Sunday, February 11, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 4)

Before I continue, I want to remind my readers of what I wrote in a previous post introducing my primary topic for February, which is Black History Month:
“Most of what I have to write will be about Blacks and whites. I don’t mean to ignore other races or ethnicities, but the fact is, being Black in America has always been mainly about trying to live, work and relate with whites. So, please don’t take offense if I’m not talking about you; there will be something here, I think, for all to learn. However, there’s a history between Blacks and whites in America that goes back a l-o-n-g way. It is out of my personal experience, within this continuing saga of Black-white relations, that I will be writing.”

So, to repeat: I know there are other races, ethnicities and cultures in this country, but it is my choice to write about the Black/White issue since there is a longer, more extensive and more involved history between these two groups than any others.

Now, to continue…

If Blacks and Whites don’t know each other, don’t trust one another and, on some level, are afraid of each other, how are both sides supposed to come together? The key, as always, is found in God’s word: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Did you see that? “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s a fact now, whether we realize it or not. “In Christ” people are one. Only “in Christ” can races be reconciled and differing cultures and ethnicities live at peace. Non-Christians can’t solve the “race problem.” They have good intentions, perhaps, but it will never work in the end because the sin nature is too strong—racism will eventually raise its ugly head every time. But Christians should be able to pull this off because believers are one in Christ. Our unity with other true believers is a fact. Christians just need to start living like it’s true.

The tragedy of racism is that, in this country, it has often worn a Christian face. That’s why today you won’t find a lot of Black people at abortion protests. It’s why we don’t get so excited about the Pledge of Allegiance. Where were the White Christian protesters when Blacks needed them in the 1950s and 60s? Some of the White, liberal, Bible-denying “Christians” were there, but the White, Bible-believing “Christians”—many of them—had no problem with Jim Crow and segregation and discrimination. Pledge Allegiance to the flag of a so-called “Christian” nation, “one nation…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? Yeah, right.

It could be argued that White American Christianity’s accommodation of racism is why Malcolm Little became Malcolm X. Most likely Martin Luther King, Jr. was a theological liberal. But, what would you expect? He graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University—theologically liberal schools. Do you know any Bible-believing seminary in the South of King’s young adult years that would have accepted him?

And here’s one way the tragedy continues: Untold numbers of Christian Blacks attend traditional Black churches where they know the preaching and teaching is sub-standard. They attend knowing ahead of time that they won’t hear anything worthwhile on Sunday. These Christians I’m thinking about then supplement their spiritual diet with Christian TV (T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Fred Price, Rod Parsley, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, etc.), and the books of TV preachers, in their desperate search for any kind of teaching (even if it’s false teaching) to make up for the woeful lack of teaching at their churches. These Christian Blacks I’m thinking of attend churches where they know all kinds of scandalous sins are being committed by church members (and sometimes by the pastor) with no one ever being held accountable. They come home from church on Sunday only to complain about “what went on at church today.” These believers won’t leave their churches to attend a church with sound doctrine (like those churches represented by my blogging Reformed brothers out there, for instance) because to do so they would probably have to leave the Black Church altogether. And that would mean going to a predominantly White church.

You remember the White church, don’t you? That’s where the people go whom Blacks don’t trust. I’m struggling to find language to describe what a “leap of faith” that can be when you’ve grown up Black in America. There’s a whole lot of bad history that many Whites want to ignore (“Oh, that happened such a long time ago! Can’t we just forget about it?”), but you can’t just do that. First of all, it hasn’t been that long ago. I knew my great-great grandfather, and he was born in 1871—6 years after the Civil War! He was the son of slaves. I’ve known the grandchildren of slaves. As far as human history is concerned, slavery was not a long time ago. Emmit Till was brutally murdered by racists in Mississippi only 8 years before I was born. Medger Evers was murdered by a racist the year I was born (Evers’ murderer wasn’t convicted until 1994!). Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated shortly before I turned 5 years old. This is not ancient history! Stop insisting that Black people get over it! Slavery, Jim Crow and segregation happened, right here in America—“the Land of the free”—and it wasn’t a long time ago!

And, it’s not wise to forget about it. One time, when I was a boy, I touched the iron shortly after Grandma has finished ironing clothes. I wanted to know if it was still hot. It was! You know, I didn’t have to make that mistake twice; one time was enough for me! In fact, I’d be a fool to go do that again. Many Black people have been personally “burnt” by White racism. Some of us have been burnt many times. As a race of people, Blacks had been “burnt” in America for over 300 years, by the time the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964. You don’t just forget about that! You’d be a fool to forget about it! This is why most church-going Blacks would rather go to a Black church where the teaching is lousy than take a chance on a White church where the teaching is sound. They don’t want to get burnt!

