anti-racist.

And because Nikki is a quick-draw on the commenting, here’s the transcript:

Questioner (off-camera): Um, as a white male, should I feel guilty for the sins of my fathers. I affirm that they exist, but should I feel guilty for them?

Tim Wise: No. You should feel angry. And you should feel committed to doing something to address that legacy. It’s like, for instance, with pollution, right? We think about the issue of pollution. Now none of us in this room, to my knowledge, are individually responsible for having belched any toxic waste into the air, or injecting toxic waste into the soil, or done any of the things… we didn’t put lead paint into the housing, you know?

Individually we’re innocent of that. But someone did that stuff, and we’re living with the legacy of it right now, or in this case might be dying with the legacy of it, getting ill, right?.

So it isn’t about feeling guilty about what someone did, even if you were the direct heir of the chemical company that did the pollution, but it is about saying, all of us in the society have to take responsibility for what we find in front of us. There’s a big difference between guilt and responsibility.

Guilt is what you feel for what you’ve done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are, right? And so if I see a set of social conditions that have been handed to you, and which not only did wrong by othrs but elevated me and give me advantage that I did not earn, it’s not about beating myself up, I’m not responsible for that having happened, I’m not to blame for it, so guilt is totally unproductive

But in order to live an ethical life, to live ethically and responsibly, I have to take some responsibility for the unearned advantage, which means working to change the society that bestows that advantage. It’s not guilt, but it is responsiblity. It’s no different than looking at the issue of pollution or if you became the CFO of the company, you wouldn’t be able to come in and say, “I intend to use the assets of this company, and I insend to put them to greater use, and I intend to use the revenue stream we’ve got going, but that whole debt side of the ledger? No, I’m not paying any of that because I wasn’t here when the other person ran all that debt up. You should’ve gotten them to pay it before you gave me the job. Now I’m here, and I’m innocent.” We would realize that made no sense.

So isn’t about innocence and it isn’t about guilt, it’s about responsibility, that’s something we all have to take. White folks have to take it, people of color have to take it, uh, men and women have to take… everybody has got to take it, because we’re living with… if we don’t do it, no one does it, and it doesnt’ get done. We’re the only hope we have.

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The following is a cross-post from Becky at Becky not Becky.

Our oldest child is one year away from Kindergarten.  That statement is probably not as surreal for you as it is for me, but there it is.  My son is a pre-schooler in the literal sense of the term.  And for my husband and me, that means it’s time to evaluate our education options.

I am a big believer in public education.  I went to public schools, as did my husband, and while we had different experiences, we were both served pretty well when it came to the basics.  Both of us had opportunities to explore our interests in and out of the classroom.  Both of us had encounters with loving adults (and some not-so-loving ones) who in one way or another helped to direct the course of our lives.  We support public education, and we are proud to say that next year, our boy will be beginning his formal education at a neighborhood elementary school.

But as happy as I am about our decision, I’m sad to say that it was a forced one.  You see, while friends of ours are looking intensely at three different but equally weighted options, we were ruling out homeschooling and private schooling as possibilities.  We’ve known since our kids were born they’d most likely be public-school bound.  And recently, I’ve become frustrated and jealous reading about the wonderful experiences of moms who homeschool.  I’ve felt scorn for those who send their kids off to Christian schools, where they will learn at the feet of teachers who profess and confess a love for Jesus Christ.  I’ve felt this way because I want those choices, too.  But the biggest source of aggravation is knowing that I can have them, and I don’t.

Several years ago, long before we had kids, my husband and I decided that whatever our own biological capabilities, we were going to pursue adoption at some point in our marriage.  We’d had friends who went through infertility and turned to adoption after failed attempts to build their family on their own.  We’d had friends who adopted internationally, transracially, and locally: some through fostering first, some with specificity that they wanted a certain kind of baby.   Given the wide range of experiences being open to adoption can bring, and given that any number of those options could make our lily white family less monochromatic, we began to evaluate our church, our community, and our lives for diversity.

We were found wanting.  We went to a white church.  I taught, for the most part, in a white school.  We had white friends.  If we were going to open our lives for an adopted child, we’d have to radically change the spectrum of influences and relationships we had in order for that child to feel at home and free to explore their own identity in a safe context.  But then, in reading more about race, racism and racial identity development, we discovered something we’d never considered.  What does all this homogeneity mean for our biological white children?

