The silence must end; the conversations must begin. I feel like my role in life right now has become the starter of discussions. My final letter regarding the last two chapters in my book, “My Three Lives,” was sent out to encourage more and more discussions about how to help our movement of churches get back on track in ways that we are not. The beginning of my blog about racial issues, primarily focusing on black and white relationships in the church, was designed to promote understanding, and understanding comes through honest dialogue.
The Silence is Real
Racial oriented discussions between races is rare in the church. Isn’t that an odd thing ─ brothers and sisters who share so much about their personal lives and sins not sharing about racial issues? Why are we not sharing? In a word, fear.
Our black friends in the church appreciate our diversity, as do our white members. We (an editorial we) feel accepted by those of other races in ways that we do not feel accepted outside the church. We are afraid (Satan using fear as one of his best tools) that if we were totally honest about how we felt about being black in our society we might not continue to be so accepted. We are afraid of being judged. We are afraid of losing the depth of friendships we have with those of other races.
We are especially afraid because we know that our white friends are woefully ignorant of our history, from the inception of slavery in America in 1619 to the abolishment of the Jim Crow laws in 1954 (to say nothing of life as black persons since then). Our race was enslaved in one way or another way for nearly 350 years. How can our well-meaning, well-intentioned Caucasian brothers and sisters possibly understand our feelings and fears if they don’t know our history? Hence, we talk to those within our race about these matters but not to those without; even brothers and sisters in Christ. The silence must end!
Most whites in the church also avoid the topic. Why? Fear also. Fear of stepping on a mine field of emotions by saying something wrong or hurtful, even with the best of intentions. Fear of exposing our ignorance of black history, feeling embarrassed that we’ve waited so long to start learning. The good news is that we do not have to remain ignorant.
“Wait a minute,” some might be thinking. “I’ve seen at least a half dozen movies about the bad side of black history and read some things too, so I’m not as ignorant as you are saying!” Keep talking ─ you’re proving my point. I’m not just talking to you; I’m talking to me. In spite of the fact that I’ve read more and watched more about racial matters than the large majority of white folks, I’m still in the throes of ignorance. But I am dedicated to learning and willing to expose my ignorance in print as a part of my own learning process. I fully expect to be corrected and guided in love by my black fellow disciples, and I am anxious for this opportunity to keep learning and growing.
Where’s the Proof?
We know that many whites outside of the church are thinking and saying things like this: “”Get over slavery, it was in the past!” “Why do blacks feel the need to boast about their accomplishments every February?” By the way, these two statements came from a young black brother who said that an inner voice prompted these thoughts about how those outside his race are probably thinking. And why would his inner voice come up with these thoughts? Fears of how others might view him, of course. The fear factor is real, and it is often most strongly felt as the fear of rejection.
Black History Month
My friend’s mention of February was in reference to BHM (Black History Month). Actually, there are different views about BHM within both the black population and the white population. Here is my view, and in the context of this article, it’s a pretty dogmatic one. I think both blacks and whites need BHM and much more similar education beyond that one month.
Blacks need to know not just their history of oppression, but much more about black heroes who defied the odds and made their mark; much more about the character of their unknown ancestors who applied more Christian principles to their daily lives than most can even imagine. They would not have survived otherwise.
We white folks need to know about both. “Get over the past” is in one context a very biblical statement. The Bible doesn’t say “obey” unless you have been hurt in the past by society, parents, friends, church folk, or whatever else. It just says “obey.” Okay, I’m good with that, and preach it often in one form or another.
That being said, some things in our past we get over simply by repenting, and other things we have to grow out of after repentance ─ and that takes time, patience, prayer and help from others. But we do have to grow, for God is not pleased with less. Holding on to a victim mindset is contrary to the cross of Christ, no matter what our pain has been.
As an example, suppose a girl was sexually abused almost daily between the ages of 11 to 17 by a family member. Now a half dozen years later, she is at the marriage altar saying her marriage vows. She has been taught in pre-marriage counseling what the Bible says about the beauty of the sexual relationship within the bonds of marriage. Now for the first time she is in bed with someone that God approves.
