Like many of you, I watched in disbelief as white supremacists spouted bigotry, violence, and KKK rhetoric last weekend at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA.
For a brief summary of the weekend’s events and aftermath, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-virginia-overview.html
I’ve noted two common responses to the persistent racial and political divide in our country:
1) Us vs. Them.
Whether it’s Democrat vs. Republican, black vs. white, black vs. blue, male vs. female, gays vs. straights, or Cowboys vs. Redskins, a “vs.” in the middle necessarily puts one group in complete opposition to another. Dividing ourselves into ideological categories is a natural way of expressing our identity, heritage, and values. When that category becomes a mark of ultimate identity and a means to label others, however, we tread on dangerous ground.
Humans by nature are drawn to the familiar and opposed to the strange. We gather in clusters of “us” and distance ourselves from “them.” When fear is present, the divide enlarges, and agendas take precedence over people. This polarization happens in obvious ways, as Charlottesville demonstrates. Yet the schisms don’t begin there. Rather, “Us vs. Them” is birthed in the subtle corners of our minds with spoken and unspoken statements of blanket judgement. These declarations fail to consider the complexity of “their” experience and reasoning.
“There they go…pulling the race card again.”
“Conservative republicans are blatant racial bigots.”
“She’s on a power trip, just trying to boost her feminist agenda.”
Most Americans would not consider themselves racist. Yet, when we are more committed to “us” than “we,” we clearly have a blind spot.
2) The Ostrich Approach.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr made the following observation of white pastors in the south during the Civil Rights era, “All too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”
I confess this is where I have been guilty.
I would rather turn a blind eye to the injustices around me than engage in that which makes me uncomfortable and ruffle the feathers of a few of my “us’s.” I would rather my Facebook feed be full of travel pics, babies, and cat videos than a space to engage with issues that really matter.
I often marvel at how believers could have let such atrocities occur in the face of Hitler or the Rwandan genocide. And yet, how am I fighting in the injustices of my own day? How am I promoting the flourishing of every human being from an unborn child to my neighbor “on the other side of town?” Where am I defending the oppressed and marginalized? In light of Charlottesville, Southern Baptist Ethicist Russell Moore poignantly asks: “White supremacy angers Jesus of Nazareth. The question is: Does it anger his church?”
3) A Third Approach: Taking up the Towel:
No divide has been greater than that between sinful man and his Creator. And yet, Jesus Christ
“did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8)
In light of current events, how do we develop a more gospel-centered approach? How are we to ‘take up our towel’ (John 13) and serve others? How do we move from “us vs. them” to “we”? How do we get our heads out of the sand? I don’t pretend to have the answers on such a complicated issues. However, below are a few practical suggestions:
Examine your heart. Dr. Barry Jones states, “If the gospel that you’ve come to understand has room within it for any sense of ethnic or racial superiority, then you have not come to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ…” Examine your own heart and ask others about your blind spots.
Invite a “them” into your home. Share a meal together. During the presidential election, I ‘unfollowed’ a good friend who was fairly outspoken about her opposite-of-me political leanings on Facebook. Despite decades of history and shared experiences, I viewed my friend strictly through the lens of politics, allowing our difference of opinion to become a wedge in our relationship. Then we had dinner. A simple meal reminded me that what united us was far greater than what divided us, that we had much more in common than we had apart, that my friend was much more than her vote.
Ask questions and listen. Jesus was incredibly curious about people. Rather than simply purport your own view, seek to truly understand where another person is coming from. “How did you arrive at that decision?” “Tell me about your experience as an African American woman on a majority white male-dominated campus.”
Engage in real-life relationships rather than merely using social media as a platform to express your views. It is tempting to point fingers, express frustration, and promote further division through a 140-character tweet or FB post. Social media is a decent forum to bring awareness of issues to a large audience. However, true understanding and change rarely happen when you can’t look someone in the eye.
- Be informed. Here are a few resources/voices I trust as they discuss cultural issues from a biblical perspective:
Call out sin - Respectfully, with humility, but call it out. We can no longer turn a blind eye.
- Pray for unity. “Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” The Book of Common Prayer