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sermon illustrations

Race

Black America

The most basic issue now facing black America [is]: the nihilistic threat to its very existence. This threat is not simply a matter of relative economic deprivation and political powerlessness—though economic well-being and political clout are requisites for meaningful progress. It is primarily a question of speaking to the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair so widespread in black America.

Cornel West, Race Matters, Vintage Books.

But He’d Be Wrong!

Reporters Alex Alston and James Dickerson tell a sad story about a church that sought to integrate its ranks: The Mississippi Delta was in a tizzy over rumors that blacks might show up at white churches to worship. Some white churches hired armed guards to keep them out. Other white churches considered allowing them to attend services.

One Delta congregation, a Presbyterian church with deep cultural roots, was split right down the middle. Half of the deacons voted no; the other half voted yes. After a contentious meeting to resolve the stalemate, one of the church elders hurriedly left the meeting to deliver the news to his mother, a firm believer in old-time segregation. “Well, what did you decide?” she demanded. “We decided to let them attend services.” “You know I’m very much opposed to that!” “I know, Mother—but think about it this way.

What would Jesus do?” “I know good and well what He’d do,” she huffed. “He’d say, let ’em in!” She paused a moment, pondering the implications, then added, “But He’d be wrong!” Even though most Christians wouldn’t make a statement as bold as the elder’s mother, I don’t think many Christians believe reconciliation and integrated worship are central to the gospel and to our lives as Christians. But it is. We need God’s Word to help purge us of these sins that keep us apart. And it grieves and frightens me to the core to hear a Christian declare that maintaining racial separation is a higher value than imitating Christ!

John M. Perkins, Dream with Me, Baker Publishing Group.

The Concept of “Race” a Recent Development

The etymology of the word race, as used with regard to people, can be traced only to the sixteenth century. Around 1500 the English word race carried the sense of a group with a common occupation; by the 1540s the word had evolved to refer to a generation of people; and it wasn’t until about 1560 that it was used to denote a tribe, nation. Or people of common ancestry. Race’s “modern meaning of ‘one of the great divisions of mankind based on physical peculiarities’ is from 1774.”

The modern emergence of racism and preoccupation with racial identities can thus be located sometime after the Middle Ages, cleveloping through the age of exploration and becoming fully established in the colonial era.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Curious About Oregon

The Latin root of curiosity means “cure,” which makes me wonder if it isn’t a way to heal some of our oldest sicknesses. Like, perhaps, the “amnesia of affluence” that theologians point out in the Bible, and in our modern-day context. For myself, getting curious about the land, the actual space that I inhabit, has been the first step toward understanding where I am located in a vastly unequal economic world.

My home of Oregon remains one of the whitest states in the United States because that is how it was designed. At the beginning of their statehood, in the 1850s, Oregon outlawed slavery. But before anyone could congratulate Oregon for being so progressive, the state excluded free Black men from entering because they were worried these men would “intermix with Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility toward the white race.’’

In 1857 Oregon had the distinction of being the only free state admitted to the union with an exclusion clause—an exclusion clause in the Incorporated Bill of Rights, which prohibited Black persons from setting foot in the state without penalty of violence against their bodies.

Although the laws were rarely enforced, the intentions worked, and the ramifications ripple onward. Currently, over 150 years after these laws were put into place, less than 2 percent of Oregon is Black. And from 1970 until 2017, the rates of homeownership for Black people in Portland plummeted by almost 40 percent.

Taken from The Myth of the American Dream by D.L. Mayfield Copyright (c) 2020 by D.L. Mayfield. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Describe Your First Encounter with Race

Whenever I lead a training session on cultural identity—particularly when there’s a strong white presence—I begin with this question: “Describe the first encounter you remember having with race.” Most participants answer this with relative ease, and what they share is always enlightening. In the most recent training I conducted, their answers included a typical gamut of stories. The first participant described a cross-cultural friendship.

A Pakistani family moved into his neighborhood during his elementary school years, including a boy his age with whom he became fast friends… The food they ate, the clothes they wore, and the family dialect stood in contrast to the cultural norms of his white family. The second participant described the first time she saw a person of color in a public position of influence, an African American pastor that spoke at her church.

As a seventh grader, she noticed not only the pastor’s unique rhetorical style but also that there was not a single black person in her own congregation. The third participant described witnessing an overt act of prejudice, which is the most common racial encounter white people share with me. He was walking home from high school with a black friend during his freshman year when a police car followed them from a distance for a couple of blocks before pulling up next to them.

The officer rolled down his window and asked the white teenager if everything was all right. He was confused by the question and assured the officer everything was fine. As the police car drove away, he asked his black friend if he had any idea what that was about.

