Friday, June 19, 2015

It is about race...

I first saw this sign in 1992 when visiting my grandma in Arkansas. My step-mom said,"You know what that means, right? No black people are allowed to swim at that pool." I took this picture two weeks ago. The sign is still there.

Last night, as I held my cream colored son who shares my European heritage, I couldn't help but think about my friends of African descent who were holding their chocolate colored children. Two nights ago a white, racist terrorist walked into a black church with a rich and painful history and massacred a group of black praying saints. 

This is not an isolated event. 

For hundreds of years black bodies have been targeted and brutalize by people who look like me. And though we think we live in the most civilized nation, race motivated murders have not ceased. So, as I held my child whom I love more than I ever thought I could love another being, I had to acknowledge that my son will not face the same threats as the dark skinned children in my church family. And I wept.

Let me back up...

I was born in Louisiana. My southern roots run deep. I grew up squirrel hunting...SQUIRREL HUNTING, PEOPLE! When I was 2 my dad got a job as a pastor at an inner-city church in Houston and we moved to a city of 5 million people. Though Houston is considered to be the most diverse city in the nation and I had friends with many different ethnic backgrounds, we did no talk much about race. 

As a child I thought I only had two options: 
1. be a racist 
2. be "colorblind"

I knew that racism was wrong, so I chose to try to be "colorblind." I have many white Christian friends with good hearts who are doing great work for the Gospel who continue to approach life "colorblind." There are many problems with the "colorblind" approach

Succinctly put, when be believe the "colorblind" lie... 
...we refuse to see the rich beauty of the ethnic cultures around us. 
...we are unable to see the rich beauty of our own ethnic culture. 
...we are unable to see the systemic injustice that is rooted in race

Let Justice Roll 

Justice and righteousness are at the center of God's heart. Did you know that most of the time the Bible uses the words "justice" and "righteousness" they are translated from the same word in the original language? In Hebrew the word is tsedeq. This word is translated to "justice" 102 times, "righteousness" 394 times, and something else 14 times. In Greek the word is dikaios. This word is translated to "justice" 38 times, "righteousness" 135 times, and something else 7 times.

I am not passionate about social justice because I want to be a part of a political movement. I am passionate about social justice because the Gospel compels me to be passionate about social justice. In other words, if Justice = Righteousness and righteousness = being Christlike, then Justice = being Christlike. As I am transformed by Christ, I become passionate about things that he is passionate about.

My Challenge to You, White Christian

As followers of Jesus, we have an obligation. We must speak out against oppression and injustice. Otherwise we are part of the problem. Pursuing biblical justice is a life-long journey. That being said, there are some basic things you can start doing today to shed light in the darkness.
  1. Explore your own ethnic identity.  White people, listen to me. We come from a beautiful people. But we come from a broken people. Explore what it means to be white. Celebrate some of the culturally specific holidays that your ancestors celebrated. Acknowledge the beauty. Recognize the dark side of your familial history. 
  2. Build empathetic relationships with people of color. Notice that I used the word "empathetic." It isn't enough to sit next to a black guy in church. When we build empathic relationships, we share each others joy and burdens.
  3. Listen to stories. As you build empathetic relationships, it is critical for you to listen and learn.You don't have the be the expert in everything. Listen. Learn.
  4. Recognize that there is no singular narrative that defines a people group. Check out this great TedTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled "The Danger of a Single Story."
  5. Research statistics. I know many of you don't want to talk about this fact, but there is systemic racism rooted in how we make and enforce rules. Start with this unbiased study done at Texas A&M University. Researchers followed over a million students for six years in public schools in Texas and had some startling findings.
  6. Consider the multi-ethnic church. When we worship, study scripture, and build empathetic relationships in the context of a mult-iethnic environment, we are exposed to injustice and problems that don’t necessarily influence people who look like us. We are exposed to our blind spots. And we realize that God is much bigger than we imagined.

Go and Do Likewise

"God and do likewise" is from the parable of the good Samaritan in which Jesus uses a person considered to be “the other” as the model for Christ’s love, compassion, and grace.  
 In Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech, he referenced this story. I want to close my post with his words.

It's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?". That's the question before you tonight.