Category Archives: Race and Christian Witness

The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.

The undivided body of Christ


Our reconciler, Christ is the middle man.   Our sacrifice, his body brings us together.  Jesus shortens the distance between us and God.  He paves the way, makes the way, clearing up any confusion about the way that we should go.  His cross is our signpost.  His hands pinned to a cross say, “This way.  This way.”

Golgotha remains largely undeveloped. The faith doesn’t make martyrs like it used to.  Instead, Christianity produces businesspeople and great success.  Christ’s life is a transaction; we exchange his message for materials.  Capitalism divinized, the Scriptures become a kind of coinage and we cash in on it.  Just “name it and claim it.”  This message has turned some heads and turned others away.

Yes, we get turned around. The songwriter is right: “Our hearts our prone to wander.”  And we are conditioned to turn on each other.  Us against them, it is the American way.  Capitalism calls for contests, for fights to the death.  There can only be one winner.  Crabs in a barrel, we will claw each other’s eyes out for the distinction, the blue ribbon, the plastic trophy, the sash that is a good meal for moths.

We push each other and pull on our own flesh. It all seems to get in the way.  And we do this every day in a myriad of ways, this separation of self and soul, self and sibling.  All God’s children, we invent differences.  We draw lines in the sand and around our circle of influence, our cultural group.  But, our people are not God’s only people.  God’s circle of love is so much bigger.

We cannot get a hold of God’s finger. We cannot get a handle on God’s love.  God keeps reaching out and touching persons strange to us and those whose faces we are trying to forget.  God’s will is undivided.  Mind made up, God’s attention is not divided.

Father, Son and Spirit, God is community and the divine norm is unity. There is no separation in God, no getting between Father and Son or Son and Spirit.  They work together, and this arrangement has worked forever.  Christ’s body, the expectation will not change.  Come together.

Eyes, ears, nose, mouth and feet, all are needed. We cannot be a body without each other.  This is message of the Apostle Paul to the people in Rome: “For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are who are many, are one body in Christ, ad individually we are members one of another (12.4-5, NRSV);

to the church at Corinth: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are, one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (12.12-13, NRSV);

to the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3.27-28, NRSV);

and to the Colossians, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (3.9-11, NRSV)

Time and again, this is Paul’s message and as baptized believers, it is our new reality and aim. We must reduce our allegiances, cut the ties that bind us to old identities.  We must get smaller, to decrease that Christ might increase (John 3.30).  We must be singular in our focus, setting our eyes on the prize and become the answer Christ’s prayer: “Make them one as we are one” (John 17.22).

We need to get down to one, one body, his body. Because we share one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4.5).  As Christ is, so we must be. Undivided.

I am a race atheist

Before you wave me off, dismiss my faith system or the lack thereof, hear me out.  Give me a chance, an opportunity to make my case.  I assure you: This is not what I thought that I would be saying.

I used to believe in race, with all my heart, from my head down to my toes with natural hair and African- inspired clothing.  No specific country to call my own, I claimed the entire continent.  (Note of clarification: Black is a color– not a country or continent, though we have made the two synonymous.  Black people are from… Africa?  White people are from?  Yellow people are from?  Red people are from?  It breaks down very quickly.)  I tried to make it work and to work it out.  I wanted it to make sense for me and I had no reason to suspect that it would not.  Because we have always been colored people or so I thought.

I believed in blackness and being black, in whiteness and its privileges and so on for every so- called color of the human “rainbow.”  I believed that my experiences were color- coded, that my skin was the beginning and end of me, that my epidermis was all that mattered, that it made the most sense and brought the most meaning to my life.  But, I was wrong.  Still, I need you to know that I thought this was right, that learning that I was black and how to live with it was the meaning of life.  But, I was wrong.

I was wrong about race because race was wrong about me.  Race has our humanity all wrong.  We are not colored beings but human beings.  Race, a capitalist sociopolitical construct, is an excuse, a scapegoat in a long line of excuses and scapegoats for the unjust ways that we choose to live with and relate to each other.  It is the means by which we get the blood off of our hands.

We say, “Race made me do it.”  But, we can also say, “Money made me do it.”  “My faith made me do it.”  “My gender made me do it.”  “The devil made me do it.”  But, really it is our flesh and its cravings for power and dominance that makes us do it.

Our humanity is what we make it.

