Category Archives: Race and Education

Harvard Graduate School of Education teaches us how to talk about ‘race, controversy and trauma’

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“It shouldn’t be special when a church calls out racism and hatred.  It should be the rule, not the exception.”

{Tyler Jones}

“We preach that the root is sin, but it’s too uncomfortable for us to call the sin by its full name: white supremacy.”

{Michael Slater}

Following unflinching and stern words of rebuke against the people of Israel regarding their infidelity, the prophet Jeremiah records the voice of Lord issuing a call to repentance.  But, perhaps, we are not familiar with that part of the passage.  Instead, we skip the pain that “faithless Israel” caused and the process for restoration after repentance.  No, we want to hear the promise” “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3.15, NRSV).  Apparently, the leaders that God provides will have similar standards of care, guidance and supervision.

This job description is not produced in a business meeting or in a bubble.  But, there is controversy and conflict swirling around.  And God promises leaders who can handle it, who can love and lead in the midst of it.

I don’t know if you are aware of this but there has been a rise in anti- Semitic, anti- immigrant, anti- ‘other,’ anti- civil language both before his election and since Trump has taken office as the nation’s 45th president.  Several shootings, at least one resulting in murder, after the attacker screamed, “Go back to your country” has been reported.  Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32- year old man from India and an engineer was killed while a man who has not been identified but who is an American citizen and a Sikh was shot in Kent, Washington.  Clearly, I am being facetious because there has been no rest for those who are weary from his Twitter tantrums and tirades.  The start of this week has been no different with a criminal investigation of the Trump campaign by the FBI made public after a House Intelligence Committee hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 political election.  And if that were not enough, FBI Director Comey dismissed Trump’s unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower.  So, what shall we say then?

What do we preach about?  What do we talk about in our Sunday School classes, our small group meetings and during our fellowship dinners?  Surely, we cannot gloss over the impact of this administration, its lying, attempted travel bans and the like?  Besides, what would it suggest of our Christian faith and witness if we did?

Surely, we cannot ignore this, thinking that it will simply go away.  Talking to ourselves and reassuring our friends and family members that we are “good people” is pointless.  Our need to reassure ourselves that we are not one of them does not excuse us from the boat that we are all in.  Paul Reams said, “A church that refuses to address injustice has ceased to have moral authority and become an agent of the state.”  Real persons in our communities and in our churches are experiencing trauma.  We need to talk about it because God does not avoid difficult conversations.

For those of us who don’t know where to start or what to say, I think that the Harvard Graduate School of Education provides a path and an example that should be followed.  While theirs is a school setting, these suggestions are just as applicable in sanctuaries.  Here are just a few:

  • Acknowledge traumatic events or circumstances. Bring up news with students the day after it breaks, even if details or consequences are still uncertain.
  • Process and name emotions together. Help students identify their emotions through discussion circles or individual writing prompts. Describe your own emotions, whether they be outrage, fear, numbness, or uncertainty.
  • Ask students what they know and what they need. Some students may have a thorough grasp of what’s going on, but little idea of how it could impact them. Others may feel very affected, but lack a nuanced understanding of the details. Open up the discussion to figure out what students want to know, and let them ask questions.
  • Teach relevant information.  Where possible, integrate current events into lesson plans to explain to students what’s happened. Draw connections among the various forces facing communities of color. If you’re unclear about details, be honest with your students, and work to investigate the details together.
  • Connect students to resources. Show all students, including those who may be affected by new policies or rhetoric, that their school and teachers are there to help. Connect vulnerable students with local lawyers, social workers, and advocates who can provide them with the assistance they need.

 

Click here to discover ways to have difficult conversations during troubling times and for the full article.

 

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Is it the same old song?

urlThe Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma released a song (although anonymously) that the university’s president, David Boren, called “disgraceful” in a speech this afternoon.  Apparently headed to a party, the young men decided to prepare themselves for a good time by chanting these words: “There will never be a ni**** SAE.  You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.”  They pledged racism.

