Lamenting, listening, praying, and participating our way to change
Race Issues | Racial problems in America are local, and so are the solutions
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2016, at 3:09 pm
America is currently caught in a social crisis at the intersection of race and violence. White police officers shot two black men this week in St. Paul, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La. In the aftermath, a gunman shot five police officers in Dallas in a race-motivated assassination on law enforcement, a man lured police officer into his Valdosta, Ga., home and murdered him, a man ambushed an officer during a traffic stop in suburban St. Louis (that Ballwin, Mo., officer is fighting for his life), and a highway shooter wounded another officer in Tennessee. How can evangelicals respond?
First, we should lament and listen
The racial wounds from American slavery, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era have never healed. Tensions between whites and blacks have had periods of dormancy, but overall we have a lingering problem. We should lament the death of two black men shot by police officers, and we should lament the death of police officers who were gunned down in cold blood.
America is a nation of hurt and angry people who are distrustful of institutions of authority. Sadly, what Americans have not done enough of is listen to why people are so hurt, angry, and distrustful of one another, of other races, and of institutions of authority.
Newt Gingrich made an important point this week when he said, “It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years to get a sense of this. If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”
Gingrich points to the importance of relationships developed over time. I remain amazed at the number of white Christians who have no close black friends to talk through these issues in the proper context. Whites will never understand the black experience in America by reading Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, as good as they are on public policy issues. Public figures are no substitute for real relationships where blind spots are exposed and challenged.
After we have developed these relationships, and have lamented and listened, we should pray and participate.
When we lament and listen, we gain clarity about what to pray about and can better determine what direction to take regarding our participation in making things better. The reality of America’s racial disaster is that it is an aggregate of local racial tension and history. The problems and solutions are local, so looking to lawmakers in Washington for hope and direction is misguided.
Whatever racial tensions there are in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, St. Louis, Valdosta, or Dallas, these tensions have a local historical context that calls for a local solution. Listening and praying together, in local communities, across the lines of race and class, opens us up to God changing us so that we mutually can be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) in ways that are unique to our respective communities.
The call to action is a call to look for the small ways, in our spheres of influence in our everyday lives, in which racial solidarity, peace, and justice can be advanced. These changes will occur largely outside local churches. Community racial progress will instead occur in homes, non-religious civil society, and the marketplace institutions where most Americans now spend their time Monday through Saturday.
In recent years, it’s not the church that has influenced American culture so much as the culture that has guided the church. This explains why both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America recently repented of their roles in supporting slavery and defending Jim Crow. The churches followed culture and did not lead it.
Blacks in America aren’t waiting on the church to change. The majority of blacks are waiting on the social, political, educational, and economic institutions, where we spend most of our waking hours, to be places where character matters and skin color does not. If we would spend real time, Monday through Saturday, listening, learning, and acting out of social relationships, we would see actual progress in race relations.
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.