What happens? Does she just throw an intellectual switch and have a fantastic honeymoon night? Likely not, for that switch doesn’t immediately control our emotional switch. Biblical knowledge of right and wrong is essential, but some things we have to grow in and some things we have to grow out of. Our backgrounds influence us greatly. Repentance of practicing known sins is one thing; Christian growth in difficult areas for us due to our background is yet another.
A Starting Place
Let’s decide to start learning and start talking about the very sensitive area of race. Really, the silence must end. I just received a note last night from a dear brother I hadn’t seen in years, and he told me that the silence on this subject had almost caused him to leave our fellowship of churches. He was not the first one to say that to me, by the way, and it is almost certain that others have already left us. We simply must talk.
Suggested conversation starter for white folks: “Listen, I know that this racial issue has to be really hard for you, and I’ll admit that my understanding of it is certainly limited, but I love you and really want to know what you are thinking and feeling. Can we talk?”
Suggested conversation starter for black folks: “Listen, this is really awkward for me, but our mutual friend Gordon said that we need to talk interracially about racial issues and I think he’s right. I’m feeling a lot these days, and would love to talk in depth about it with you.” If those don’t appeal to you, figure out one that works for you, and let’s start the discussions.
Public Education is Readily Available
I will continue to mention movies, documentaries and written material that I have read or watched, and I have a suggestion about a good way to jump into the deep water on this issue. Go to You Tube and watch a 4 part series by PBS entitled, “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.” This one will provide you with some amazing history (much of it gut-wrenching and heart-breaking), and it will also help you to see that the end of slavery was not even close to the end of black oppression.
In fact, many slaves were better off as slaves than as freed men and women. At least under slavery they were valued property; after slavery, their value decreased rapidly and thousands upon thousands were killed for no reason other than the perceived need to “keep blacks in their place.”
When we start delving deeply into black history, it is going to test your emotionality and your spirituality. As I said in the sermon on racism that I hope you have watched by now, seeing certain movies tears my heart out ─ and I’m white (mostly). Watching “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” took me through a whole gamut of emotions. As I said in the panel discussion in St. Louis near the end, I discovered some pretty strong reverse racism in myself, realizing how prejudiced I am toward white supremacist types.
Satan is the enemy here, and we have to focus on him and his schemes and not on the human agents he uses to carry out his agenda. It was in the very context of the need to forgive others that Paul wrote about Satan’s schemes, and helping us feel justified in not forgiving is one of his grandest schemes. “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44) and do good toward them, trusting God to bring about his just vengeance in his ways and in his timing (Romans 12:14-21).
Talk to Me
Some have asked about why I don’t have a section at the end of each blog post a place for reader’s comments. I understand the question, since the practice is common to blogs. I hope you understand my answer. Every article involving the racial issue that allows such comments almost always devolves into racist comments that were common a hundred years ago. I see them and think, “Has this bigot found his way here in a time machine?”
Then I realize that Satan has managed to keep racial hatred alive and well right into the 21st century. We are all tempted to post our strong opinions about sensitive topics like politics and race on Facebook or other forms of social media, and we end up violating God’s commands such as those in this passage: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2). Keep in mind that Nero was the Emperor in power when Paul wrote this.
Therefore, I ask you to email me with your observations, input and suggestions. Please do not post replies to this blog on my regular teaching page. As you write me, I will learn from you or perhaps have an exchange in which you learn from me. Whether your comments are positive or negative, I will use some of them in future blog posts (without identifying you, of course, unless I ask and receive your permission).
A blog by an individual expresses his or her opinions, with which you are free to agree or disagree. I’m not looking for pats on the back; I’m pleading for much broader discussions about a subject that is dividing our nation and has the potential to divide our churches, even if only in subtle ways. Let’s talk. THE SILENCE MUST END! Until the next post…