During my evening commute home, Lonnie Hunter, a Christian radio host at Praise 104.1, said that the display of unity and progress demonstrated during the 50th anniversary celebration of the march to Selma had somehow taken a few steps back, reminding him that things had not changed at all.  Really?  Who are you walking with?  Are you journeying with these young men who have made it clear that they are not on the road to reconciliation?”

And what does it say of us when incidents like these overshadow the fact that the president did not join in with them.  He did not sing along but is singing a different tune that includes the dissolving of the school’s relationship with the fraternity not just the chapter, the members of the fraternity being given until Tuesday to move out of the house, the call for the expulsion of the members of the chapter and the consideration of what legal action can be taken against the students.  The president did not hesitate in standing in solidarity with the students saying, “I have a message for those who have misused their freedom of speech in this way. My message to them is: You’re disgraceful. You have violated every principle that this university stands for.”

His response doesn’t sound like he’s joining their racist harmony. No fist pumps of support there.  So, what are we hearing and are we even listening to the change?  If it is the same old song, then we might want to question what we have tuned into.

The Double- Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

27029_360054929042_83975054042_3430697_4705708_nThe conversation I entered into with the attendees of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks this week picks back up and concludes here:

I suppose that it is a matter of pride and it’s a mind game. James uses the descriptor “double- minded” when speaking of the doubter who prays[i] but this two-ness is found both in the Old and New Testaments. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah.[ii] Isaiah recorded the voice of the Lord saying, “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.”[iii] Jesus spoke of Pharisees who were clean on the outside but inside were “full of greed and self- indulgence.”[iv] He asked them, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?[v]

Great question, Jesus. God made the outside as well as the inside, flesh and spirit.[vi] So, God knows the spirit and while we have a hand in our formation, our nature is a sight unseen by us. And the outside of us does not fool God. He sees everything.

In fact, God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb,[vii] before texture of hair or eye color, before shape of nose or size of lips, before the social coloring of skin. God beheld a form that we cannot see and that no label can attach itself to.

And Paul echoes this spiritual reality and ends the culture war by waving this white flag at the Galatians and Colossians, who are now in the Body of Christ, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek.”[viii] Consequently, race does not form us spiritually but socially and should not inform us spiritually but assist us in understanding our society. Therefore, we must retell the story of our spiritual formation, our Christian identity without it, beginning with God.

Race has nothing to do with it. It is our idolatrous belief in the social construct of race, our support of its prejudices, our use of its stereotypical lens that has made the Church unstable. We waver between two opinions behave as if there are two gospels, two sets of commandments, two segregated heavens and hells. But, we forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and race. [ix]

Therefore, Christian education must challenge social realities and subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture. Christian educators must keep race in its place— out of the pulpit and pews, out of our hymnals and Bibles, out of our fellowship and worship. Christians must serve the Lord with their minds, not merely repeating after society but examining ourselves, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”[x]

We must change our minds about race as it does not renew us.[xi] We must learn about race in order to unlearn it. We must see race for what it is so that we can see our selves and our neighbors as they are. We must speak up about race in order to take its voice and find our own.

Because our faith and race do not agree. Race is not a partner in our becoming. It says that God creates no one new, that God is a Copycat, that we are all members of a boxed cultural set.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that it is a part of God’s plan, that God makes some persons better than others, that God decides who is best according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God judges and prejudices our physical features.

Race also says that we can put God on our side— the side of the oppressed or privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses.  Race teaches us that God racially segregates us.

But, race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, made up as we go along.  We must stop singing and teaching about race as it is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.

Believing in race changes our confession of faith, compromises our witness and confuses our allegiance, fighting for flesh instead of standing in the solidarity of God’s Spirit. The theology of race both deifies and demonizes our flesh. Calling us to worship whiteness, one color becomes our symbol of righteousness and the other of social condemnation.

Suggesting that we are saved by our skin, it becomes our social messiah. Race says that our standing with God and in society is determined by our epidermis. Race says that it knows who we are and that the inside of us, our inner being, our spirit cannot change that.

