BY TYLER BENDER, SENIOR DIRECTOR - COMMUNICATIONS
"Of course, I thought as I was looking for a parking space. "Why would you respect your community neighbors? Just park wherever and however you want....nice spinner rims. Later in that same trip to my local grocery store, I was behind a black woman in the check out line. I saw that she was using food stamps to purchase items that I rolled my eyes at - ""you're on food stamps, do you really think you should be buying mountain dew and name brand detergent? Get it together. The moment I got back in my car, I sat there and almost started to cry. It hit me like a wave. Am I racist?.......really. Am I? I never wanted to be. I don't want to be!
I said all of the things that made me feel better - I have black friends! I care about justice! I hate the KKK! Yeah, I'm not racist. Right?
That parking lot moment in 2013 was the beginning of a transformation in my life that I've outlined on this blog before.
Over a week ago, white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, violence broke out, someone's life was taken away from them, and now we all find ourselves witnessing the fallout. Since the protests happened, I've had a number of conversations with people in my sphere of influence, volunteering to me that they're not racist, like it's for me to judge. A lot of the white folks I know are tired of the news, so they turn it off. Hashtags on social media have been created, trying to convince ourselves that this is not us. I've got news for you - this is us. This has always been us. To tell ourselves that we are not racist, submit to hashtags, denounce the KKK, or distance ourselves from the uncomfortable reality of our world is not helpful. So let's talk about what we, the church, must do. And let's talk about why I used the word "must" instead of "could" or "should" do.
Why Am I Christian?
First the why - why am I a Christian? Why am I a disciple? Jesus commands us to seek moral purity, yes. But He also commands us to get right in a relationship with God, each other, and all the rest of God's creation. We call that reconciliation. The core of our belief is to be reconciled. That's what God wants more than anything else. He wants us to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. When Jesus died, restoring our relationship with God all of a sudden became possible. If we are to do our best to be like Jesus, then we need to take reconciliation very very seriously. You see that list? - with God, with each other, with creation. Reconciliation. That's why considering the seriousness of racism and other injustice is our obligation, Church. God so loved the world; you're part of it, but you're not all of it. You're not just a recipient of grace, you're an agent of it.
Ok, so what do we even do?
Instead of denying that we are racist, may I suggest that we search our hearts and souls to see where there might be prejudice, discriminatory feelings, or even racist behavior. For me in that parking lot in 2013, I had to admit to myself and to God that my desire was to be free from racist thinking. The hard truth was not comfortable. I had to search myself to see where those feelings and thoughts came from. Ask yourself where it's implicit. Where is it explicit? What do you need to let go of? What do you need God's help in releasing you from? Maybe this is all you need to accomplish right now.
Listen & Learn
White privilege is a thing. I have it. God made me white. I can't help that. Nor should that make me feel guilty. If you're white, the same is true about you. My potential to be an ally to people of color is directly proportional to how informed I am of what people need. It's tied directly to my choice to use that privilege to advocate for people who are not like me. I must be informed of how the systems of white supremacy permeate the lives of people in my community. I need to be informed of what white supremacy even is! I will never know enough. I can never understand firsthand experiences of racism. So I will never be able to learn enough. Read books written by people of color. Watch documentaries. If you watch news on TV, watch a different channel. Inform yourself. You can find a few of my specific suggestions here.
This year I attended the Institute of Reconciliation at Duke University Divinity School. The theme of one of the days we were there was lament. So often when I get fired up about a topic, I just want to dive in and get to work. Racial reconciliation is one of those issues - "just give me marching orders and put me to work!" When we operate that way, we risk missing a huge piece of our part to play in healing. The Bible calls us to lament injustice! When I first heard this, I thought "yeah but if I'm privileged, what do I have to lament? Can I even be genuine in lament?"" The answer is yes. We can bring our anger to God. We can bring our protest to God. We can do so, both the oppressed and the oppresor.
How long, how long, how long, oh Lord!?
How long must we ache for your new heaven and earth?
How long will we view your creation as something other than Your creation?
How long will we blind ourselves from the glory of God in every human being?
I do not love others like Jesus does.
When will you free me?
Remind me that I am beloved by you - and so are they; wholly.
Lament is essential. It helps us truly worship God. It helps us take the focus off of ourselves. Sadly, I fear we don't lament our pain and broken communities enough. I do not lament my neighbor's pain and oppression enough.
None of us were around when slavery was legal. For some reason, this is often brought up by white folks as some type of excuse for not taking responsibility for contributing to the problem of racism or white supremacist systems of oppression since 1865 (when it was legally abolished). Whether my ancestors owned slaves or not, I've been complicit in the institutions and systems that perpetuate and allow for the oppression of people of color. I spent 30 years (I'm 34) not even thinking about this broken place, for Pete's sake. I've never had a problem getting a job or moving into a house or apartment wherever I want. I've never feared for my life when I have interactions with law enforcement. The list goes on and on. And while it's not wrong for me to be a white man, I think we should all feel an obligation to confess to God and ourselves when we have been dormant or ignorant to issues that are important to Him - even unknowingly. And I am sorry. I confess that I have racial biases still to this day. It's not something I am proud of. I can pass a black male on the street, and have mental reactions that I'm ashamed of. I'm sorry that I have not spoken up in every moment where off-color and racist jokes are told. I confess my racist thoughts and behavior. I wish for God to free me from anything lying dormant within me that may be reactionary, not intentional. I wish for God to free me. And if you're white, you should too. Please note - it's important not to dwell in this guilt. People of color do not need to "shepherd" white people through their confession and guilt. Let's prioritize it, but let's turn quickly to action.
Attack systems - not people
Ok, I fail at this often. Another thing I need to confess, I guess. As a Christ-follower, I have no business going after any human being in judgment. I can judge the issues, the ideologies, the systems that oppress, the institutions that perpetuate and are complicit in racism; but I believe I must have ultimate grace for the human being. God has offered that to me. I must find it within myself to offer it to people I viscerally disagree with; including public figures. I cannot say that I am not a racist if I continue to support and accept the injustice around us in the form of systems - including the systems and institutions that claim the name of Jesus. We must align ourselves with systems that don't just denounce racism, but stand firmly with those who are victims of racist oppression.
Pursue Reconciliation, Not Diversity
What's the difference? Well first, one of those terms intentionally prioritizes healing. Reconciliation will require a cost (whether it's with God, with people, with his creation). We are committing to a shared vision of the future; of what's possible when things are the way they should be. And let me be clear, I believe that things have never been the way they should be in America when it comes to race and equality. With reconciliation and this shared vision of the future with one another, there will be room for grace and forgiveness; for uncomfortable moments and awkward interactions. If my black friends know that I'm trying to be the best ally I can be for them, and they trust me, I hope that they will forgive me when I make mistakes that hurt them - because they know that I share a vision with them for what is possible, despite our differences. This is way bigger than "diversity." Diversity simply acknowledges the differences in us. Reconciliation dignifies them. This will be uncomfortable. Lord knows I've already made mistakes. I've said the "wrong" things sometimes. I've been awkward. We should not expect our pursuit toward reconciliation to be comfortable - especially for white folks. But this is our obligation, remember?
Then what!? Rinse and repeat. Wow. That's a lot. This will take work. It's taken centuries of work already - and much more is ahead for me, for us, in our pursuit of healing this broken place of hatred.