[Adapted from notes taken at Leadership Network Meetings in Dallas, TX from 2012 thru 2014 – Live sessions or video feeds with Mark DeYmaz, Bryan Loritts, Greg Boyd and Soon-Chan Rah]
We have just wrapped up an eight-week series entitled “One” at Stone Creek Church in Urbana, Illinois. Last Sunday, July 24th, our Teaching and Discipleship Pastor, Ricky Spindler preached a great message on racial relations. I would encourage you to listen to it at www.stonecreekwired.com. For eight weeks we have dealt with the subjects of race, unity, love, diversity and how we are better together than we are apart. One of our goals as a church is to be a place that demonstrates through our relationships that the gospel brings people together and Jesus died “to tear down the wall of hostility.”
I was born into the “white tribe” but so much of my heart and ministry has been among all the diverse tribes of our land and world. It is the joy and honor of my life! I love Jesus more and understand Him better because of what I have learned from my brothers and sisters of color. I think one of the big reasons we keep failing at racial reconciliation in the American church is because most of my tribe looks at racism as a personal thing. I am asking my white brothers an sisters to go on a journey of understanding how racism is structured in this country and still keeping people of color from experiencing the same benefits that comes with white tribe privilege. Being non-white is still a safety issue in our country and way to often an issue of life and death as we have witnessed with the shootings of unarmed black men over and over again. It needs to stop.
I heard Dr. Greg Boyd of Minneapolis, MN say, “The majority of white people don’t get it.” He went on to say, “What’s worse is that the majority of white people don’t know that they don’t get it. And in my experience, worst of all, the majority of white people don’t really know that there is anything to get.” Dr. Boyd said that well. I have tried to get members of my tribe to read certain books, watch certain videos and attend different events. A few will but most don’t. The racial disparity in our country is an on-going serious problem and I am convinced it is our biggest problem. And yet, most white pastors and white churches continue to be mute on this original sin in our land and have nothing or very little to say on the matter.
Large white churches enjoy the benefits of stellar buildings with a surplus of wealth that has created gigantic church staffs and yet with all the machinery are by and large totally silent of this major issue in our land. How can this be? The Barna Research group says only 2.5% of America’s churches are ethnically diverse, which means that one race is 80% or less and the remaining 20% is of a different ethnicity. Only 2.5%–how sad is that? As Dr. King said, “Sunday morning at 11 o’clock is still the most segregated hour of the week in America.” How can that be when we have been entrusted with this gospel of reconciliation? Gospel reconciliation is not just with God but also with our fellow man. The Apostle Paul said it well in Acts 17:26, From one man he made all the nations…That means we are one blood, one human race, not, as some teach, 33 races or 34 if you count the gypsies of the world.
Most in my tribe think America is the land of equal opportunity. Most reject open racism and are sickened by it and even know at least a little bit of the statistics of disparity in America (e.g. young black men are statistically more likely to end up in prison than go to college). But, they are either not impacted by the statistics or, more commonly, find ways to explain them away.
It is true, most white people do not understand racism very far. Many white people’s awareness is stunted because life experience tends to blind us all to institutional racism as a subversive structural issue. Often whites have some head knowledge of race issues, but their life experiences are like barricades from the real issue in our country-the systematic, structural dimension of racism.
In order for whites to “understand” we need a context where we are forced to notice something that almost all non-whites have to notice every day of their lives-that is the reality of racist walls pervading the structure of our culture. Most whites NEVER have to deal with these walls. I heard one Sociologist say, “There is a pyramid of privilege in our country. The higher up the pyramid you are, the fewer walls you have to maneuver around. The lower down the pyramid, the more walls you have to maneuver around.” Dr. Boyd said, “Certainly there is a pecking order of privilege in our country that is structured by things like gender and ethnicity-commonly known as white privilege.” Of course there would be variables that affect ones place in the pyramid, such as how frugal you are, how talented you are, etc. Nevertheless, the pyramid of privilege is still here. If you don’t believe this, then please read Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow. It absolutely proves we have a caste system here in America based on race.
Although raised poor with some difficult family dynamics I realize that throughout my life I have been able to move around freely and not bump into the walls that box many authorities in. This, I think is the big reason why we whites have trouble “getting it”-whites simply aren’t aware of the walls. Even whites like me who have sincere intentions, are mostly sheltered from the experiences that non-whites, in varying degrees, are forced to live in and live with almost every day. Again, this is why it is so hard for whites to understand with any depth things like racial profiling, red-lining, and job discrimination to name a few than non-whites rarely experience. It is simply not on most white persons radar screen.
I would suggest if white people are going to “get it” it HAS TO COME DOWN TO RELATIONSHIPS. Seminars, classes, college courses and books on racism are good and of course necessary. But in the end, it has to come down to relationships. Racism is structured in such a way that whites do not notice the walls-these walls are invisible for most white people to see on their own. Whites HAVE TO BE IN RELATIONSHIPS with non-whites to even notice them! Only through relationships based on equality, mutual trust and respect will whites start “getting it”. Whites have basic assumptions about American culture and even about ourselves that need to be called into question. I believe, genuine relationship and friendship is the vehicle to bring about lasting change and deconstruct racism in this country.
It might seem artificial and even odd to some-even quasi-racist to seek out friendships based primarily on race. Yet this is what I believe we should do. If the church is ever going to manifest the beauty of God’s diverse humanity, it is going to take place one life at at a time. One friendship at a time across ethnic and culture lines. This has always enriched my life and expanded my worldview.
So, to my white tribe-let’s listen more than we talk, be slow to say things like, “Yea, but he was a felon and on and on.” Why do whites so often feel like they have to say something to discredit a person of color? My loving word to my white tribe is this–let’s work to “get it.” Please!