The black friend then told him about racial profiling, saying that instances like that were not uncommon for him. This shook the white friend to the core.

This exercise is an important introduction to conversations around race and cultural identity for a couple of reasons. First, it helps participants to reflect on encounters with race that have shaped their understanding. Second, and most important, it serves as a reminder of the normalization of whiteness. My own story is no different. The first time I was asked to describe my initial encounter with race, my answer came quickly. I was in fifth grade, and my family lived in an all-white neighborhood—until a brave black family moved in.

They were there less than a week before someone set fire to a cross in their front yard. I will never forget my confusion and the rage that boiled within me as my father explained the legacy of the Ku Klux Klan to me. Encounters like these play an important role in the growing consciousness of white Americans, but they must also remind us of how pervasive and normalized white culture is.

Taken from White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill Copyright (c) 2017 by Daniel Hill. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Experiencing Joy and Sorrow as a Black Man

In 2008, I felt like an American for the first time because I saw a leader who looked like me. All my life I hoped my education and accomplishments would free me from the history of my skin color as inherently inferior and forever intimidating. It never did. But then Barack Hussein Obama became president of the United States, and I believed that I belonged here.

A shift was happening internally as I perceived things to be changing around me. Perhaps now, with a black president of the United States, I could be taken seriously, given the benefit of the doubt, and assumptions of fear and intimidation and anger toward me would lessen. I started to function as though the following were true about me too: “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”   “Be the change you want to see in

It felt good to feel integral to the movement to make this country a better place. Not only could I belong to this country, but I also could contribute to and even lead its transformation. That is not the narrative I grew up hearing. It’s the narrative I heard of white people, both here and abroad. The only place I felt valuable was in black churches. Gospel music and black preaching weren’t theater, performance, or entertainment, but just us being us before the Lord. And now we, the ball dunkers, fast runners, and entertainers could also be legitimate leaders and key contributors to the future of this country, not just its slave labor. But then the American = white = male = Christian forcefully reasserted itself.

The deaths at the hands of law enforcement of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and the ever-growing list of African Americans now memorialized eroded any hope that formed in me. This realization continued for me as I came to understand that this was a problem not only for my immediate ethnic community but also for those I had previously been unable to consider because of the blindness induced by the plight of my own people. Native peoples in America make up the highest percentage of police involved killings, and the Latinx community suffers numbers comparable to the black community. Both experience the plight of invisibility with little to no media coverage.

More poignantly, I remember sitting in a Sunday service on the Upper East Side of New York City the day after George Zimmerman was acquitted. The worship leader opened with a time of prayer and invited the congregation to pray aloud.

Prayers for sick family members, a husband looking for a job, friends in need of healing, and more people to know Jesus filled the air. I was waiting. Waiting for anybody except me—the only black person in the room—to say “God bless the family of Trayvon Martin.” No one did. The “church” that was supposed to be my sanctuary did not see Trayvon, so this church didn’t see me; if it did see Trayvon, his black life wasn’t worth mentioning. His black life didn’t matter, and if I met the same unjust demise, my black life wouldn’t matter either.

Taken from Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton Copyright (c) 2019 by Jonathan Walton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Handicapped (White) Church

We are handicapped in the white church. If I preached Jesus’ first sermon (Luke 4:14–30) and gave it the social emphasis that He gave, our church has no vehicle for doing anything about the problem. People would respond in one of two ways: 1) “This preacher is off-base, so let’s get rid of him,” or 2) “I’ve never seen it quite that way, but what do I do next?”

For the most part, our white churches don’t have the instruments, the organizational structure, to get involved in social action. Our usual solution is to put some inner-city organization into the budget or maybe to collect and distribute used clothing.… When it comes to racial issues, many white churches will participate in any number of symbolic activities, but they’re hesitant when you ask them to get involved in sacrificial services in the trenches.

E. K. Bailey and Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching in Black and White: What We Can Learn from Each Other, Zondervan.

John Perkins’ Journey from Segregation to Reconciliation

In 1970, John Perkins, an African American pastor and community organizer who lived on “the black side” of rural Mendenhall, Mississippi, was nearly beaten to death by white state police officers. The Christianity that Perkins and the police officers shared did nothing to challenge the wall that racism had built between them. Indeed, in the aftermath of a brutal assault, Perkins could only hope that division would protect him from further violence. In the turmoil of 1970, he had good reason to want nothing to do with white people. As John Perkins recovered from the beating that had almost killed him, he had time to think. Lying on that hospital bed, he believed he was done with white people. But God interrupted his thoughts with a vision of an interracial community in the heart of Mississippi. 

