My step back from the hostility of racial reconciliation

Recently, I penned a post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to my White Evangelical Church that drew a bit of attention. To be honest, it was a post that had been stewing for several weeks and one in which I reasoned I did not have the courage to write. The reason is quite simple: by doing so I knew I would lose something, an affiliation with those who deem race dialogue to be of utmost importance. I’ve been working on a follow up with a focus on the issue of social justice though it’s been slow going. I hope to parse out some issues that I think are getting conflated with a gospel centered response of the church’s relationship to the world. Hopefully, I will get to that.

It occurs to me there are there are two kinds of people who positively reacted to that post. One group really does not want to face any kinds of infractions and easily dismisses those who would raise any issues. These are folks that don’t want any discussion of racial issues or take any opportunity to examine where in fact there still might be discrepancies. On the other hand, and where I hope these questions resonated, concerned people like myself, who are deeply cognizant of historical infractions and want to, at a minimum, bring awareness to how racial prejudices have had a long standing impact. But they also don’t want to lose sight of what it means to be united in Christ and keep our union and identity in Christ as the overarching priority. Like, me they having growing concerns that this priority is getting lost.

If you’ve known me personally, or followed me on Facebook or Twitter for any length of time, you’d know that I have been squarely on the side of this second group. I have tried to provoke an honest examination racism, racial bias, white privilege and yes, even white supremacy.

To this end, I’ve had some intense on-line interactions with those I have at least perceived to be in the first group. I’m finding something really interesting happens when that perception is present. When you are on the bandwagon to show how these issues still prevail, it doesn’t take much for that agenda to take on a life of its own. I was reminded the other day of an interaction I had a couple of years ago on the topic of white privilege. A white sister tried to assert how her mother experienced extreme poverty and that the idea of white privilege does not account for white people who have suffered. Aside from the fact that this sorely misunderstands what is meant by privilege in that it’s not contingent upon economic circumstances, the reality is I really didn’t care to hear it. I was only interested in showing how black people have suffered under the hands of white people because of what society deems as acceptable. But it also made me reflect on other such conversations I’ve had where the overarching agenda is to prove how subjugated black people have been.

We do this under the guise of reconciliation

But I’m discovering what happens is anything but. The force of the agenda does provoke a shutting down of those we deem opponents. It starts off innocently enough but then turns into something else, something counterproductive, something that does not produce the fruit of genuine reconciliation. And yes, I’ve been guilty. And this is why I’m stepping back, observing and asking questions. I’m asking, do we really want reconciliation or to cast judgment on those we deem don’t measure up to our expectation? Do we want redemption or retribution?

A friend of mine who does professional development and works quite a bit with race and equity issues sparked an insight in a recent conservation regarding implicit bias. We typically see implicit bias as that thing white people have against black people where we determine that they must have some sort of racial prejudice based on preconceived stereotypes concerning black people. This conversation provoked the idea that it can certainly work both ways. How often do we respond to white people as if they must automatically by guilty of having these kinds of attitudes? We can form our own stereotype of what must be going on with that white person and then respond accordingly. This is implicit bias and it doesn’t take too much for that to transpire into a hostile interaction and a requirement for silence.

I was struck by this comment left on the article about the white church from Alex.

Every time we use words like “white privilege”, “unconscious bias”, and other culturally charged words at our church (specially in sermons) I cringe. I’m a Christian at a church that preaches Christ. I’m also a minority and have issues with these concepts; what they mean, their implications, and the narrative around them.

In the video link below, the professor talks about the “test” which was used to promote the idea of unconscious bias. I have not heard a helpful counter argument to the concerns this University Professor brings on the implicit association test which is used to bring the idea of “unconscious bias” to the forefront of cultural discussion on racism.

At least you are asking deeper questions and trying to work out the conclusions of the proposed narrative. I don’t have things fully flushed out in my mind on this topic, but I’m not willing to adopt these cultural ideas and run with them. They lead to bad places, places where Christ warns us not to go. Pull the log from your own eye before you take out the “unconscious bias” in your neighbors.

These ideas do a disservice in dealing with the issues of racism and more deeply, suffering/evil and our identify in Christ. Ideas like “unconscious bias” have only driven fear deeper in people and created real animosity. Again, thanks for writing this article and hopefully this doesn’t detract from the discussion.

I think Alex is on to something. Using the racially charged words as the lynchpin for supposedly resolving issues has only driven a deeper divide. Not only that, I fear that by anchoring resolutions into full out acceptance of we have created broad based categories to define those who are not supposedly on the side of freeing the church from the sin of racism. Particularly in light of this last election cycle and the advent of Black Lives Matter we are lumping people into two broad based boxes: the Trump loving, Republican/conservative, minority oppressing racist bigot OR the Black Lives Matter supporting, protest endorsing, imago Dei advocate, oppression fighter. The room to parse out actual concerns from rhetoric and hyperbole is becoming smaller and smaller. This animosity creating battle does nothing to actually bring the kind of reconciliation that those who proclaim Christ are supposed to have. Furthermore, I think it impacts how we consider responses to our current cultural dilemmas but again, I hope to flesh that out in a final post.

