“I believe that racial prejudice is mainly a result of one thing: Ignorance.”
Dr. Belle Wheelan
President of the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools
Commission on Colleges
Bishop Harry Jackson, an African American pastor and founder of The Reconciled Church Initiative,[i] a movement committed to healing the racial divide in America, believes that ignorance weighs heavily in the ongoing racial tensions in America today.[ii] However, Jackson cites another factor: apathy. Apathy is a word that is also associated with passion, but inside of an ignited passion, it represents “a lack of interest, enthusiasm, concern, or passion.” Apathy is a-pathy or without passion; in other words, the absence of passion. That passion in many ways today is a separation or separateness in living; the isolation that comes from a loss of interest in others and, particularly, in others who are different than you.
One of the challenges of the racism issue today, in America and in other parts of the world, is the enormity of the problem and the complex sources or roots of it. For some, the apathy arises from the feeling that racism is just too deeply ingrained, too longstanding and too forceful to ever really cure or heal; a problem perhaps too big to tackle. So, if we cannot fix it, why even get preoccupied with it?
Apathy is a dangerous approach for anyone to have towards the issue of racism.
Beyond this common concern, it is extremely unbefitting for the Christian.
According to the New Testament we are called to the “ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19).” Instead of saying, “I could work with fellow citizens, schools, Christian school and other groups to educate or re-educate minorities and bring them to a higher level”, however, we throw our hands up and say it is overwhelming and daunting. So, since we cannot fully fix it, we won’t do anything. For Christians, such a position is utterly unacceptable.
Additionally, the attitude that says disadvantaged folks in our community should just find some way to heal themselves is uninformed and unrealistic. That is not going to happen.
The fact is that local churches and Christians are uniquely positioned to help solve some of these problems.
If we really believe the problem of racism can be defeated and if we recognize God calling us to be one of the healing agents, it can happen.
The question arises: Is racial division in America today a spiritual problem? And, yes, in many ways it is. It is a spiritual problem and it has to be dealt with as the heart issue it is – first of all. And yet, as Jackson notes, “the remedies, the steps to change are probably pragmatic, meaning closing the educational divide, bringing jobs to the hood, dealing with family intervention, so that families have an opportunity to come together, be healed – there are a lot of things we can do.” Civic engagement is the responsibility of the faithful and concerned. People who feel they are beset by a lack of influence in the culture should engage the culture.
We believe one of the best steps churches can take is to become multi-ethnic churches.
As this occurs, they could in fact address some of the issues in several collaborative ways:
Growing Multi-Ethnic Church Cultures – Predominantly White churches established in cities and communities that are becoming more ethically diverse must intentionally develop the Cultural Intelligence needed to love, befriend and reach the nations that are moving into their neighborhoods.
Interracial Dialog – A lot of people think that just talking won’t change anything, but talking is necessary to lead to empathy and compassionate strategies. In order to plan and work together, we must dialog.
Reconciliation Events –One of the bridges of peace is having reconciliation events. For instance, one white pastor who runs a Christian high school in Texas decided to make discounted tuition available to people coming from Black or Hispanic elementary schools in the region. In working on transportation or discounts he created a feeder opportunity for some of the brightest of the bright who would be limited by generational poverty. So, they are trained in a character-driven environment and a private school environment.
Don’t Say You Are “Color Blind”, but rather Color Fascinated – All Christians must drop the quaint but uninformed notion of being ethnically “color blind” and instead seek to be color intrigued and interested. A denial of differences will not forge an authentic healing or union.
Drawing Circles of Honor – Every Christian must practice the much-needed art of Drawing Circles of Honor in their community and neighborhood. The most-needed expressions of Agape and Honoring are not those that will be “organized” by church staff members and denominations, but those that organically and spontaneously emerge in the most common places and in the most unexpected moments. “The Lord your God in your midst is mighty…” “Make the most of every opportunity…” Answer the prayer of Jesus – “that they may be one even as You and I are One…”
In truth, it would do all parties in the racial divide good to consider what they might express or confess. Let’s ask ourselves: “What part can I play in the resolution?” We desperately need to communicate both truth and grace that we might come to a place of reconciliation and healing. Paul’s mandate was to put the interests of others “before” your own (Phil. 2:4). May God help us repent of the present or inherited apathies and take on a love that shows genuine interest of concern about the lives, the struggles, the divides and the separations amidst our neighbors of every color.
The above is an excerpt from When Faith Catches Fire: Embracing the Spiritual Passion of the Latino Reformation by Samuel Rodriguez and Dr. Robert Crosby published in June, 2017 by WaterBrook. When Faith Catches Fire can be purchased here.
— This piece was originally published on Everyday Theology September 05, 2017.
[ii] Bishop Harry Jackson, phone interview with Robert Crosby, October 28, 2016.