Over the next four decades, defying the refrain that Sunday is America’s most segregated hour, the Voice of Calvary congregation and community development organization Perkins planted maintained a vibrant interracial life across economic boundaries. Inspired by this vision, many others started similar beloved communities in America’s inner cities, with thousands joining in a movement called the Christian Community Development Association. 

Taken from Reconciling All Things by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. ©2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

The Narrative of Racial Difference

In this excerpt by Bryan Stevenson, the civil rights attorney and author of Just Mercy, explains the origins of racial identity and difference, necessitated by a slave-based (American Christian) society and economy:

The whole narrative of white supremacy was created during the era of slavery. It was a necessary theory to make white Christian people feel comfortable with their ownership of other human beings. And we created a narrative of racial difference in this country to sustain slavery, and even people who didn’t own slaves bought into that narrative, including people in the North. . . .

So this narrative of racial difference has done really destructive things in our society. Lots of countries had slaves, but they were mostly societies with slaves. We became something different, we became a slave society. We created a narrative of racial difference to maintain slavery. And our 13th amendment never dealt with that narrative. It didn’t talk about white supremacy. The Emancipation Proclamation doesn’t discuss the ideology of white supremacy or the narrative of racial difference, so I don’t believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved.

It turned into decades of racial hierarchy that was violently enforced—from the end of reconstruction until WWII—through acts of racial terror. And in the north, that was tolerated. And so we are very confused when we start talking about race in this country because we think that things are “of the past” because we don’t understand what these things really are, that narrative of racial difference that was created during slavery that resulted in terrorism and lynching, that humiliated, belittled and burdened African Americans throughout most of the 20th century.

The same narrative of racial difference that got Michael Brown killed, got Eric Garner killed and got Tamir Rice killed. That got these thousands of others—of African Americans—wrongly accused, convicted and condemned. It is the same narrative that has denied opportunities and fair treatment to millions of people of color, and it is the same narrative that supported and led to the executions in Charleston [South Carolina].

Corey G. Johnson, “Bryan Stevenson on Charleston and Our Real Problem with Race,” interview with Bryan Stevenson, The Marshall Project, June 24, 2015.

No Native Country

The Gospel as such has no native country. He who goes out humbly with Christ in the world of all races will perpetually discover the multiple, but constant, relevance of what he takes. It takes a whole world to understand a whole Christ. . . . Those who take are not vulgarly universalizing their own culture: they are conveying that by the apprehension of which both they and their hearers learn. If the claims of the Gospel are valid it could not be otherwise.

Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, Oxford University Press.

On Equal Ground?

Author Drew Hart tells the story of meeting up for sweet tea with a friendly white suburban pastor, who placed his foam cup on the table between them and decided to make a racial analogy. The white pastor said, “Because I can’t see what is on your side of the cup, I need you to share with me your perspective so I can see things from your standpoint. Likewise, you need me to share my point of view so that you can understand the world from my vantage point.” 

Hart reflects that while this was a nice sentiment, it was a naive assumption that the two men were on equal ground. Hart graciously but firmly corrected his pastor, explaining that Hart had learned Eurocentric history, read white literature and lectures, studied under mostly white teachers, and lived for many years in white communities. On the other hand, the white pastor could easily have gone his entire life without needing to know black literature, art, music, and history. He could choose to never engage with the black community, and he would never be penalized in his livelihood or economic status for that.

Taken from The Minority Experience by Adrian Pei. ©2018 by Adrian Pei.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Practicing Corporate Repentance

In his insightful work, Beyond Racial Gridlock, George Yancey provides a multi-faceted picture of both the brokenness of American race-relations, as well as a response couched in the gospel. In this excerpt, Yancey describes his wife’s decisions to practice corporate repentance, which leads to a beautiful encounter of respect and reconciliation.

My wife, Sherelyn, is a white woman who has developed an attitude of corporate repentance. The attitude has served her well as she has developed interracial friendships and has participated in racial healing. For example, we were attending a Native American festival, and she went to the food stand to get something to eat. Behind the booth was a Native American man who was a war veteran.

After striking up a conversation, she told him of a time she attended a Nez Perce powwow where she saw a warrior dance in honor of the United States flag. The sight brought tears to her eyes because she knows enough of Indian history to know how much damage has been done under the banner of the Stars and Stripes. Yet the Nez Perce nation and that veteran at the festival had risked their lives for the country that had mistreated them. They had not even been thanked for such service. The heart of this American Indian was clearly touched. He told her, “Well, someone has thanked us now.”