I am convicted by the truths of Scripture that if we truly are meant to be one body, working out our family differences, it must be anchored in the barriers broken down by Christ himself (see Eph 2) so that through him, and through our identity in him, we might consider that our union in Christ actually trumps whatever racial divides might see to prevail. When Jesus prayed his high priestly prayer in John 17, I’m pretty sure that he had in mind the kind of hostility that racial/ethnic hostilities his people could breed. After all, the root of all such animosities were born and bred in the Garden of Eden that spread it’s tentacles far and wide.

We who are in Christ have a greater compulsion and motivation prescribed by the Lord himself: by this all people will know you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:34-35). It’s not just a matter of mere sentiment or lip service to say oh look, see what we are doing in this effort. But it’s a submission oriented rending of our own self-interest to elevate unity in Christ above all else. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth where it is needed concerning the sin of partiality.  I will still do that. But it means we subject all truth to the overarching goal of being one in him. This is what dispels hostilities and what for what the church must aim.





14 thoughts on “My step back from the hostility of racial reconciliation

  1. karenangelaellis August 6, 2017 / 7:10 am

    Thanks for your continued courage, Lisa. I agree… course corrections to poor historical ethics that borrow from humanizing ideologies won’t satisfy; the way forward is something altogether different, distinct from what either side of the discourse currently offers. Thank you inviting us into your thoughts, and for urging us to consider a completely different way of thinking and being.

    • karenangelaellis August 6, 2017 / 7:10 am

      Sorry, that should have read “dehumanizing” ideologies. Thanks.

    • Lisa Robinson August 7, 2017 / 5:16 pm

      As always, thank you for your continued support, dear friend!

  2. liturgysea August 6, 2017 / 11:10 am

    Do we over think the topic? It is all about the ability to see the “other” as created in the image of God. I now accept that others cannot get there and others will arrive. It is what it is. Fatigued on the topic I stopped participating in certain forums. For example, when recently asked to participate in one of Fuller Seminary’s Micah Groups, with the topic of justice, I declined. I said that I no longer have the patience to sit in a group sharing past experiences and others looking at me as if I were a zoo animal. Then there are the inevitable “microaggressions” and the racism expressed in the guise of “correct theology.” I say these things as someone who has over 50 years of being “the only one” in the room. I left the PCA in 1990 when my pastor said, I know your people have suffered but Dr. King’s theology… [he went to the negative]. Perhaps many will see this as weak, but I think we just live out our witness, challenging ourselves and others when appropriate, while we go and journey on, trusting in the one Kingdom to which we are all called. I present a micro approach after watching the macro fail again and again. Thanks for your work.

    • Lisa Robinson August 7, 2017 / 5:23 pm

      I’m tracking with you on the micro approach and it’s pretty much where I’m landing. Living out our witness, challenging ourselves and others when appropriate, trusting the Lord to preserve his witness to me seems the best. The macro approach has done nothing but create broadbrushing noise, conflated issues and internalized guilt. It is accomplishing nothing but unreasonable litmus tests that subjects those who fail to being against the oppressed. It’s so hard to even have honest conversations anymore.

      • kimparkerlcsw October 9, 2017 / 10:21 pm

        Amen, Lisa! Thanks for your work and nuanced thoughts on this challenging topic.

  3. Kevin short August 6, 2017 / 9:08 pm

    I appreciate what you have here. The issue for the church isn’t necessarily just ends, but just means to get there. But I hope as you step back you will take hope that if we are in Him, then we are being sanctified.

  4. VL August 7, 2017 / 11:24 am

    I want to make two points:

    First the problem I have with this argument and so many others that have been offered in the wake of Trump’s win is that there is no one who is willing to deal with the history of the conversation.

    I think so much of what is driving what we are seeing is generational. You have a younger generation who is deeply cynical about reaching out to whites. Yes I can understand how a white person would be put off by hearing about “white privilege” and “unconscious bias”. I can also understand how conversations containing those kinds of words may not be coming from a people who genuinely want reconciliation. However looking at this from the side of the minorities (especially younger people) trying to have this conversation, what are we supposed to do?

    The experience of younger people is a post civil rights movement experience.

    It seems that no matter how we approach having this conversation we will be criticized and punished for speaking out. And we have history to show us this. Remember that whites cast MLK as a terrorist. Remember that MLK, Medgar Evers, Robert Kennedy and so many good people genuinely working for peace were murdered.

    What many younger people have learned is that the kind of approach you are advocating doesn’t work. We end up incarcerated anyway. We end up in poverty anyway. We end up shot by the cops anyway. Trump wins anyway. We also know that the people making the point for a better conversation are not also working for peace themselves and it is clear that they are not arguing in good faith.

    Let me be clear I’m not advocating for violence or hostility but just as whites have observations about the current state of our discourse so do others.

    The second point is about consequences. Part of what is driving the hostility many see that those who support bigotry do so without having to face any consequence for their actions.

    If people know that someone is a Trump supporter who agrees with everything he is doing being, kind to them or not challenging them forcefully seems like letting them off the hook. And when the dominant image from the other side is persistently supporting a corrupt braying vengeful orange skinned man-child you are not going to get a lot of support for toning down the rhetoric.

