Some more questions and a few thoughts on the church, race and social justice

A while back, I penned some thoughts about questions I had as it relates to issues of race and the church found here. I specifically directed my questions at those who feel like the cause of battling white supremacy takes such precedence that it becomes an overpowering force and actually defeats the purpose of reconciliation. I confess, I was a bit pointed and may even seemed to reject any lingering issues.

To be honest, I did not expect to be writing so much on this topic. I’ve been compelled to write because of concerns that I’ve had regarding the polarization of how issues of race were perceived in such disparate ways that increasingly, many in the church are decrying an urgency in addressing. I suspect that this is partially due to extended weariness and concern that things will never be right.

I want to wrap up some concluding thoughts as I don’t anticipate writing on this topic for awhile. As I’ve indicated recently, I’ve joined forces with a couple of other Christians who like me, are ethnic minorities who want to thoughtfully address these issues with honesty and through a Christ-centered lens at Kaleoscope. We don’t all agree but we do strive to prioritize the gospel above all else.  Please do check it out! Meanwhile, here’s a few more thoughts.

First know that I do not want to be dismissive of concerns, especially where legitimacy still exists. I am reminded on a regular basis that prejudices of all kinds still abound, not just on race.  Sometimes it is in your face, like the alt-right gathering at Charlottesville. But certainly more subtle and subversive can create standards around acceptably that is centered in Anglo culture. Yes, implicit bias does exist whereby a deviation from the standard is deemed to be inferior and even unacceptable according to that norm as this survey highlighted by a New York Times article points out. Surely, this can happen in churches to varying degrees whereby minority perspectives are disregarded and/or dismissed. I personally know of cases where this has happened.

So I do not want to undermine the very real frustrations that people of color can experience in predominantly white environments, especially in our churches. Though I am still left to ask about the collective conscious of “white evangelicalism” that pervades the church such that people of color are harmed. I continue to see the cries for white evangelicals to disrobe their “whiteness” so minority Christians can feel safe and welcome. But what exactly are the expectations in this regard? What exactly is the extent of harm?

To reiterate what I wrote in that first article, if the goal is to honor one another as equal heirs in Christ and give a voice to people of non-white cultures along with a seat at the table, that is not only a desirable goal, but a biblically mandated one. The body of Christ is to give deference to one another and honor each part equally as the family of God. There is absolutely no place for racial superiority of any kind. But I suspect that abolishing the whiteness has more to do with political affiliations and embracing particular ideologies than it is promoting biblical mandates for church members to simply love one another. These questions give rise to the latter that compel me to continue to ask questions of what is legitimate concern vs. a tribal preference.

It is also not lost on me that different definitions of evangelicalism are being used. To be sure, there is a strain within evangelicalism that have wrapped their Christianity around American nationalism such that Christianity tends to get articulated within a political paradigm. If this is what defines evangelicalism then criticism is rightly warranted not just on racial grounds but on kingdom of God grounds. However, I often wonder how much this gets conflated with all evangelicals such that just being white and conservative makes one guilty of endorsing white supremacy.

I often wonder how much of the very lengthy historical realities temper our discussions today and provide the filter through which all must be viewed. I can’t reiterate enough, that we can’t ignore the deeply entrenched racism that has existed in this country for far too long. We must take ownership of the fact that even our beloved Christian institutions proactively engaged in subjugation of black citizens as non-equal. And yes, this includes the church as I wrote about here.

A few years before I arrived at Dallas Seminary in 2008, an MLK chapel service had been installed in which the president of the seminary would publicly apologize for the institution’s active opposition to acceptance of non-white students. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) recently passed Overature 43, which acknowledged the denomination’s active role in opposing Civil Rights efforts[1]. Look up the history of the SBC and you’ll find the same thing, an institutional disposition towards white superiority and marginalization of black people. Many dearly beloved and praised heros of the faith firmly believe in slavery and endorsed Jim Crow. Let that sink in!

But when I hear and observe our present day discourse, I get the sense that it is often held hostage to these past transgressions. It’s as if the same level of injustice is being carried out today to the same degree and minorities are not welcome in any fellowship unless they scrape and bow down to white supremacy. I actually think that so much historical weight has pressed on the present and informs its condition.

Do we account for the progress? Do we recognize how much has changed since the Civil Rights movement? Not doing so creates binary categories and circumvents honest analysis.  I think a telling sign of historical imposition is the immediate punting to slavery and Jim Crow as if that is the norm now. We left the plantation long time ago!