Taken from Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey Copyright (c) 2006 by George Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Power of Privilege

In January 1999 I was flying on Saudi Arabian Airlines from Mumbai, India, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then onward to London. I arrived at the Mumbai airport to find a long line. Perhaps seventy-five people were waiting to check in, and nearly every one was an Indian man with a very small suitcase…Like all lines in India, this one was packed closely together, and we were all sweating in the mid-day heat. But I was fairly sure the plane would not take off without us, so I was in no great hurry. As the single ticket agent checked in each traveler at the far-off counter, I prepared myself for a long wait.

I had been in line for under five minutes when the agent came out from behind the counter, walked down the line until he came to my spot, and said, “Come with me.” When you’re several thousand miles from home and an airline agent says that, you obey…So I followed him, up to the front of the line, past all seventy-five Indian men with their suitcases…Without another word he took my passport, examined it, printed out a boarding pass, and said, “You may go.”…

When I realized that I had just been singled out and effectively ordered to cut in line, I was shocked, not to mention embarrassed. I felt a momentary urge to make a small speech…“I didn’t ask for this!…Flushed with surprise and embarrassment, I could not detect the slightest surprise or discomfort in that line of men. It gradually dawned on me that not only were they not surprised that I had been ushered to the front of the line—they had expected it the moment I arrived. They knew about something I was only beginning to understand: the power of privilege.

Taken from Playing God by Andy Crouch. ©2013 by Andy Crouch.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Race and Friendship

In a 2009 stand-up special, Chris Rock made a funny, and perhaps true, statement: “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”

It turns out, Rock’s joke has been corroborated (in part) by The Public Religion Research Institute, who in 2013 did a wide-ranging study of Americans to determine the ethnic diversity of Americans’ friendships.

According to the study, and using 100 as a representative number, the average black American has eighty-three black friends and 8 white friends.

Compare that with the average white American, who has 91 white friends and only 1 black friend. As racial conflict arises, it is not difficult to see why there is often such a significant disconnect between white and black views. Most white Americans simply do not have the opportunity to hear what their black brothers and sisters are experiencing. Most white Americans do not self-identify as racist, nor do their social groups. Consequently (and paradoxically) it can be easy for white people to assume that the problem of racism is being overblown by black activist groups for the media. An expansion of friendships between white Americans and black Americans will help bridge this gap. It should be up to white people to expand their circles.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source information from The Washington Post, “Three Quarters of Whites Don’t Have Any Non-White Friends”, August 25, 2014.

Race and Idolatry

What the early Christians did not have to deal with to the same extent that we do today is how race has become an idol. On both sides of the racial divide, so much is twisted by the social constructs we’ve formed and cling to about race. . . . We’ve made a sport of pointing out racism, when what we should be doing is focusing our prayers and actions toward creating congregations that proclaim Christ’s lordship over his entire church.

“Harder Than Anyone Can Imagine,” a Christianity Today forum responding to the book edited by Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim, Taken from United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). Christianity Today, April 2005, 41.

Racial Division in America

While I was sitting at a stoplight a few blocks from my [Emerson’s] home in Minneapolis, reflecting on the recent rash of drive-by shootings in the area, three African-American teens clad in the urban uniform of the day—baggy pants and shirts, jewelry, and Fila basketball shoes—crossed the street in front of me. I was the only white in the area and on seeing me these young men abruptly stopped, turned, and faced me. The middle one drew up his hands, positioned as if holding a pistol, to mock-shoot me. After taking aim and pulling the imaginary trigger, complete with a kickback motion from the force of the weapon, he blew the imaginary smoke off his finger. Confidently smiling, as if to say it would be that easy, they turned and walked away. I sat there, frozen.

My highly educated colleague James, an African American who recently moved to a new state, was driving from work, which is in a nearly all-white, well-to-do suburb, to his home in another nearly all-white, well-to-do suburb. About a mile after he left work, a police car began to follow him. It followed him all the way to his suburb. “Why are they following me?” James thought, and as they continued to trail him, “Why don’t they pull me over?”

The police continued to follow him to his street, and even to his home. When James had pulled into his driveway, the police blocked the driveway entrance to the street, turned on the police car lights, and ordered him, over the loudspeaker, to get out of his car with his hands away from his body. Neighbors peered out their windows, and those outside stopped their activities to observe their new neighbor and the unfolding scene. Although frustrated, angry, and very embarrassed, he did as he was told.

The white police officers got out to search and question him. After a few minutes they told him they were sorry for the inconvenience and he was free to go. It turned out it was merely a case of mistaken identity; they thought he was someone else wanted for a serious crime. James asked why they had to follow him all the way to his home, resulting in embarrassing him in front of his neighbors and likely reinforcing stereotypes about black men. He never did get a clear answer.