What experience were we giving them raising them in such an isolated context?  Thankfully, through very little work on our own part, the Lord moved us to an area where no matter where we chose to live, we’d be making a choice for diversity.  We visited churches and prayed about where to attend and in every case, we made racial diversity a factor.  Our current church is developing satellite campuses, and in the last few years, this has helped to broaden the membership beyond the occasional inter-racial couple, and our satellite is reaching out to communities of color and reflecting all these changes in staff hiring. I’m still not sure if these moves are intentional on the part of our church leadership (though we have one elder pushing hard for it), but God is moving our church in a direction that we feel is consistent with our family’s values.

So our white kids are living in a neighborhood where they are in the minority.  They are attending a church where their race is representative of the majority, but those proportions are swiftly tilting to reflect our community.  But now we have this school issue.

As I’ve looked into homeschooling, I’ve been discouraged by the numbers.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, 76.8% of homeschoolers were white.  Many proponents of homeschool say that their kids have plenty of social and athletic opportunities through homeschooling groups and leagues, but they never tell you that those opportunities are as segregated as the statistics show.  While I’ve been able to find some blogs or groups of parents of color homeschooling their children, these are vastly outnumbered by the white mommy blogs on the subject.  And, honestly, I’m equally disappointed looking at curriculum options.  The traditional religious curricula I’ve seen are as problematic, if not more so than, the generally monochromatic public school curricula for literature, history, and the social sciences.

Private Christian schooling is also disappointing.  I know from experience as a teacher in a Christian school that often the curriculum ignores race, and omits important authors of color or literature from anything other than a white-male canon. History can be anyone’s best guess, and in a conservative evangelical school, can be filled with reverence for the Founders and ignorance of the oppression of and contributions by Native Americans, African Americans, or immigrants.

Last year at MOPS, we had a panel of professional women each representing public, private Christian and homeschooling options.  During the discussion on private schooling, one white mom stood up and shared that her husband was black and her child was biracial.  She was concerned that in a Christian school, her child would be the only person of color in the class, perhaps in the grade.  The white teacher on the panel said she had the same concerns for the exact same reason: her son was biracial.  She said the lack of diversity was the only thing that gave her pause about enrolling her son in the school where she taught.  She added that her son participated in county sports, not school athletics, in order to feel connected to different types of kids and families and that her family was constantly looking for ways to offset his school experience.

I felt for both those moms.  And I wondered why the other moms of white kids weren’t likewise concerned.  I’ve thought about the idea of “offsetting” a whites-only education with other experiences, but all of it feels like compromising an important value for our family.  I don’t want my kids to grow up without a teacher who is a person of color.  I don’t want my kids only having sleepovers, birthday parties or field trips with an all-white class (even if that class consists of me and their siblings).

So, we’re left with public school.  And we’re glad to have it.  Our local elementary school is only 29% white.  The majority of the school is Latino, then black, then white, then Asian.  It’s a good school and the teachers work toward cultural and linguistic competency so that they can best serve students and their families.   Also, the principal is a woman of color.

I know my lament is one of privilege.  I could easily choose to homeschool or send our son to private school.  We have the means and the opportunity.  But for us, the choice is not easy.  It’s hard because our values on this tell us those doors are shut by the same forces that kept schools segregated in the past: a compulsion to commit to the status quo and the ability of white people, in particular, to be completely comfortable and at-home only in contexts where they are in the majority.

If any anti-racist out there has found a way to make homeschooling or Christian-schooling work for their kids, I’d love to be wrong about this.  Until then, I’m a little frightened that I’m right and that it’s our organized Christian culture that’s wrong.

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A week or two ago, I had what we Southerners call a “hissy fit.”  I had been watching the news on several networks and read many different outlets all reporting on how Glenn Beck and his flock were descending upon the Capitol in droves.  A friend sent me a video of interviews with folks who came to D.C. to “call the nation back to God.”  Most faces I saw in the crowd were white.  Every interview I saw or read was with a white person.  Many of them were decrying the political agenda of our sitting President.  Some of them were calling him a racist and saying it was time to take “our” country back.

In my fit, I sat down on several occasions to write a blog post about this phenomenon.  I considered it from many angles.  I started writing about how I’m not one of those white people.  I started writing that those people don’t really get what my God is all about.  I started writing about the Pharisees and the Sadducees and thinking up all kinds of Bible verses that I would hurl back in an effort to halt the parade of hatred and ignorance on TV that whole weekend.  I started to write any number of those things and then deleted it, choking on my own anger about it all.

