Category Archives: Race and the Spiritual Life

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.

And be a Christian

butterfly-orange-blue-designI am still surprised when I attend conferences with other Christians and the gathering is multicultural that the social construct of race still dictates our behavior, that believers of the God who “so loved the world” self- segregate though we have come together for a common purpose and goal for the same Lord in service to the same faith (John 3.16). I confess that it makes me angry but more so, it disappoints me. And it is this disappointment that motivates me, that drives me to read and write about race.

We are to be known by our Love not our hatred. We are called to be “in the world but not of it” (Romans 12.2). We, as believers, can not hold two emotions, practice two ways, serve two masters (Matthew 6.24). We must choose if we will serve God or race.

So, I thought after witnessing this, we cannot be prejudiced and be a Christian. Our God has no favorites (Romans 2.11). We cannot hate and be a Christian. Our God is love. We cannot stereotype and be a Christian. We have all been made new (Second Corinthians 5.17). We cannot keep silent and be a Christian.  Our God is the Word (John 1.1).  Clear your throat and speak up.  Thank you.

 

What is race doing here?

We are very spiritual people… in church. We make for great Christians between 11 a.m. and noon. It is so easy to share a hymnal, to forgive someone who steps on our toe as she slides into the seat next to us, to smile and greet a new visitor.  We behave as if God only sees us in church, that we must only do our Sunday best.

Once the benediction is pronounced and before we walk out the door, we have already flipped the switch, turned our minds over to the ‘real world.’  We think that it’s okay, understandable, acceptable even to be carnal.  I mean, let’s be serious. This ain’t heaven and the world is not full of angels.  There is a time and a place for the practice of our faith and it’s on Sunday at 11 a.m. But, in so doing, we reveal that we are wearing a mask and our worship is a mere performance.

We don’t really believe that we can behave or believe in the world as we do in our sacred communities. We can’t be kind to persons outside of the church, right? We can’t forgive persons who are not members of our Sunday school class. We need to know them in order to practice our faith with them. Our love is only for those who love our God, right? Uh-uh.

Our society caters to the flesh, appeals to it, supports it.  And race does this so well. It says that we give our best to those who look like us. We are only kind, understanding, forgiving of those within our culture. Our systems support it. Our families teach it. Our egos like it.

But, what is the place of race in the life of a Christian? What is the role of race in our lives?  Why do we need it and why does it seem that we can’t do without it? When we go home, when we gather for worship, when we sit at our desk at work or school, why is race there?  What is race doing here with us very spiritual people?

The Spiritual Disciplines of a Race-less Church

During this Lenten season, we seek to draw nearer to God by walking more closely with Christ.  Like the Christ, who demonstrated in the wilderness that true identity is revealed not through what we so easily accept but by what we unequivocally deny, we too are closer to Jesust when we deny our racialized selves (Matthew 4.1-11).  What temptations do we avert in doing so?  Good question.

There are many but here are just a few.  When we see ourselves as racial beings, we are tempted to satisfy our appetite for provision, protection and power through physical not spiritual means.  We begin to look to the creature versus the Creator to feed, defend and strengthen us.  Or, we look to ourselves as the source, the beginning and the end of all that we need.  We say that we don’t need more of God but more of those who “look like us.”  But, we have only one Creator and thereby one source for all of these things.

It takes spiritual discipline to deny the racialized self and to affirm that our identity in race is  not enough. Start with these spiritual disciplines and add others as you continue this sacred journey.

1.  Make race your enemy (Exodus 20.3).

Race is identity enemy #1.  See it for what it is: a favorite idol, “a guilty pleasure.”  We know that we are not racial beings but human beings, that we created race.  But, we like the power that it gives us even if only social, superficial and temporal.

Socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people are the imaginary enemy.  Most of the disagreements we have had with socially colored persons are in our heads. It is a war over what we would have done if this or that would have happened to us.  The truth is: it didn’t.  “They” didn’t and haven’t done anything to you.

Stop talking to race and don’t allow race to talk to you about anyone.  It is not your friend, your bosom buddy or confidante.  Race does not have your best interest in mind and does not know you best.  Don’t invite it to any functions– personal, professional or otherwise.  Don’t share your secrets or successes.  Don’t plan your life around race.  Walk away from it and don’t look back.

2.  Pray for your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Matthew 5.43-48).

Again, this enemy is not real and by this, I mean that this total cultural group (i.e. every member) has not offended you.  You do not have an aught with every single socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige person in the world because you do not have a relationship with all of them.  “They” are the historical not the present enemy that we are always fighting against.

Change the way that you feel about socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people by praying for them.  Prayer changes your perspective on the person or people group that we have been taught to view as “the problem.”

Or, if you view yourself as “the problem,” then look to God and the sacred Scriptures to begin healing your image.  Start confessing that you are made in God’s image not in race’s image.  Your physical appearance is not your enemy.

3.  Love your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Matthew 5.43-48).

Love covers a multitude of sins (First Peter 4.8).  Let love have its way.  Allow it to overrule you, to challenge you, to convict you regarding your racist thoughts, beliefs and practices.  Let love have the last word and the final say with regard to your treatment of those who have mistreated you or your ancestors.  The golden rule applies to everyone (Matthew 7.12).

