Does Talking about Race Perpetuate Disunity?

Some evangelicals question the need to talk about race. Didn’t Christ erase our dividing lines? Aren’t we all one in Christ? Doesn’t Jesus want us to live in freedom, and not in (white) guilt and shame?

Yes, Jesus came to bring freedom to all who know Him. But when society does not treat people of color as equals, the church must speak up.

Sometimes we need to acknowledge brokenness before we can begin to move toward unity. We need to name it. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We sit, we listen, and yes, sometimes we speak.

It’s time for white evangelicals to enter the race conversation as advocates, friends and allies. Ignoring the race question is like pretending the mountain doesn’t exist because it is shrouded in fog.

Since completing a one-month series on race during the month of March, many people have asked me how I felt about it and how it was received. Honestly, it was one of the least satisfying projects I have ever completed. Writing daily about race opened doors that only led to other rooms with more doors. Talking about race is never a finished conversation, always just a beginning. A person is never fully “woke.”

Most of the feedback I received was from people of color giving me a thumbs-up for having the guts to even enter the conversation. They were surprised I would venture into volatile territory since most white people who engage in this conversation have stakes in it—they’ve adopted a child of color, married a person of color or live in a very diverse area. I’m a white woman living in a white bubble. If I wanted to, I could go on with my life without a thought to race. Except I can’t.

A few friends pushed back on my series, asking, “Isn’t discussing race just divisive?”

Though some may argue that pointing out inequalities is unproductive and even unchristian, I believe silence perpetuates abuse. Last week there were several hashtags causing waves on Twitter. #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear and #WhatWoCWritersHear revealed ways women in general and women of color specifically feel undervalued, overlooked and diminished as writers. In speaking truth, we blast the darkness with brilliant light. As we bring ugly, buried sin into the open, it loses its power. It’s time to talk about the scary aspects of our society and our humanity.

Though it’s uncomfortable, naming our pain unleashes the power it has over us. We cannot move forward in relationship when we carry unspoken offenses. There is no sisterhood or brotherhood without trust. 

Here’s the truth:

“One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.” –Just Mercy, (p. 15)

One in THREE black male babies are expected to go to jail or prison.

The book Divided by Faith, a highly-researched book on evangelical’s views on race, concludes that the white perspective often dismisses institutional and systemic racism. Most white evangelicals do not acknowledge that we currently live in a racialized society. The authors push back (with documentation for each sentence):

They claim this perspective misses “that whites can move to most any neighborhood, eat at most any restaurant, walk down most any street, or shop at most any store without having to worry or find out that they are not wanted, whereas African Americans often cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans can be almost certain that when stopped by the police, it has nothing to do with race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that whites are assumed to be middle class unless proven otherwise, are not expected to speak for their race, can remain ignorant of other cultures without penalty, and do not have to ask every time something goes wrong if it is due to race, whereas African Americans cannot. This perspective misses that white Americans are far more likely than black Americans to get a solid education, avoid being a victim of a crime, and have family and friends with money to help when extra cash is needed for college, a car, or a house.” –Divided by Faith (p. 90)

God’s love sets us all on equal ground. But when American society does not, God’s love should be the fuel that sets his children on fire for justice.

I cannot speak for any one race—my own or anyone else’s. But I’ve been listening. And this is what I hear.

I hear my black sister say society calls her less beautiful, more intimidating and less intelligent than a white woman.

I hear my black brother say he feels unsafe.

I hear parents of adopted children of color say they need to have complicated conversations at an early age.

I hear my mixed race friends asked, “What are you?”

I hear white people say they don’t see color.

I hear the church say we have different cultures, worship and preaching styles, so we shouldn’t attempt to integrate on Sunday mornings.

I hear my black sister experience microaggressions as she is told, “You are so articulate.”

I hear white parents say they value equal education (until they consider sending their child to a failing school).

I hear white evangelicals say we are already equal in Christ, so we don’t need to belabor the race issue.

As of the 2010 census, the United States is 72 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic (included with other races), 13 percent African American, 5 percent Asian and 3 percent other races (U.S. Census Bureau). Race is and will continue to be a conversation as the U.S. becomes increasingly more diverse. Squeezing our eyes shut will not make this problem go away.

Followers of Jesus should be on the forefront of the race conversation. We should advocate for equal treatment, housing, justice, education and rights for our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. When others are silent, we should speak out. But we also must follow, listen and learn.

Solidarity demands a posture of humility.

Yes, we are called to love God and rest in who we are in Christ as representatives of the Imago Dei. But we are also called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And perhaps loving our neighbor means entering some uncomfortable conversations and spaces for the sake of love. It’s time to admit that just because we can’t see the mountain, it is there, looming behind our white fog.

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How is God calling you to enter the race conversation?

(Consider joining the Facebook group Be the Bridge to Racial Unity to learn more about how God is moving in this sphere.)

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I was recently interviewed on Anita Lustrea’s podcast, Faith Conversations, about the series “31 Days of #WOKE” and how that series came to be. Check it out here. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so please leave a comment below (or if you are being accused of being a “BOT,” you can send me a comment via Facebook or my contact form–that seems to be working!)

Related Post: Wake Up, White Church

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