Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My experience in “cross-cultural missions” (Part 6)

When I started this series, I was talking about the fact that I’ve never felt the need to go on a short-term mission trip (Part 1). It’s not that I have anything against mission trips; I’ve just never felt the urge to go on one myself. As far as I’m concerned, I’m already doing cross-cultural missions. You see, a little over six years ago, my family and I began attending a predominantly White, non-denominational, evangelical church. Eventually, both my wife and I became members, and we and both our sons are actively involved in the life of the church. However, because there is a whole world of difference between predominantly White churches and the Black Church, serving in our church is very much akin to cross-cultural missions, with totally different ways of doing “church”: different style of worship, different styles of music, different way of administration, different style of pastoral leadership, different ways of doing ministry, different expectations…a different world! There’s even a different “language”. So, what I set out to do is describe my experience in “cross-cultural missions”.

However, over the course of this series (as in some of my face-to-face conversations), I’ve become a bit sidetracked by following an extensive “rabbit trail”. First, I tried to describe the reasons why my wife and I decided to leave the familiar surroundings of the Black Church (Part 2). Then, I attempted to explain why there exists a humanly insurmountable gulf between Blacks and Whites, which also accounts for the separation between Black and White Christians and their churches (Parts 3 and 4). I am under no illusions that this divide can be healed before Christ returns. As long as sin is in the world, there will be racial and ethnic divisions and hostilities. However, I believe this gulf can be bridged in Christ, and that Christians have an obligation to demonstrate before the world that the Spirit of Christ can do the impossible. Starting with my last installment in this topic, I’ve been trying to explain what, in my opinion, needs to happen for Black and White unity to occur. In Part 5, I contended that Christian Blacks must be willing to forgive Whites for sins of racism that have been committed against them, and then “let it go”. In my opinion, unless we Blacks draw upon the Spirit’s power to overcome past hurts, we will not see racial harmony in the Church.

Today, I’d like to suggest some part that Christian Whites can play in racial reconciliation within the Body of Christ. Then, in what I hope will be my final post under this title, I’ll try to briefly describe some of the positive ways my family and I have connected with and ministered to our church family (“cross-cultural missions”) with the hope that it can serve as an example of how people of all races and ethnicities can successfully work together within the Body of Christ.

Two posts ago, I wrote the following: “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’d like to try to explain this statement, if I can, for I think it also is a crucial part of any significant progress toward racial reconciliation.

In a previous post, I made clear that the slavery of Black people in the United States ended only 142 years ago. There are those who would say that was a long time ago, so we should just forget about it and move on. But, in terms of human history, Black people were enslaved a relatively short time ago. It is, therefore, an insult to suggest that Black people should just forget about the past and move on, as if everything’s all right now. Black people, as a group, are still affected by slavery and slavery’s racist aftermath.

I don’t have the statistics in hand, but we’re all familiar with them: As a group, Blacks are among the poorest, the least education, and comprise the largest racial group in most of our country’s prisons. We have a higher than average unemployment rate, live in some of the poorest areas of our nation’s cities (areas with some of the highest rates of crime), and have the lowest life expectancy. Every ethnic group that has immigrated to this country, even if they came in at the bottom rung of society, within two or three generations has ascended into the mainstream. Black people were brought to the Americas beginning in the early 1600s. We came in at rock bottom—as slaves—and, somehow, a large percentage of us remain at or near the bottom today.

What’s wrong? I think what we see is the lingering effect of slavery. Think about it: No other people group in the United States was ever subjected to life-long slavery, followed by decades of segregationist laws, plus the daily, almost routine onslaught of racial indignities that the average Black person used to face (and still do, on occasion but, thankfully, to a far lesser degree than our forebears). That collective experience leaves its mark on the psyche of a people. My advice to my White brothers and sisters is, please, don’t trivialize the Black experience by suggesting that Blacks should just “get over it”. You don’t “get over” what Black people have been through. By the grace and help of God, many of us have risen above our backgrounds and the hardships experienced by former generations. More Blacks than ever are now part of the “Middle Class”. God has been good. But, to forget the past, to my mind, is to forget that my great-great-great grandparents were slaves, forget that they never learned to read, forget that their children and grandchildren picked cotton and “slopped” hogs down South, then came North to work in factories and scrub floors, or cook and clean for White people, so that generations yet to be born could have a better life.

I hope you can see, then, why some Blacks might find it a major “turn-off” (to say the least) to suggest, “Since slavery was so long ago, we should just forget about the past and move on.” It would be help lesson the divide between Whites and Blacks, if Whites and others would be willing to face squarely the fact that Black slavery, segregationist laws, racial discrimination, and countless other indignities, brutalities and atrocities happened to Black people, right here in the U.S. Black people need to know that you don’t devalue their suffering. It would also help lesson the racial divide between Whites and Blacks, it Whites and others would be willing to admit that the sins of America’s past still affect our country. The simple truth is, all sin carries its consequences. Black people need to know that you appreciate the complexity of the moral, social and economic problems that plague many Black communities, as well as understand that a past climate of racism not only hampered the Black community but also sometimes gave a boost to the White community. To borrow an oft-used phrase: Blacks and Whites in America haven’t played on an even playing field.

So, then, what does racial harmony look like in the church? I can’t speak for every church, but I know how things have been for me and my family these past six-plus years within our church.

(To be continued…)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation. I've been following your thread with interest, since I find your writing persuasive and fun to read.

Perhaps this is off-topic, but how would you address something like collective or individual responsibility? Much of the response (some instinctive, some thoughtful) by conservatives is driven by a denial of group responsibility. How would you address such individual-responsibility arguments?