Since that incident, which took place about a year ago, the police stopped James twice more. In both instances, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The same thing, he told me, has happened all his life, no matter where he has lived. Curiosity raised, I asked other African Americans if they had ever experienced anything similar. Nearly everyone I asked had. My colleague and neighbor Walanda told me she had been pulled over by the police in a posh suburb, home to upscale shopping, four times, and no longer goes there.

Why do these incidents happen? Why do we think it worthwhile to mention the race of those involved? Although interpretations of these events may vary, few readers familiar with the United States will have trouble answering these questions. For race is intimately tied to the American experience.

It is what Swedish researcher Gunnar Myrdal called “an American dilemma.” Others have gone further, describing it as indivisible from American life. Few subjects are as persistent, as potentially emotionally explosive, or as troublesome as race in America.

Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Racial Justice and our Global Witness

The most serious thing [concerning the credibility of our global witness] is the image around the world that evangelicals are soft on racial injustice. . . . One sign and wonder, biblically speaking, that alone can prove the power of the gospel is that of reconciliation. . . . [Hindus and Muslims] cannot duplicate the miracle of black and white together, of racial injustice being swept away by the power of the gospel. . . . Our credibility is at stake.

“Evangelicals and Racism: The Lausanne II Press Conference,” Transformation, January 1990, 29.

Racial Reconciliation Not Needed?

In a recent Barna survey, only 56 percent of evangelicals agree that people of color are often placed at a social disadvantage, lower than the national average of 67 percent. At the same time, 95 percent of evangelicals think the church plays a critical role in racial reconciliation—higher than the national average of 73 percent. Taken together, these findings reveal that those who believe they are most equipped to help with reconciliation actually don’t think it is needed as much as other Americans do.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Reading Scripture as a Black Man

As a black man, I pause when I see that Jesus was taken to Africa as a baby for refuge (Matthew 2:13–18). My blackness will not allow me to gloss over the Ethiopian man whom Philip cozies up to in Acts 8:26–39, or the fact that Moses, the legendary liberator and lawgiver, marries a black woman (Exodus 2:21). I rejoice when I see God chastising Moses’s siblings for their failure to truly embrace his interracial marriage (Numbers 12:1). I nurse a low-grade fever over the master-slave passages, wanting Paul to be far more vociferous and denounce these institutions (1 Corinthians 7:21–24; Ephesians 6:5–9; Colossians 3:22–4:1). And I see the irony of God calling an oppressed Jew—Peter—to carry the gospel to the oppressor Gentile Roman soldier named Cornelius (Acts 10).

My blackness cannot be disrobed as I engage God’s Word. Neither can one’s whiteness, and I am grateful for that. Theology must always be done in community within the context of our unique biases, both as a means to enrich and to be challenged. But what makes white evangelicalism problematic is that it has never truly submitted itself as simply one of many perspectives within the buffet of American Christianity.

When I teach preaching at a seminary level, one of the first exercises I have my students do is to define for me what “black preaching” and “black theology” are. Hands of all different colors go up. Then I ask students to define “white preaching” and “white theology.” The pause is palpable. Moments of awkward silence ensue—a quiet admission that they have never entertained this question before.

Bryan C. Loritts, Insider Outsider, Zondervan.

Science And Race

The concept of humanity’s being divisible into different races has no scientific validity. This has always been the case, even before the advent of rapid global travel enabled the further mixing of people from different parts of the world. The characteristics we focus on when categorizing others as different from us—skin color, facial features, hair texture—are found on a continuum of variation that confounds distinction.

It is discontinuity that allows taxonomists and conservation biologists to differentiate between two races within a species of bird or within a species of frog, and that sort of discontinuity simply doesn’t exist within human beings. Winfried Corduan states the consensus among anthropologists: “Human physical characteristics, including coloration, if graphed on a map of the world, show smooth transitions on both the north-south and east-west axes”

…these features that so impress us when we look at one another are extremely superficial. Beneath the surface we are all basically the same—and this is especially true at the genetic level, Genetically speaking, I (with my rather unmixed Dutch heritage) am more similar to a male Maori than I am to any female, including my own mother and daughters.

Whatever genetic differences the Maori man and I might have throughout the rest of our twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, they are fewer than the number of gene differences between men (with one X- and one Y-chromosome) and women (who have two X-chromosomes), even when a man and woman are closely related.

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the genetics of humanity is how little diversity it contains in comparison to other populations of creatures, including other primates. The entire human population displays far less genetic diversity than that of chimpanzees, bonobos, or orangutans. This is especially surprising given how much more widely human beings are spread across the globe, and how numerous we are, compared to any of these other species.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Solution to Divisions

The solution to gender, race and social divisions is not to eradicate our differences but to see them in light of Jesus. The Pentecostal movement in the United States in the early twentieth century was astonishingly diverse. Blacks, whites and Latinos worshiped together, and women played an important role in ministry.

