17 August 2017

Racism, hidden screens, and heresy

In his new book, Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, John Perkins talks about the contradiction between Jesus's prayer for unity in John 17 and the actual behavior of much of the church. For example:
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.
White people writing about racism often tend to cycle unhelpfully between defensiveness and self-flagellation, and I've written plenty about my own birth family's struggle with master-race mentality (example), so I only want to make one point here:

Racism is heresy. It is a lie in the face of the gospel.

No presentation of the Christian invitation, and no community claiming to embody that invitation, can proclaim "Come to me, all who who are weary and burdened," all the while prepared to impose a hidden screen on anyone who might respond to the invitation. Exclusion = fraud.

Once you've arrived, you may find that the community may not match your needs. You may not agree with their doctrines or their understanding of discipleship; you might find that you or they aren't ready to be mutually accountable according to their own public definitions -- or yours. But your path into the family of faith cannot be blocked by any implication that God's full invitation doesn't apply to you.

So far so good, but can we put these nice theories into practice?

In the American South described by John Perkins -- the place I first got to know in 1975, when I spent a summer with his colleagues at Voice of Calvary in Mendenhall, Mississippi -- the implications were clear and dramatic, as (no doubt) countless church fights along the lines described above by Alston and Dickerson took place.

But exposing racism and all false barriers affects all churches -- even the little village church here in Maine where we prayed for Charlottesville last Sunday. False barriers affect the reputation of the whole Christian community and the universality of its invitation. And, when torch-bearing racists are on the march, some claiming Christian motives, that reputation is understandably under worldwide scrutiny.

Speaking as a white believer ... our own well-meaning desires to be individual heroes of our racial reconciliation dreams are somewhat beside the point. Sometimes we'll succeed, sometimes we'll screw up. Sometimes we'll diagnose the factors influencing us, sometimes the territorial demons of racial injustice will continue to fog our vision and tie our tongues. We do what we can, in alliance with prophets of all races. But it's crucial for all of us to resist publicly the luscious lie that, in God's eyes, we're special.

Hacker's Hill (also known as Quaker Hill), Casco, Maine.
How Satan wins in Charlottesville and elsewhere.

Before you punch a Nazi ... (read comments, too).

How can Micah Bales follow Jesus in this time of hate?

An interview with Propaganda.

Russian activist fined over GULag memorial plaque.

Daniel Judt on his father Tony's love of trains. (Thanks to 3quarksdaily.)

Moscow: Maja Zavedia sings her version of "Stand By Me." (Judy and I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Maja Zavedia last April.)

1 comment:

kfsaylor said...

I am the light and you are the Light and I am within you. If you own who I am and own who you are in me, it is discovered that the process of identification with and the profession of outward ideological prescriptions inevitably create hostility in the systems and institutions such a process of identification manifests and nurtures. This inevitability is not mysterious in the inshining Light. The direct experience of the Life itself reveals, it discovers to human being, that as long as human identity, meaning, and purpose in matters of conscience and human relationships are ruled, guided, and informed by outward political, religious, and social constructs and agendas ... hostility is inevitably. As long as people are guided and informed by identification with outward constructs like racial supremacy and anti-racism there will be conflict and hostility ... it is inevitable ... one nurtures the other. There is another way. It is the way of conscience and human relationships guided and informed by the direct experience of the Life itself in itself in the conscience. The way out of this inevitability is within each of us. It is both simple and difficult ... for it involves the laying down of the very process of identification with outward ideological and institutional forms and those leaders who profess them and waiting upon the appearance of the immanent and eternal Presence within each of us. It involves unmediated participation in the Life itself in itself without regard for outward constructs and outward leaders. Living this process of being guided and informed by the inward impulse and motion that immanent Presence itself itself shatters the inevitable hostility at its source and manifests a pure conscience and pure human relations.

If you would live the life ... own who I am ... and there is peace in all things and circumstances.