The other day I shared a video from Sojourners magazine, that highlights and builds upon the results from a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey. From the article introducing the video:
While about 80 percent of black Christians believe police-involved killings — like the ones that killed Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and so many more — are part of a larger pattern of police treatment of African Americans, around 70 percent of white Christians believe the opposite … that they are simply isolated incidents.
It’s time for white Christians to act more Christian than white.
One comment to my Facebook post asks:
Why does the argument of white vs black even have to carry on and focus more on individuals christian vs nonchristian we have to get the Christian belief back into this world and erase the race division that the worldly people want to argue about?
I’m making my response here on my blog, since this is a question asked beyond just one of my Facebook friends. And I’d like to respond with a story.
By the early 2000’s, I was suffering such severe upper back pain that I could no longer ride an upright bike, but had to ride a recumbent bike. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed because the pain was so bad. Some days I couldn’t roll over because the pain would become more severe. The pain was affecting more of my body, from digestive track to mental health. I lived on prescription strength medicines for years, threatening internal organs. I had seen various specialists, gone through a range of treatments, and there was some suggestion I might need back surgery. Then a friend and physical therapist Bill Terry had me light flat on my stomach and try to lift my extended arms upwards. I couldn’t do it. He properly diagnosed my problem. Through a lifetime of bad practices, the muscles of my chest had become excessively strong at the expense of my muscles of my upper back. Indeed, I had almost no muscle strength left. This severe imbalance was impacting all aspects of my body and my ability to function in the world. Exercise and changed ways for doing everyday things, and not drugs or surgery, treated the root cause and has helped me to get back to normal. But I periodically get those twinges in my back that let me know I’m returning to old practices, or haven’t done the right exercises lately, because I will never totally overcome that lifetime of poor practices that had created my muscle imbalance.
After centuries of practices in the U.S. that have strengthened whites at the expense of people of color, we see ongoing symptoms whose root cause is those practices. At times we’ve taken steps to treat the root cause and we’ve seen decreased inequality in our nation. But always that unconscious muscle memory combined with personal and societal selfishness and greed threaten to draw us back to bad practices of which we’ve reformed. And other bad practices linger, deeply embedded in our systems and culture unseen. This will always be the case because our formative centuries indelibly imprinted those practices into the fiber of our being as a nation. Today we stand at one of the more unequal times in our nations history, and the symptoms are flaring. Our attempts to treat the symptoms only make things worse. Reform only happens by identifying, repenting, and treating the root causes, now, and everyday for the rest of our national life. Failing to do so only foreshortens that national life.
Speaking to my Christian readers in particular now to answer the other aspect of the Facebook comment. In Luke we read:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The good news Jesus brought to this world was that we have entered into the year of Jubilee as a new way of life. Ours is a faith that works to treat the root causes of injustice in our nation and the world, acting as the body of Christ every day. We do this as a body, not as individuals. This is not a call for us to simply evangelize to get people to say a few magic words so that we can then hang on until some future better afterlife. It is a call to an upside-down way of living in the world that exactly focuses and leads on issues such as racism in America. It is to hear the cry of our black brothers and sisters and to enter into allyship with them. Anything less is to reject Jesus.