Why this heightened attention on race all of a sudden? I think it’s safe to say it has much to do with the increased focus and calls for social justice. I observe this has increasingly become the barometer by which whole congregations are judged. Does your church actively speak on social justice?, has been the rallying cry.

But let’s consider what is meant by this: taking a particular stand in speaking out against police brutality and white supremacy. I think it’s pretty say to say that this attention began with the police shooting of  Michael Brown that quickly gave rise to the prominence of Black Lives Matters. Did not the greater cultural calls of rampant racism and white supremacy that quickly spawned broad brushed hubris begin to infiltrate the church especially when other well publicized instances of police shootings occur? I don’t have any hard empirical evidence but just based on observations, I believe the issue of police brutality and injustice against black folks, infused by the election of Trump, and instance of Charlottesville began to be the defining factor of why the issue of white supremacy in churches became the clarion call.

Again, here is where I believe the unfortunate historical record has intruded on the present and disabled sound judgment. Given what minorities have endured in this country, there are valid reasons that such events evoke visceral reactions, bringing up feelings of uneasiness and distrust.  It makes sense that police shootings of unarmed black men raise suspicion. Unfortunately, this has tempered the expectation for how people, and particularly white Christians are expected to respond. If there is any questioning that these incidences were anything less than racially motivated, any call for examination of evidence, any consideration of what part the victim played, you can bet that white Christian is going to be deemed a perpetrator of white supremacy and against the cause of the minority.

In reality, there are various factors at work in the dynamics of police shootings, which may or may not be racially motivated. Even further, an examination of evidence will yield that police shootings of unarmed people not only occur with Whites (this number actually is greater) and other minorities. According to this information available as highlighted in this Newsweek piece, Blacks comprise about 1/3 of fatal shootings (less than 1,000 in total), with a grand total of 16 being unarmed. That’s out of millions of police encounters. My point in bring up this simplistic evidence is in no way to minimize unjust instances of police shootings but to ask if we have created hyperbole and around these instances and then hold the church hostage to it? We are not talking about widespread systemic injustice that pretty much barred every black citizen from enjoying the equal fruits of citizenship, but a very small percentage of questionable cases. Are your white brothers and sisters deemed the enemy simply because they seem to be indifferent when in actuality it could be they are evaluating the evidence and not seeing the same level alarm? Are we really saying that the church that doesn’t flip over tables at police brutality is really endorsing white supremacy?

Please hear me clearly. I’m not saying that white supremacists attitudes no longer exist. I’m not saying we don’t need to address any kind of dominant cultural superiority in our churches and flat out racism where it exists. What I am saying is that it would be good to take some sober judgment on the criteria for which white Christians and churches are being spurned because it’s perceived that they don’t care about social justice, primarily because of the way it is being measured.

It’s rarer now that people of color are actually barred from fellowship though it does exist in spots. But let’s be honest, with this heightened focus on on social justice and emphasis on police brutality, along with the tensions it brings,  how much of our separateness is due to self-segregation because we honestly just don’t want to deal with those white people? Have we just given up and said no more, it’s too hard to do the work of reconciliation especially when perpetually bearing the brunt of the work along with the requisite patience that goes along with it? Are we putting the needs of our own cultural and ethnic preferences over the biblical call? I truly do get the pushback against white normativity as the arbiter of what is acceptable. But at some point we do have to drive a stake in the Christ-centered ground and say his supremacy matters most.

There’s more I can say, particularly about the Trump dynamic that has only exacerbated increasing tensions. But the post is getting long.  Regardless of what is going on in the broader culture with all its cries,  I continue to have a conviction that the church must rise above the noise and be a transcendent voice, bearing with one another in love.

[1] Even though the PCA was not formed until 1973, the push from conservatives within the denomination that prompted the split from the PCUS was directly tied to the rejection of the growing liberal concerns of the larger body. In other words, it was the same group that

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About Lisa Robinson

Servant of Christ, DTS Grad, member of Town North Presbyterian Church (PCA), non-profit professional, anti-poverty advocate, writer, thinker, explorer of ethnic food, lover of good coffee and a good laugh.
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5 Responses to Some more questions and a few thoughts on the church, race and social justice

  1. Valerie Logan says:

    Have we just given up and said no more, it’s too hard to do the work of reconciliation especially when perpetually bearing the brunt of the work along with the requisite patience that goes along with it?

    That is exactly what’s happening. Have you been following the conversation that was started by Lacrae’s interview?

    If you have my apologies for thinking that you haven’t but for those who may be reading this blog post and aren’t aware, Christian rapper Lecrae stated he was stepping away from the work he had been doing with white evangelicals. This was in the wake of him speaking out about issues of inequality and police brutality and how those things affect minorities. The white evangelical reaction to his activism has been negative and has hurt this career.

