Nooses and evangelical race consciousness

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2007, at 12:47 pm

Nooses in Jena, Louisiana, nooses at Columbia University in New York City, and their lingering ancillary protests, reveal that America has yet to recover from centuries of racial tension. Even worse is the fact that American Christianity has little credibility in pointing to the church as a model of social progress in the area of race.

In 1958 Martin Luther King once said, "Unfortunately, most of the major denominations still practice segregation in local churches, hospitals, schools, and other church institutions. It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." Is this still true today?

Brutal honesty confesses that not much has changed in evangelicalism since 1958. Sunday morning is segregated, yes, but so is every other day in the lives of most Christians. At 6:00 pm we retreat back to our racially homogenous marriages, families, neighborhoods, and the like, only to reintegrate for work, entertainment, or commerce. Our Sunday associations represent nothing less than those relationships we choose to enjoy throughout the week.

America confuses institutional diversity with relational diversity. The races tolerate each other at work or school because our private lives are designed for affinity associations, "people like me." Many Christian parents say, "We're not racist" until their blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter starts dating a man of Mexican descent, or even worse for some, a black family discovers that their Ivy-league son is courting a white female classmate.

Good complaints are made about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton but where are the evangelical leaders, of all races, publicly demanding airtime and offering an alternative vision when conflict arises? We should have no expectations that American culture will advance in her race consciousness until the church embodies the implications of our common anthropology expressed in the Gospel lived out in local community life.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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