Love without the expectation of reciprocity; don’t expect to be loved in return.  Love her and him without question or wavering.  Don’t think about why or when or for how long.  Just love.  First Corinthians 13.1-8 provides the job description of lovers/ Christian believers.

4.  Bless your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Luke 6.28; Romans 12.14).

Speak peaceably and kindly to and about socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people– no matter who is around.  We must challenge our reality if we are to ever change our reality.  Don’t allow race to bully you; you don’t have to say what others are saying.

The power of life and death, the ability to bless and curse is in your mouth (Proverb 18.21).  Don’t join the historical, racialized conversation.  Begin a new one and say something new.  Fill your mouth with possibility not with pain.

Be present; don’t live in the past.  It is not about what they did but what you are doing about it. Your plan of action is simple: bless them.

5.  Befriend your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Luke 6.31-36; First Peter 4.9).

Not just one.  “This is my ______ friend.”  It is so easy to talk negatively about “the other.”  Race makes our skin strange and the people who don’t possess the same social coloring of skin strangers.  We must extend our hands, not point fingers.  We must stop blaming and start befriending.

I challenge you to make more friends not imagine more enemies.

6.  Abstain from prejudice (James 2.1-13; Galatians 3.28; Ephesians 4.29; Colossians 3.11).

Get to know people.  We must leave our thoughts, come out of our minds and entertain the reality of those we walk past.  We don’t know as many people as we think we know.  Prejudice gives us the illusion of omniscience; it is but a categorical knowledge.  It only works when persons agree to fit into them or when we choose to force people into them.

Think outside of the lines.  Who is she and he really?

7.  Confess and repent of hatreds (Leviticus 19.17; Proverb 10.12; John 13.34-35; First John 2.11; 3.15; 4.20).

This is a tough one.  We all want to believe that we are loving people, nice people, good people who would “not hurt a fly.”  But, this is not true.

We know that we own a fly swatter and hate with passion whether spoken sweetly, proclaimed publicly or shared privately.  Whether said behind closed doors or shouted in the marketplace, the whisper and the shout have the same effect.  The volume of our hatred does not affect its value.  It’s all the same.

Listen to what you say about other persons but don’t stop there.  Challenge what you say.  Question the rationale for your belief.  Why do I hate– not “them” but her or him?  What am I saying really?

Accept that you hate and then, get rid of it quickly and constantly.

8.  Prepare and be ready to reconcile (Matthew 5.23-26; Second Corinthians 5.18-21; Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 1.20-22).

We are so used to hating each other, being on opposing sides, having differing views and living separately.  I don’t think that we are prepared for the possibility of our togetherness.  We have a ministry of reconciliation but we don’t practice it when it comes to the social construct and contract of race (Second Corinthians 5.16-20).

We don’t have faith in unity but have convinced ourselves that there is more power in segregation.  But, “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133.1)  It is not only a good thing but it feels good to live in unity.  And we are to “strive for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12.14).

Where do you begin?  With you.  We must first be reconciled to our true nature and spiritual ourselves.  We must settle our differences; rebuke the flesh and live by the spirit.  Give an account for our Christian faith and racialized living, understanding that we cannot keep them both.

If you choose your identity in Christ over your identity in race, then look inside of your heart and see what prevents you from reconciling.  What barriers have you constructed?  What borders have you erected?  What stands in the way of new relationships, an increased manifestation of God’s love for you, your neighbor and the stranger?  Yes, we are to guard our hearts but we are also called to let down our guard, to trust the God who calls us to love our enemy (Deuteronomy 28.18-19; Proverb 4.23; Ecclesiastes 4.9-12).

Examine your thoughts and get rid of those that encourage you to remain in isolation of other cultures.  Stand in front of the mirror and practice looking, seeing, acknowledging your full existence and in so doing, you will not look over the human beings, the brothers and sisters, that you pass by every day.  Do you really see what you are saying?  Where are these socially colored people?

Then, start moving your lips; practice smiling because joy is coming your way.  Get ready for committed and authentic relationships with persons of other cultures and a happier and healthier relationship with yourself and your God.  But, remember: practice, practice, practice.  Let the race-less church say, “Amen!”

 

It’s Our Anniversary

images-1March 10, 2011, I set out on this journey toward race-lessness and as the hymn writer says, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”  The blog was first named The Daily Race.  Working with each post to create sacred space for a life without race, I relied heavily on my conviction that there was life a part from and after race.  I also believed strongly that the answer to the post- racial life had already been given in Scriptures and that it affirmed our God and our image as pre- racial and supra- racial.

Today, I stand courageously and proclaim the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am thankful for each word, each step that has brought me here and now.  I am walking in the light and freedom of Jesus Christ, thankful for the discomfort that race caused me so long ago as it lead me to this place of purpose and meaning.

Since 2011, I have shared more than 550 posts concerning race and the Christian faith.  I didn’t start with an end in mind; so three years later, I am not sure what will constitute the end of my writing.  But, I want to keep walking away from race and its progeny.  I desire to put as much distance between me and the history of race as is possible.  I want to see my authentic self: race-less and Christ- filled.  What a gift that would be.  Happy Anniversary to me!