    Unfortunately I can’t find the link to the podcast where Lecrae gave his interview but a conversation about Lecrae and the interview are hear on the Quick to Listen podcast from Chrisitanity today.
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/october-web-only/significance-of-lecrae-leaving-white-evangelicalism.html

    John Piper penned a response to Lecrae stating that not all white evangelicals think negatively of him or his message and that he was thankful that Lecrae was remaining in the church when so many others are choosing to leave.
    https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/116-been-real

    John Piper’s article has prompted more debate. I will give you links below.

    Pastor Bryan Lorrits wrote on the issue and stated exactly what Lisa speculated, that people are tired and need to move on:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/october/response-to-ray-changs-open-letter-to-john-piper.html

    A response from pastor Raymond Change on the Asian-American perspective of this issue:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/october/open-letter-to-john-piper-on-white-evangelicalism-and-multi.html

    M. Div grad student Kyle J Howard also wrote a response that I thought was thoughtful:
    https://kylejhoward.com/2017/12/02/reflections-on-pipers-message-on-racial-harmony/

    There are more of course and you can google them to find them but the overwhelming sense I’m getting is that:

    1) White Evangelicals have confirmed the negative image that many non-white evangelicals already have of them and make people more sure of that image by continuing to support Donald Trump and getting behind people like Roy Moore.

    2) Those who undertook the difficult task or racial reconciliation not by just talking about it but by engaging white evangelicals in their churches (often at the cost of being alienated from and mocked by their own racial and ethnic groups) feel the most betrayed and are the most burned out. These evangelicals have made many sacrifices to do their part to bridge gaps in the church and they feel that their work has meant nothing.

    3) Those who are burned out are retreating from the white evangelical spaces they’ve joined. For many it seems that means they are moving back towards working within ethnic churches and looking to forge ties with other racial and ethnic minorities. They aren’t leaving the church but they are drawing a line in sand on who they are willing to work with and why.

    4) Most white evangelicals are either unaware that this is going on, are purposefully misreading the messages they are getting from non-white evangelicals or are dismissive of it. This article from the Federalist is a great example of the two latter points:
    http://thefederalist.com/2017/11/01/lecraes-flirtation-black-identity-politics-dangerous-faith/

    I don’t think white evangelicals really understand what they have done with their support of white nationalism and their particular brand of white Christianity. I don’t think they understand how this is affecting people now and the consequences that their actions will have on the future.

  2. Valerie Logan says:

    My point in bring up this simplistic evidence is in no way to minimize unjust instances of police shootings but to ask if we have created hyperbole and around these instances and then hold the church hostage to it? We are not talking about widespread systemic injustice that pretty much barred every black citizen from enjoying the equal fruits of citizenship, but a very small percentage of questionable cases. Are your white brothers and sisters deemed the enemy simply because they seem to be indifferent when in actuality it could be they are evaluating the evidence and not seeing the same level alarm? Are we really saying that the church that doesn’t flip over tables at police brutality is really endorsing white supremacy?

    I understand the point you are making but I strongly disagree with this line of thought. Those fatal shootings are just of those who were shot and died it says nothing about the people who were shot by the police in total. It also doesn’t say anything about the other crimes committed by the police, everything from sexual assault to robbery and other serious crimes. After all if the police feel they can kill with impunity what will prevent them from committing other crimes?

    i also strongly disagree with the separation of police misconduct from the widespread systemic injustice. How can the unpunished misconduct of the police not be an essential part of the injustice people face?

    I also don’t understand how anyone could be comfortable with agents of the state who are often armed with military grade weapons operating in our communities. I really don’t understand that when so many people “who back the blue” claim to be conservatives.

    I also object because this line of argument strikes me as being incredibly dangerous. How many unjust deaths are acceptable? One, twenty, 500? Can you tell me the exact number for deaths that would make white evangelicals care about their fellow citizens? I would think one unjust death would be one too many. Your argument can only be made if you are dismissive of the moral case being made against police brutality.

    I would also encourage evangelicals to be careful with deciding a certain number of deaths means an issue is not important. There are plenty of causes evangelicals support where that support is based on a moral arguments that could also be dismissed with a certain statistical focus.