They were fond of saying that the “color line was washed away in the blood of Jesus.” This was because they saw their unity in the Spirit. Males and females, whites and blacks, rich and poor-all were conduits for the same Spirit. Equality was discovered not by disregarding differences but by finding the source of unity within their diversity.

Taken from The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love by James Bryan Smith, Copyright (c) 2010 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Standard Operating System

This historical context unveils the truth that evangelicalism and white evangelicalism happen to be at least four-hundred-or-so-year-old conjoined twins who have never been separated in their lives. The recorded history of evangelicalism in America began with white people, and because white Christians have historically possessed seats of power, white evangelicalism has become the standard operating system by which the authenticity of one’s Christianity and convictions is vetted.

The long and winding story of white evangelicalism is one of oppression. But there I go, using that term again. What do I mean by it? Brother George Whitefield is helpful. If there had been a Mount Rushmore of evangelicals during his time, Whitefield’s cherubic image most certainly would have been etched upon it. Blessed with stunning gifts of oratory and a sincere heart for Christ, Whitefield saw many come to faith in Jesus. Like all of us, however, Whitefield was complicated, an amalgamation of genius and idiocy, righteousness and evil. It was because of the lobbying of George Whitefield that Georgia finally legalized slavery.

Why did this famed evangelical take the posture of a little child pulling annoyingly on the hem of Georgia trustee, General James Oglethorpe, begging him to permit slavery? Whitefield noticed that in the Bible, God makes a clarion call for people to care for orphans, and so moved by the Word, Whitefield summoned all of his evangelical powers to convince the leaders of the colony of Georgia to provide a safe haven where black people could be bought and sold, thus allowing him to establish a plantation model to fund his care for white orphans. The one who set the captives free at the same time kept them in bondage, and his justification for his fallacies was God’s Word.

Bryan C. Loritts, Insider Outsider, Zondervan.

Stealing Indian Land

To illustrate how the racial oppression of previous generations has benefited European Americans, we can look at the fate of Native Americans. When Europeans arrived in North America, Indians owned all the land. After the colonies were established, a process began which transferred ownership of the land from the native peoples to those in the dominant culture. The process was far from equitable. It included war, murder, threats, lies and other horrendous sins.

Because of these sins, this land became available to non-Indians at a relatively cheap price. It was cheap because the price was not negotiated fairly. The land was usually taken at the point of a gun. Down through our history the land was passed from one person to another until it became available to today’s home-owners. Anyone who owns a home in the United States today and is not an Indian has benefited from the oppression of Native Americans. I do not make that statement to induce guilt, but it is a reality that we have to face.

Taken from Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey Copyright (c) 2006 by George Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Sterotypes affected by the Time of Day 

Did you know that we are more or less likely to act with prejudice according to the time of day?

Daniel Pink, in his excellent work, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing draws from recent scientific studies to reveal this strange dynamic. Read the rest below:

Our cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of a day. During the sixteen or so hours we’re awake, they change—often in a regular, foreseeable manner. We are smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, and less creative in some parts of the day than others…

The same pattern held for stereotypes. 

Researchers asked other participants to assess the guilt of a fictitious criminal defendant. All the “jurors” read the same set of facts. But for half of them, the defendant’s name was Robert Garner, and for the other half, it was Roberto Garcia.

When people made their decisions in the morning, there was no difference in guilty verdicts between the two defendants. However, when they rendered their verdicts later in the day, they were much more likely to believe that Garcia was guilty and Garner was innocent. For this group of participants, mental keenness, as shown by rationally evaluating evidence, was greater early in the day. And mental squishiness, as evidenced by resorting to stereotypes, increased as the day wore on.

Daniel H.. Pink, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Penguin Publishing Group.

To Look White 

Many minorities actually try to change their appearance to look more light-skinned or white. Eliza Noh, assistant professor of Asian American studies at California State University of Fullerton describes how her sister got plastic surgery to make her eyes and nose appear more European-looking because she thought her own appearance as a minority was “ugly.”

There is a boom for plastic surgery in China and Korea, where some clinics perform as many as one hundred procedures a day to reshape eyelids, noses, and faces. Dr. Kim Byung-Gun says, “They always tell me they don’t like their faces…the Chinese and Korean patients tell me that they want to have faces like Americans. The idea of beauty is more westernized recently. That means the Asian people want to have a little less Asian, more westernized appearance. They don’t like big cheekbones or small eyes. They want to have big, bright eyes with slender, nice facial bones.