***

I’ve been called a n—-.  Born in the South, I heard it first at home.  I heard family members being called a n— at home.  Hatred begins at home.  Our self- hatred starts in the mouths of our parents.

I cannot be sure as to the reason for this name- calling.  Said both in anger and in fun, I cannot attest to whether it was used solely to inoculate as it was also used as a term of endearment.  “My n—.”  A strange expression then and now.

It is a word that my family was given and they had no interest in questioning it.  They didn’t think to give it back, to reject it.  It is a primary way of relating in the world and understanding ourselves.  We were n—, then Negro, then colored, then black, then Afro- American, then African American, then black, then black and brown people, people of color again.  We still call ourselves n—.  Race offers nothing new, no rebirth, no regeneration.

Unclear of its value but certain that they needed it and that I could not live without it, they passed it down.  There was no new name and no way to see myself differently.  My relationship with self was an expression of those created in American slavery.  Changing the words, ridding myself of racialized language would be the start of changing my way of relating, of forming community, of reconciling past and present.

To be sure, there is no motivation for changing it.  It is the way of the world, the way things are.  We are on this color wheel but I wanted to get off.  Still, most surmise that we cannot change it, that race knows us better than we know ourselves, that race knows us before we know ourselves.  But, then my faith in Christ did something I did not expect; my new identity in Christ began to challenge my racial identity.  They were not one in the same and I was being asked to choose between being a person of color and a child of God.  Two creators, two gospels, two heavens and hells (one segregated), they are two different belief systems.

The two are not complementary, synonymous or serving in supporting roles in this grand narrative. No, we must choose between the ways of this world and the ways of the kingdom coming.  There is a Person coming that will not identify with us based on the social coloring of skin and it is time that we come to see that.

Today, I am a race atheist.  I don’t believe it.  I don’t buy it.  I do not see as race sees.  I believe that there is so much more to our humanity and race doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Martin Luther King on being a transformed nonconformist

“Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

| Romans 12.2

“‘Do not conform’ is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo.  Many voices and forces urge us to choose the path of least resistance and bid us never to fight for an unpopular cause and never to be found in a pathetic minority of two or three. …

In spite of the prevailing tendency to conform, we, as Christians, have a mandate to be nonconformists.  The Apostle Paul, who knew the inner realities of the Christian faith counseled, ‘Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’  We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility not social respectability.  We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty. …

This command not to conform comes, not only from Paul, but also from our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, the world’s most dedicated nonconformist, whose ethical nonconformity still challenges the conscience of mankind.

When an affluent society would coax us to believe that happiness consists in the size of our automobiles, the impressiveness of our homes, and the expensiveness of our clothes, Jesus reminds us, ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.’

When we would yield to the temptation of the world rife with sexual promiscuity and gone wild with the philosophy of self- expression, Jesus tells us that ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’

When we refuse to suffer for righteousness and choose to follow the path of comfort rather than conviction, we hear Jesus say, ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

When in our spiritual pride we boast of having reached the peak of moral excellence, Jesus warns, ‘The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.’

When we, through compassionless detachment and arrogant individualism, fail to respond to the needs of he underprivileged, the Master says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.’

When we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up into hate toward our enemies, Jesus teaches, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’

Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity. …

Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, the institution which has often served to crystallize, conserve and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.  The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war and economic exploitation is testimony to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of the world than to the authority of God.  Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical.  Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained- glass windows.  Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, (New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), 8-10, 11.

Technicolor: Multiethnic Church Conference

EmbRACE Logo copy 3.pngIt’s happening in Duluth, Georgia on February 15, 2018.  Inspired by Mark Hearn’s book Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry, he is a featured speaker along with many others.  Their vision: “Promoting unity and diversity in the local church throughout the city, across lines of race, class, and culture; advancing the common good and building a credible witness of God’s love for all people in an increasingly diverse and cynical society.”  It’s a tall order and I am not suggesting that they can fill it.  But, this conference offers one more conversation, one more opportunity to express our differences and then explore our sameness, our oneness in Christ.

If you cannot attend, pray for those who do.  Ask God to give them courage, compassion and conviction when sharing their stories and listening to others.  Beseech God to open their eyes to see each other without the social prescriptions of race and class.  Plead with God for transformation of heart, mind and mouth.  No talking in circles but instead, in ways that lead us to each other.

For more information, please visit their website.