    • Hi Valerie. There’s much to respond to in both comments, which time does not allow at the moment. But I do want to briefly interact with this comment. I’m afraid you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. First, it’s not a matter of being comfortable with deaths at the hands of police. I don’t want to give that impression. Second, it’s not a matter of finding a magic number but I am questioning proportionality. There’s this cry for white evangelicals to do something because of police brutality. What exactly do we want them to do when the reality is black people are not the only victims? But you would never know that from what the media shows us. Now, I do believe that some communities more than others have tense relationships between the communities and police and that’s where the church can be involved where those dynamics exist. But that’s not everywhere. Third, there are certainly issues of protection of police misconduct simply because of their position in society. For instance, police are rarely charged with any crime in the course of their policing and it doesn’t matter whether it is against minorities or not. There is a culture of protection, it seems. But we do need to separate that from the charge that police in general are just out to oppress black folks especially considering ALL the dynamics that are involved in policing (like the fact that police actually DO interact with criminals). I’m not saying that where there is misconduct or flat out injustice, we gladly accept it but to simply ask to what extent is this present that the church uninvolved in these matters is guilty of white supremacy, or at a minimum a lack of love towards minorities.

      All of this to say, that I my hope is for us to think critically and soberly on these matters and not just lump everything under one simple charge of white supremacy. It’s not that I want to protect any kind of racial supremacy. Heavens no! But where these generalized charges have infiltrated the church and created division with brothers and sisters in Christ, my hope is that we can at least examine where we are levying unwarranted accusations and false expectations that continue to create the divide.

  3. Valerie Logan says:

    Lisa thank you for your reply.

    There’s this cry for white evangelicals to do something because of police brutality. What exactly do we want them to do when the reality is black people are not the only victims?

    If there is any questioning that these incidences were anything less than racially motivated, any call for examination of evidence, any consideration of what part the victim played, you can bet that white Christian is going to be deemed a perpetrator of white supremacy and against the cause of the minority.

    From the NAACP’s website on lynchings:

    From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black. The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched. These numbers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded. Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 white people were lynched. That is only 27.3%. Many of the whites lynched were lynched for helping the black or being anti lynching and even for domestic crimes.

    African-Americans were not the only people lynched in the US. There were other people lynched for other reasons. In an 86 year period the official count is that 3446 black people were lynched. That is a rate of 40 per year, a number surely less than the number of blacks who say died of heart disease or other illnesses.

    Should we not have said anything because the number of lynchings were relatively small? Should we not have fought because there were whites who were lynched as well? Should we not have called out the racism which fueled these acts of violence because there were other reasons why people were lynched too? Was Ida B. Wells wasting her time?

    I really don’t understand this your line of thought. Of course black people aren’t the only victims. Of course with others there may be other factors. Of course some of the victims aren’t going to be angels. So what?

    What does that have to do with the particular reality of black Americans being mistreated by law enforcement? Why do we have to prove some larger cause to talk about what’s happening to us? And why do we have to make that case to people who supposedly say they follow Christ?

    If I may also rephrase what you wrote another way.

    There’s this cry for white evangelicals to do something because of police brutality to stop Iraqi Christians being deported. What exactly do we want them to do when the reality is black people are not the only victims Iraqi Christians aren’t the only people facing deportation?

    Should the white evangelicals who spoke up to keep Iraqi Christians from being deported not have said anything because others faced being deported as well? Would you have stopped those white evangelicals who worked to make sure these families weren’t booted out of the country because they weren’t the only ones facing this problem?

    Did not the greater cultural calls of rampant racism and white supremacy that quickly spawned broad brushed hubris begin to infiltrate the church especially when other well publicized instances of police shootings occur? I don’t have any hard empirical evidence but just based on observations, I believe the issue of police brutality and injustice against black folks, infused by the election of Trump, and instance of Charlottesville began to be the defining factor of why the issue of white supremacy in churches became the clarion call

    This statement makes the case that this activism is new when it is not.

    Yes the people engaging in much of the activism are new. The millennials who make up the majority of the faces of the activism against police brutality the media focuses on are young so I can understand how you could get that impression. But you and I both know that this activism is not new thing.

    Black Americans have never had the protection of the police. In addition the history of many white evangelicals has been to either work with that oppression or stand silent in the wake of it.

    The defining factor of the white supremacy people see in this issue is the hundreds of years of police brutality we have faced and the fact that white evangelicals have not helped us fight against it.

    White evangelicals today are doing the same thing their parents, grandparents and ancestors did in the face of our oppression. They are finding ways to ignore it, or make excuses for it or draw attention away from it.

    My final question is why are you joining them in that effort? I have no problem with someone asking questions about whether statistics are true or asking for cases to be made. But that is not what you are doing here. It’s sad to see.

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