Taken from The Minority Experience by Adrian Pei. ©2018 by Adrian Pei.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Understanding Cutural Identity

No writer has had a greater impact on my understanding of cultural identity than Dr. Beverly Tatum…When introducing cultural identity (or racial identity, a term she uses synonymously), Tatum tells a simple but poignant story of two eighth-grade girls, one black and the other white. The story serves as a parable of sorts for the cultural identity journey and reveals how even an everyday encounter can have dramatically different implications on people of different races. The story begins with a seemingly harmless interaction between a white schoolteacher, Mr. Smith, and the black eighth grader.

Mr. Smith is one of the chaperones for the school dance coming up, and he’s telling the class how excited he is. He asks the young black woman if she’s planning to attend, and she says no. She informs him that the black students are bussed into the mostly white neighborhood, and one of the unfortunate results of this social inequality is their lack of transportation to extracurricular activities. If the event doesn’t happen during school hours, there will be no black students in attendance.

Sharing information like this is no small task for the young black woman. The daily commute from her homogeneously black neighborhood into this homogeneously white neighborhood is a constant reminder that she is an “other.” She often feels that she is an outsider looking in, and the inability to find transportation to extracurricular events only exasperates this feeling. It was courageous and vulnerable for her to discuss this with the teacher.

Despite the gravity of her statement, Mr. Smith misses its significance. He is fixated on the school dance and is determined to convince this young woman to attend. Ignoring the information she just shared, he does his best to persuade her to reconsider. When he sees that his efforts are failing to yield any change, he mutters one final comment: “Oh come on, I know you people love to dance.”

This final line drops like a bomb. While it’s unclear to this young woman the full extent of what Mr. Smith meant by it, that doesn’t change the sting of the statement. When he included her in the “you people” group, it struck at the heart of one of her deepest suspicions. Though she couldn’t prove it, she sensed she was an outsider in Mr. Smith’s class. It seemed he treated her differently than the other students, and she feared it could be due to her race. The careless use of “you people” has poured fresh gasoline all over the tinder of her fears. On the verge of tears, she bursts out of the classroom, and there she serendipitously bumps into her best friend. The friend, who is white, responds immediately with genuine concern.

She probes for what made her friend so upset, and the black student decides to recount the entire episode. She reveals that she has often felt like a cultural outsider in Mr. Smith’s classroom and shares how his “you people” comment shook her to the core. Since they have been friends for a while, the black girl assumes that this will be met with empathy and understanding. But to her surprise, the white eighth grader skips right over the feelings of sadness, shock, shame, and anger. Instead she comes to the defense of the teacher, responding, “Oh, Mr. Smith is such a nice guy. I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that. Don’t be so sensitive.”

The young black woman wants to give her friend the benefit of the doubt, but the lack of awareness around what happened is more than she can bear. She realizes that though she loves her friend—and trusts that her friend loves her—it was unwise to share something so delicate in a cross-cultural setting. Nursing her wounds from these back-to-back encounters, the young black woman goes to find someone that might understand her pain.

Taken from White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill Copyright (c) 2017 by Daniel Hill. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Understanding How Privilege Works

The creation of a white standard in the world during the age of exploration, and the white structural privilege prevalent for so long in America, led to what is often called “white privilege”. This is hard for many people to fully understand and believe. Some point out that a steep decline in life expectancy is happening right now among poor white men due to suicide, liver failure from alcoholism, overdose from opiates, and more.

Many white people are struggling financially and simply don’t feel like they’re experiencing any privilege. Earning power has stagnated, and the cost of living is increasing. Many people, regardless of race or education, are feeling hopeless.

Is talking about white privilege just a way of making white people feel guilty, responsible for what is happening to poor people of color, or does it imply that there is some expectation that white people are not living up to? How are we to understand white privilege?

I often find myself in conversation with a hardworking American, someone who has struggled to make ends meet, and having to insist that white privilege is real.

On one such encounter, I was talking with a young white man running a landscaping service that constructed backyard landscapes, ponds, and fountains, He was very proud of his work ethic and told me that nobody had ever given him anything in life. In short, he believed he hadn’t benefited from any privilege.

I asked him in what part of town he did most of his work.

“In the suburbs,” he said.

I then asked where, specifically, he did his work.

“Mostly in people’s backyards,” he answered.

I asked him when he did most of his work.

“Well, during the day, of course,” he quickly retorted.

I asked if I could pose one more question, and he said yes. So I asked him how he got most of his business. He responded, “I put flyers in people’s doors and sometimes knock at houses where I think there’s a particular opportunity I can offer them.” Having gathered all this information about his business and how his work functions, I asked, “If you were a young man of color in those mostly white suburbs, is it possible you would be received differently by some of the potential clients?