    I don’t have a solution. I am pretty angry myself (which I think you have been able to see from what I have written). I want something better but I can’t think of what that would be without feeling like I’m betraying myself, my family and friends and community.

    • Alexander Yancey August 29, 2017 / 1:20 pm

      A few corrections and observations to what you state in your post:

      1. Martin Luther King was not considered a “terrorist” at the time from anything I remember or have read about those days. If you listen to his famous “I have a dream speech” – given on a podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial before hundreds of thousands of people, he appealed to the American values in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution – and called on America to live up to those ideals. It was very American in that context . – the opposite of many of the violent protests we see today. In addition, he routinely called for non-violent protest in his speeches and rallies. It is obvious many white people did not like him, they sicced the dogs on him and the fire hoses and called him subversive, rabble rouser etc, but if you have a reference to him being labeled a terrorist from back then, I’d like to see it. I my view and personal recollection, that’s an anachronistic projection from today, not the 1960’s.

      2. Robert Kennedy was the Attorney General in the JFK Administration who in 1963 authorized the FBI to wiretap MLK.. That’s hardly a person I would call a civil rights supporter.

      3. Further, Robert Kennedy was indeed murdered – but it was by Sirhan Sirhan, while RFK was running for the Democrat nomination in 1968. There is disagreement about the actual motive. Sirhan Sirhan was a Palestinian and it is generally thought the assassination had to with US involvement with Israel – and Palestinian issues in Israel – not because he was some crusader for peace as you indicate.

  5. tedturnau August 7, 2017 / 10:17 pm

    I don’t have a huge point to make. I’m a white guy, so I’m more interested in listening. I appreciate your willingness to question assumptions. Seems to me like you’re trying to sketch out a difficult liminal space between “let’s get past race” and “angry racial justice warriors.” For me, race became a real issue with Treyvon Martin and the horrific parade of black men gunned down by police officers. The more I dug (looking at news reports, long discussion w/a black friend in the PCA), the more obvious white privilege becomes, and the more angry I become. But I also deeply appreciate your Christocentric approach and irenic heart. Is there a way to address deeply ingrained systemic racism without polarizing, alienating, and stereotyping? This side of the new creation, I honestly don’t know. But I’m willing to learn, ’cause I’ve got a lot to learn. Looking forward to your next post.
    Ted Turnau

  6. Stephen Pegler September 20, 2017 / 8:13 am

    You consistently spell it’s wrong as a possessive pronoun.

    Otherwise I enjoy the challenge of your views.

    Thank you

  7. Rachel March 25, 2018 / 10:01 am

    Thank you so much for this, Lisa!
    I joined a Christian racial reconcilation group on Facebook a few months ago (Be the Bridge), only to leave it a few weeks after I was allowed to start posting. Being in that group was very damaging to me as a white woman. I came into the grouo hoping to learn from brothers and sisters in Christ of color. I was angered by systemic racism in our country and I was learning about white privledge and I started to own ways I knew I had been racist in the past. But after three months of only reading articles and posts, I was allowed to post myself. It was around the time Black Panther came out. I went to see the movie with my husband, and liked many things about it, but as a Christian, saw some problems with the ideas being communicated. I saw on the grouo that many people of color week identifying with the villian of the film, more than the hero. TCHALLA was described as being a colonist lover, a man who rolled over and was controlled by the white man. I didn’t see that in the film at all. When I mustered the courage to post that we should be aware, as Christians that there was some pagan ancestor worship in the film, and be careful not to praise all aspects of the film (although much of it was very good), I was met with ,Uchiha antagonism. I was called a racist and a white supremacist. I waa in this group to try to bring reconciliation. I thought that meant white people would be allowed to speak hard truths in love, just as hard truths werected being spoken to us. Apparently, that was not the case. I saw over and over again that white people in the group were continually silenced. Whenever we spoke anything that may offend a POC, however lovingly, we were silenced. What was communicated to me was that since white people were the oppressors so long, we didn’t have the right to be a voice in the conversation anymore. Our only role was to listen and correct other white people in their racisim. If both sides are not willing to listen, is that really reconciliation and unity in Christ?
    I totally agree with you! Racial identity is starting to Trump identity in Christ. I cannot be punished for the sins of my ancestors. Slavery, lynching and Jim Crowe was all wrong and I hate it. White peolle seek to understand and to grieve with our brother’s and sisters, but we also seek forgivness. It feels like we will never get it. We have never done enough. If there is no specific, achievable goal to be reached, white people loose all motivation and hope in the racial reconciliation process. After weeks of being called a racist and white supremacist in that group, I left it. No one really knew me or knew my heart, and nothing was practically being done to heal any wounds. It wasn’t building a bridge. It was people on one side angrily screaming at people on the other.

    • Lisa Robinson March 27, 2018 / 10:55 am

      Hi Rachel, thanks for posting this sobering comment. It’s really unfortunate that you experienced this. I sent you an email requesting if I could use this comment in an upcoming post I’d like to do. Please let me know.

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