So, how did we come to believe this, support and endorse it? How did we, spiritual people, get stuck on the surface? How did the Church of the living God submit its mind and members to the power of the flesh? When did we change our minds about the God who loves us all and sent His Son to die for us all in order to support a divided and double- minded Church, a color- coded and dismembered Body? What were we thinking when we began to categorize God’s love, to divide the image of God—all for us and none for them? And what of our witness to the little children, to the next generation?

Do we really believe that Jesus loves us and that he can love us without race? What do you think now? Where do you stand?

________________________

[i] James 1.8

[ii] First Kings 18.21, NRSV

[iii] Isaiah 29.13, NRSV

Also, the writer of Proverbs speaks of a “double heart” (Proverb 25.26).

[iv] Matthew 23.25, NRSV

[v] Luke 11.40, NRSV

[vi] Job 33.4

[vii] Jeremiah 1.5

[viii] Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11

[ix] Matthew 6.24

[x] Second Corinthians 10.5

[xi] Romans 12.1-2

The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

divided-heartThis week, I was in Decatur, Georgia and presented at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of spiritual formation and education.  I, along with several others, spoke about the theological rumblings and ruminations of our shared ministry with Christ.  I will present part one of the message here:

“Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”[i]

 This refrain from a popular children’s song demonstrates the inclusion of racial identity, the connecting of God’s love to social categories. This song teaches the little children that they are loved according to and/or in spite of the social coloring of their skin. I say social coloring because there are no physically colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow or white people. It is not seen. Instead, we believe it by faith. We walk by race, not by sight.[ii] And this song splits our vision, divides us and makes us two people— children of color and children of God.

This song also suggests that the love of Jesus and thereby the love of God is determined, informed and influenced by the social construct of race, that God shook and agreed to the social contract of race. We are, in fact, teaching our children to think that Jesus loves them not because the Bible tells us so but in the way that race tells us to.

And it is our singing, our worship that divides us. When asked about our sacred Sunday morning segregation, many people will say as a matter of fact that we worship differently. It’s a matter of taste, of cultural preference. But, no one really wants to say it. Race divides us— believers and churches, “the light of the world”[iii] and “the Body of Christ.”[iv]

Race. The mere mentioning of the word makes us uncomfortable. We hope that no one mentions or acknowledges it, that it rides off into the sunset of history never to be seen or heard from again. Regrettably, we don’t know what to say when it comes to race.

It confuses and unravels us, shames and unnerves us. People who serve the Word- God, the speaking God, are afraid of a word that we created. More specifically, race came from the mouths and minds of Enlightenment thinkers. Practitioners of this scientific racism attached humanity to the “Great Chain of Being,” introduced a second Genesis narrative[v] to account for the different cultures and measured skulls[vi] in order to categorize humanity: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. But, race was not in the beginning with God.[vii]

So, how did we forget that our theology matters and should not be offered up to the false god of race or its progeny, that our spiritual identity in Christ should not be sacrificed for a racial identity though it provides social acceptance, privilege and security? How did we forget that in order for the Church to work, we cannot accept identities that work against our new nature in Jesus the Christ? How do we now focus on spiritual formation when we have invested so heavily in the social realities of race? Bishop William Willimon asked, “What are we to do with a church that speaks to people on the basis of their gender or race, all the while baptizing them on the basis of Galatians 3.28?[viii]

And where did our theology go wrong? Who gave us the directions to race and why do we continue to follow them when in search of identity? We’re going around in circles, coming back to “the color line” because no one wants to stop and say that we are lost, that we have lost the Way.

_____________________________

[i] The words are by C. Herbert Woolston (1856-1927). The music was written by George Root and was originally for an American civil war song according to http://www.cyberhymnal.org.

[ii] This is a play on Second Corinthians 5.7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

[iii] John 8.12

[iv] First Corinthians 12.27

[v] Gossett, 45-47.

[vi] This science was known as anthropometry.

[vii] Genesis 1.1; John 1.1

[viii] William H. Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 7.

A University of Alabama sorority is being accused of racism after an article is published by its student- run paper, The Crimson White.  In “The Final Barrier: 50 years later, segregation still exists,” it is alleged that several sororities prevented women from pledging because of the social construct of race.  Despite being institutions of learning, some campuses remained racially segregated when it comes to student participation in Greek life.  Roll racism?