“For instance, if you were a young black man proposing to work in the backyards of those suburbanites during the day when they’re not home, is it possible some of your clients might show a degree of suspicion or bias? If you were Hispanic, talked with an accent, or looked like you were from a culture unfamiliar to the suburban communities where people can afford backyard ponds and fountains, do you think it might—even if ever so slightly—affect how successful you are when you knock on doors to talk to people about possible yard projects?”

He nodded, and I could see from the look on his face that he finally understood white privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard. It means that if you are a person of color, simply by virtue of that, your life might be harder.

Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Volcanoes and Americans Dealing with Race

“The Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii erupted on May 17, 2018, at 4:17 a.m., spewing lava more than a thousand feet in the air. Homes and other structures in the wake of the lava flow and the eruption’s related ongoing events were destroyed. But geologists say that the volcano has been erupting almost continuously since 1983.1 One eruption is followed by a period of calm … maybe another year or so of quiet that allows people to relax and forget … and then another eruption.

Because volcanoes are formed when a tectonic plate shifts over a hot spot in the layers of earth beneath the surface, we never know exactly when or where they will erupt. The issues of racism and injustice are like that Kilauea Volcano in a lot of ways. They form a hotbed of lava that lives just beneath the surface, and at any moment, they can explode violently—as happened in Charleston, South Carolina when Dylan Roof went into a black church and gunned down ten worshippers. Or these issues can fuel the subtle micro-aggressions that minorities experience on a daily basis, like being ignored when they go into shops for service, or being followed because people assume they are stealing.

But the evangelical church seems to be asleep to the hotbed of tensions that threatens to overflow into communities across America. Scripture makes it clear that we are supposed to be totally awake to what is happening in our world and steadfast in our commitment to fulfill the great commandments.

Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, Moody Publishers, 2018, p.130.

Wait

Martin Luther King, responding to criticism from Southern White Pastors with respect to Civil Rights Activism:

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; . . .

when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she’s told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; . . .

when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “Nigger,” your middle name becomes “Boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; . . .

when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf.

W.E.B. Du Bois and Double Consciousness: Being Black in America

In his seminal work, the Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois describes the unique challenge to identity one faces being both Black and American.

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa.

He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Bantam Classics.

What it Means to be White

In his book Reconstructing the Gospel, pastor Jonathan WIlson-Hartgrove tells a story that occurred shortly after he and his family, white ethnically, decided to move into a historically African American neighborhood:

Fifteen years ago, Leah and I moved to Durham’s Walltown community, a historically African American neighborhood whose residents have maintained Duke University since its first janitor, George Wall, moved here in the 1890s. Ignorant of much of Walltown’s history, we relocated to a place that has taught us what it means to be white.

People like Sammie welcomed us into a community where we’ve worked and worshiped—where our kids play under the watchful eyes of grandmas who sit on their porches and young men who walk these streets, wondering whether their lives matter to anyone else.

One of them knocked on the door not long ago and asked, clearly worried, if I knew my two-year-old was playing alone on the porch. No one needs to tell this young black man that all lives matter.

Taken from Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Copyright (c) 2018 by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

White Culture?

It was a cold December weekend in Chicago, and I was excited. One of my best friends was getting married, and to top it off, he had asked me to officiate the wedding. I was honored by the invitation, though a bit intimidated. What if I botched it and ended up being the guy the editor tried to remove from all the film footage? I was a brand-new pastor and had been in vocational ministry for less than a year, and this was my first wedding. My friend, the groom, was of South Asian/Indian descent, and he was very proud of his cultural heritage. He had promised that the reception in particular would take guests on a deep dive into Indian culture and that we should prepare ourselves for a culturally unique experience.

The reception lived up to the hype, and I had a night to remember. My personal highlight was the dandiya dance, a group of people moving in two circles counterclockwise, holding two colorful sticks. I’m typically hesitant to get out on the dance floor, but the beauty of the dandiya was compelling. When the dance ended, I was still feeling festive from the amazing experience.

So I found my friend and shared with him how much I had enjoyed every bit of that wonderful night. Then I innocently added a comment: “I’m jealous of you. You have such an amazing culture! It must be such a privilege to be able to reflect that beautiful culture during your wedding weekend. I wish I had a culture too.” I had no idea how much was packed into that little statement, but it sure wasn’t lost on him.

He suddenly got serious, placed his hand on my shoulder, and looked me straight in the eye. “Daniel, you may be white, but don’t let that lull you into thinking you have no culture. White culture is very real. In fact, when white culture comes in contact with other cultures, it almost always wins. So it would be a really good idea for you to learn about your culture.”

Taken from White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill Copyright (c) 2017 by Daniel Hill. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See Also Illustrations on Diversity, Justice

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Consider checking out our quotes page on Race. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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