In the past two years, three, at least three major incidents have revealed that we have deep racial divides in our country.
Last year, the Duke Lacrosse Case struck close to home for me. I attend church in Durham and have spent some time walking the inner-city by the church building. Though the case turned out to be a debacle, people who picked sides were hurt.
This past July, it was revealed that Michael Vick had been involved in a dog-fighting ring. As a well-written article by Wright Thompson states (found here), people have picked sides on this issue over race. Disappointingly, Vick admitted his own guilt; how did that make people feel? This issue is still being debated.
And currently, “Free Jena 6” is pasted on the front of the latest USAToday (Marisol Bello has extended coverage of the issue, found here; find a reaction to the media coverage here; another post on the events here; follow this page for greater detail here; an alternative local perspective here). Racial injustice is still being perceived throughout our nation and the stirrings that have followed are mere symptoms of a deeper issue within people’s hearts. However, there is nothing inherently racist about the cases themselves (except most likely the Jena 6 case). But when there is any hint of injustice in a legal case against a person with black skin, it pulls the scab off an old, festering wound that just won’t heal. Division is the result.
White people, generally speaking, usually come down on the side of the law, saying we are just upholding lawful standards without bias. Most white people would say that the blacks are being too sensitive and playing the “race card;” perhaps interpreting the uproar as a “will to power” move.
Black people, from my limited perspective, generally see the prosecution of the law as being biased, not necessarily against black people, but unfairly in favor of white people. In the lacrosse case, until the corruption of Mike Nifong was realized, people viewed the players as white rich kids with slick, fancy lawyers. Their ability to manipulate the law rested in their socioeconomic status. Fortunately, Nifong was found a liar; unfortunately, Durham was left SOL. With Michael Vick, it was a little bit different, viewed more as a rush to judgment of a high-profile black male. The media was accused as the perpetrator of an “electronic lynching.” When it comes to the Jena 6, though may have committed a crime, they were unjustly prosecuted as adults while the white kids who, in my opinion, committed a murderous act (what else does a noose communicate) go free of any charge, not even expelled. As Bello put it:
Black parents were outraged by the symbolism, recalling the mob lynchings of black men. They complained to school officials. District superintendent Roy Breithaupt and the school board gave three-day suspensions to the white students who hung the nooses, overruling the recommendation of then-principal Scott Windham that the students be expelled.
White people don’t understand black people on these issues. Black people (rightly) interpret white indifference as racism. My question, will the way these issues are handled lead to brotherhood or increased division?
Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream (hear it, watch it ,or read it here). I, though being White, think his dream was honorable, just, loving, and right. And being White, I sympathize with his dream and long to see it fulfilled. Because, namely, he did not see two different dreams for America, one White and one Black, but one dream symbiotically fused together:
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
He advocated nonviolent resistance because it was the moral high ground and he knew that no reconciliation was possible through the means of violence. Through the moral high ground, he could “convert” the white taskmasters. And we NEEDED conversion. It is not enough to be “separate but equal” but to be unified!!
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
Can you feel his desire for reconciliation? It is not enough that the law see us equal–The law has seen us equal since 1964. It is not enough that the law be prosecuted equally–LORD, May this day come! Yes, “Enough is enough!” as they cry for the Jena 6, but let us not settle for anything less than social unity. Justice is one step in that direction, but it is not an end in itself. Though we have legal equality (even as inequalities persist), we need social, ultimately, spiritual unity.
Why cannot White people join the marches in Jena? Why is it that the white people supported Vick only because he was an athlete without understanding the cries of injustice (though found to be justified)? Why did not white people understand the issues in the Lacrosse case?
It is not just about who was right, or wrong! When these issues flare up, it brings up deep wounds. The Civil Rights Act, though very important for establishing Constitutional freedoms, was only a government enforced band-aid on the gaping hole in racial harmony. Law never creates healing.
How, then, can we move forward bridging the gap?
First, I firmly believe, the only hope for racial reconciliation is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Even though many Christians in the past erroneously supported slavery (many also opposed it), the true gospel is the only way to overcome our divisions. If the above scripture is true, then Dr. King’s dream is possible. And I want that dream.
Second, white people must repent. Whites were the oppressors, they still, largely, hold the positions of higher socio-economic status, they hold the keys, so to speak, of reconciliation. Unless white people humble themselves and initiate reconciliation, I believe it is almost impossible to acheive. I do not mean to reach out in pity or to expect them to do things the way white people do (f0r there are very good differences that each can learn from the other). I mean genuine humility. Seeking to understand African Americans for who they are, as God’s creatures, created in His image (yes, something about them being black reflects his image), created for the purpose of bringing Him glory and humbling yourself, asking God to reveal any hatred (intentional or culturally ingrained) you might have, and confessing that publically to them and repenting of it. White people must take the initiative on this. And not in a general way, but personally in one on one situations. It is arrogant, and wrong-headed, to expect black people to initiate this. (They may if they choose, but what have they done?).
Third, let me humbly state (correct me here) that black people have to cast off fear. Fear is the enemy of love. I can understand why there are feelings of fear, but the end of these feelings is bitterness, distrust, insensitivity, unwillingness to accept genuine repentance, hatred, etc. I can testify to two incidents in my life that were wrongly interpreted as racists that were the direct result of fear of my white skin. Those hurting friends weren’t fearful as in a phobia, or fearful as in timid, but their fear was manifested in their angry accusations and unreasonable behavior towards me. I wrote them both apologetic letters of encouragement after the fact that our conflict was not the result of race. I believe they feared me. But scripture clearly teaches us that:
Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit ofadoption as sons, by whom we cry,”Abba! Father!”
Colossian 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.
Ironically, fear is another form of slavery! But freedom is found in love. Trust in the one who has purchased your freedom from fear of death–Jesus.
Finally, the church has to strive for racial harmony. I am a Southern Bapist, from a convention formed, yes for missions, but ultimately over the relationship of slaveholding to missionary appointments. Though racism permeates white culture, North, South, East, West, the racial divide is not seen more clearly than in the lands most Southern Baptist churches finds themselves. How is it that 29% of the population of South Carolina is black, 21% of NC, 30% of Georgia, etc., and most SBC Churches are paler than fresh snow? Dr. King was right when he said “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” He cared for the church and he sought to see Christian brothers and sisters united. White churches would do well to listen and seek reconciliation. The gospel is at stake. Don’t let the HUP (Homogenous Unit Principle) justify your apathy or alleviate your responsibility. It does not. For one thing, you will find nothing of it in the Bible at all. It is a missiological principle for the sole purpose of reaching people within their own cultural context. It does not have any role in defining the nature of the church. On the contrary, the gospel, which gives the church its meaning and purpose, is ultimately opposed to the divisiveness of the principle. The gospel unites brothers, it does not divide them (it only divides unbelievers). We cannot practice church according to this principle. The credibility of the gospel is at stake! We will not see revival in our churches until we repent of this sin! The battle is raging in the world and we cannot sit by silently. Our silence betrays our level of concern for our suffering black brethren.
White brothers, will you repent and seek reconciliation?
Black brothers, will you humbly and lovingly accept our repentance?
Church, will you seek racial harmony for the sake of the gospel?
Will we (black and white) recapture the dream?
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!