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Race and the Church

I am heartsick.  The olive branch held out to an aggrieved race has been slapped down.  Martin Luther King’s soundbites have become clichés, rejected by activists as condescending, patronizing and phony.  Platitudes of love are out.  Peaceful coexistence is out.  Mutual acceptance is out.  We cannot merely debunk history.  We cannot just call out the founding fathers as shameful slaveholders.  We cannot offer conciliatory language, sanitized laws or affirmative actions. No.  The new campaign now embodies even more than the eradication of history.  It has gone far beyond that.  Now, it demands that we invalidate the very ideas, the basic concepts, the historic values of Americanism.  It seeks to rip the Constitution of the United States of America to shreds.  Reparations will not suffice.  America must be criminalized.

For me, a white man of a questionable age, my remonstrations are to be rejected out of hand.  I have no business offering my obviously biased opinion on race relations.  I get that.  But, let me ask a couple of simple questions that might affect all of us.  Where is this headed?  What does the endgame look like?  And one more question: how does the church deal with this? 

We are all aware of worsening race relations in society at large.  That cancer has now attacked the institution that ought to be its solution, the church. The evangelical church has traversed through a history of abhorrent racial hatred, to insipid tolerance, to outright embracing of diversity.  It has been a long, tortuous journey to this point, and I freely admit it is far from complete.  The last thing we need, however, is a general repudiation of the process.  Fred Clark and others like him preach a new kind of attitude.  In shock-intentional language, he impugns the ideas of “biblical inerrancy” and abortion as “clobber-texts” to condemn what he calls “white nationalism.”  But mad, malevolent spite only fuels the fires of grievance.  I searched for placatory language in his diatribe.  I found none.  Basically, he provides little else than the rationale for hatred.

Not only do Mr. Clark’s challenges frighten me, they dismantle all the progress the church has made to right the ship.  His views disparage all races alike.  In my lifetime, I have witnessed the purging and restructuring of offensive language, minorities’ ascendancy to positions of power and authority in the church, the celebration and pursuit of minorities’ talents in music, preaching and administration, and the recognition and blessing of interracial marriage.  I cannot speak for every individual, but, as a whole, the church has become colorblind. 

To all, let us remember that Jesus was not a white man of European descent.  He was not a black man with origins in Africa.  He was not an Asian.  Jesus was a Jewish man from the Middle East.  He was a man of color who belonged to a minority race.  He never intended the church He founded to be identified with or owned by any race, class or ethnicity.  “For God so loved the world …”  Further extrapolating that thought means that no race or class is to shape the church to its own liking to the exclusion of all others who have diverse characteristics.  Of course, depending upon where a local church is founded, any individual congregation will take on indigenous traits.  That does not mean, however, that they reject the existence of other nationalities.  In the bigger picture, we are all the body of Christ.  No one gets to re-write the doctrines of the church to suit any particular group. 

I understand that white is more than a color.  To other races, white represents everything evil.  I wish it were not so.  I deeply regret the sins of my fathers, and I denounce any tendency to give life to or continue their toxic views in any way.  As a leopard cannot change his spots, however, I cannot change my skin.  My heritage is mine.  I can’t trade it in for another.  I can only move forward—not in the documentation articulated in my political moorings—but I move forward in the love of Jesus Christ.  If we cannot work together, we will fall apart.  If we fall apart, we will destroy each other.  I do not ask for anyone to affirm me, or my views, or my race.  I humbly ask that we all affirm Jesus Christ.  In heaven, all are equal.  “ … Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

Failing in this, none of us can survive.  If we blast a hole in the bottom of the boat, won’t we all drown?  Our best—our only hope—is to find common ground, however tenuous it may seem, and walk together.  There are eternal truths that transcend history.  Those are ideas worth fighting for.  Instead of expounding reproachful words and launching punitive actions toward each other, let us fight to preserve each other’s honor and well-being.  “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

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