Yet, as Christians, we must deal with God’s word: “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, how do we—both Blacks and Whites—as fallen human beings living in a fallen world, demonstrate this unity that God says exists among those who are baptized into Christ Jesus? First, we must unburden ourselves of a lot of baggage. There’s something both races need to do. Christian Blacks must, with God’s help, forgive Whites. If you have to pray about it, pray! Ask God to help you. I’ve been there, and I know God will help you love those who’ve hurt you. You must forgive. As a Christian, you have no other option. However, forgiving does not mean forgetting. To forget is not humanly possible (and, I don’t care how “saved” you are, you’re still human). This is why not only should Christian Blacks forgive Whites, but Christian Whites need to both acknowledge this country’s racist past and admit that racism is still a problem. It’s an insult to Black people to pretend it doesn’t matter. It does matter. Even if your ancestors came to this country after slavery was abolished and had nothing to do with slavery, you still enjoy—as a legacy of our country’s racist past—privileges that go along with being White.

I’m guessing I’ve probably rubbed somebody the wrong way with that last paragraph (if not before!). If so, then I say (if I may be blunt about it) get over your hurt feelings and actually think about what I’ve written. Really think about it! If I can, I will try to explain why I believe Blacks must forgive and Whites must admit. Then (after laying the groundwork for the past three posts on this topic), I want to finally describe some of my positive experiences in “cross-cultural missions”.

(To be continued…)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wyeth,

Great post...I in no way felt anger towards any previous conversations we had at pure church, I simply wanted to speak to you and provide hope for what we both would ultimately want(Galatians 3:28) I appreciate all the wisdom and insight you bring to this topic...
FYI, I'm a little more than interested in this because I have spent my life in black circles from boyhood to present(I'm 41 now)...In elementary school my best friend was Dexter and we shared alot of good times..In our innocence, we were as close as could be and there was a purity that transcended color...As we grew older and entered middle school(called jr. high then), we both fell victim to what the culture said we were and our friendship became more superficial...It's a sad story for me because about twenty five years later we saw each other at a convenience store and we hugged and it just seemed like we both were wanting to say, to **** with culture, let's renew what we once had!!
But we didn't, and I'm not sure why that is...It could be that at the time I was not walking with the Lord and maybe could not see the hope or possibility of rising above cultural paradigms to invest in a cross-cultural friendship...I'm sure that is what it was, now that I think of it...Because now, for me, all things are made new and I seek to be at peace with all my christian brothers, of any background or color...
So of course there is alot of wickedness that was a part of white American history, that is so plain I cannot understand a believer denying that(I know it happens), it would be dishonest and racist...My question to you is...Should I have these conversations with my black brothers in my life?? Would they be put off by me saying, "I admit to wrongdoing by whites in the past and I want you to know I don't appreciate that legacy"...Do blacks privately need this kind of individual confession from white brothers to move to a more honest, deep relationship?
Or would they scoff at me and say, "now you know I know your heart and that was totally uncalled for"?
My close friend Vincent, who is a black elder in my church, is one who I feel would be put off by me saying such a thing...Please re-direct me in my discernment here because I want to honestly live at peace with him and you also!!
peace and grace,
Chuck Cobb
Atl, Ga.

wwdunc said...

Brother Chuck,

Your heart comes through in your comment. I appreciate that you are willing to do what is necessary to bring about healing between races and ethnicities.

Obviously, I can't speak for every Black person, but I think there would be no harm in your having these conversations about race with your Black brothers. You don't want to come off as "trying too hard", but to sincerely and succinctly express what you wrote here, I think would be fine.

Do Blacks "need" this? I don't know. I think that depends on the individual. My great grandparents, for instance, wouldn't need it at all. In some ways they weren't "in touch with their feelings" on race. That kind of went along with their generation. Then, again, they never thought about church as being integrated; it just didn't happen.

If Blacks and Whites are really to come together in the Church, I think there need to be these kinds of conversations. People need to stop talking behind each others' backs and, instead, ask their questions and express their concerns or frustrations in the open, where these things can be worked out and prayed through.

I hope that helps some. Don't give up. I'm not giving up, either. I think there's so much each race/ethnicity can learn and contribute to the other.

Peace and grace to you, also!