Then one day, last week in the car as I was fuming about everything I’d seen, with no one to call and vent, one of my favorite musicians, a contemporary Christian music artist named Sara Groves, intervened right there in the middle of my minivan.  She sang:

Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are
I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story

I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

And that’s where I decided to write this post.  You see, I could write those other things—about how white people suck; how, collectively, we don’t get “it”;  how as much as I want to not be one of them, sometimes, I am them.  I know that story and many of our readers here at the blog know that story.  It’s familiar and it usually ends badly.

But I want to “add to the beauty,” not just recount the ugly.  So how does one “tell a better story”?  Well, while I believe in the power of shining a spotlight on horrible things, it can’t be all we do.  I believe we’re right to curse the darkness; but, sometimes we get so used to seeing in the dark, we need to adjust our vision.  Rather than focusing on a very vocal and seemingly prominent group of haters, I need to remember that great cloud of witnesses—past and present—who can encourage me forward and who tell me to not lose heart in fighting against racism as a white person.  I need to look at those success stories of white people who turned things around or made some small difference.

I need a redemption story.

I need a story like that of William Wilberforce—who took on a nation of generational slaveholders using his position of power and privilege as a white man to end the British slave trade.  I need a story like that of Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, abolitionist and feminist.  I need to read about Father Bartolomé de las Casas—who Kate featured in a Columbus Day post—a man who got it wrong in many ways but came to oppose the torture committed against Native people during colonial conquest.  I need to meditate on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who was interned for aiding Jews in escaping Nazi persecution during the Holocaust.  I need to know about and remember the sacrifices made by Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwarner, two Jewish men martyred in Mississippi for helping to register black voters during Freedom Summer.

I need to hear from teachers like Peggy McIntosh and Tim Wise who make our privilege visible and call us to a better white identity.

I need to get my hands on and my head around stories like those of Chris Rice and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove—men who forsook their own privilege and the comfort of a homogeneous faith community to live out integration in the all-too-rare situation where white people act as integrators.  Both men explore how their faith in Christ informed and guided their decisions toward anti-racist activism and communal living in their autobiographies: Rice’s story focused on his life as a young man living in the 1980s and Wilson-Hartgrove’s is a more contemporary example from the last 10 years.

Rice’s story is particularly compelling for anti-racist Christian novices as it is almost a primer on the efforts and leaders of the evangelical-side of movement since the days of the Civil Rights era.  Rice describes how he and Spenser Perkins formed a hard-fought friendship and took up the second-generation mantle handed them by John Perkins.  He also shares with painful honesty his struggles to come to terms with his own sense of privilege, entitlement and authority in the midst of a strong black community.  Wilson-Hartgrove is an affirming example of what those of us just now getting involved in anti-racist work can do and how far we can come if we let God transform our thinking and our lifestyles to make us agents of reconciliation.

That day in the car, as the CD moved on, I was still stuck thinking about what Sara Groves had said.  I thought about Glenn Beck and those like him who enjoy derision and division.  I kept coming back to my anger over these things even while I had decided that I want to tell a better story with my life.  Groves had an answer for that, too.  In her song, Kingdom Comes she says:

When anger fills your heart
When in your pain and hurt
You find the strength to stop
You bless instead of curse

When doubting floods your soul
Though all things feel unjust
You open up your heart
You find a way to trust…

When fear engulfs your mind
Says you protect your own
You still extend your hand
You open up your home

When sorrow fills your life
When in your grief and pain
You choose again to rise
You choose to bless the name…

In the mundane tasks of living
In the pouring out and giving
In the waking up and trying
In the laying down and dying

That’s a little stone that’s a little mortar
That’s a little seed that’s a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom’s coming

None of this is easy, friends.  I haven’t been at all this anti-racist stuff for long, but I’ve been at it long enough to know some things get easier, but that’s when God sometimes presses in to challenge us and call us to do even harder things.  In those moments, if all I can offer is a little obedience, sweat and mortar, I’m doing my job.  I’ll remember our white anti-racist heroes, like my white friend Ashleigh, who has in the last year, been awakened to anti-racism and is cultivating a deep passion for justice and reconciliation in her own life.

I’m hoping that over time, I’ll be able to look on angry scenes like the one I saw on the news the other week and say as Christ did from the cross, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”  Until that day comes, I pray that when I look upon the horror stories our world has to offer, that even as I rail against them, I’ll be mindful that all of it is only the prelude to a better story: a kingdom coming.

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