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.

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.

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 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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  •  Sharon Gamble's picture
    Sharon Gamble
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 04:08 pm

    I love the Newt Gingrich quote. I have started listening and it's been hard because of my own preconceived notions that it's not that bad. Easy for me to say, being white! I love that you give direction beyond listening and lamenting, but do agree it starts there. Thank you for these thoughts.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 04:30 pm

    Sharon, your white guilt is oozing out. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 07/12/2016 09:43 pm

    I appreciate your post, Sharon.  It was honest and open-hearted.  I've had to look in the mirror regarding this matter, too.  Growth is painful, but good in the end.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 04:45 pm

    Anthony, I love your writings, but . . . to only say that "white officers shot two black men this week" - without context - (and in our current political atmosphere) reinforces the incorrect narrative, that white officers are targeting innocent blacks. You didn't mention that one of the guys was wanted for armed robbery and so that's why he was stopped.

    Also, I would argue the opposite - race relations are FINE at the local level but they are INFLAMED by the POTUS and supported by a press that is blood-thirsty and anti-God. From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to (these two guys who I can't / won't remember), the national press inflames the poverty stricken blacks to hate whitey, and this is the result. And you just reinforced the narrative by not providing context.

    This whole "Black Lives Matter" "movement" is a terrorist organization being funded and fueled by very bad men - probably white guys. The fact that the protest in Dallas was a result of shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota invalidates your premise !

    You write that we should "lament the death of two black men shot by police officers" - but why ? Because the black men had gone astray ? or because the white cops were so blinded by rage and blood-lust for the black men ? Where is the lament for a Democratic Party that keeps blacks in slavery / poverty and then a POTUS who shoots from the hip and says "the cops acted stupidly".

    I bet you could give personal examples of racism. And you know, I DON'T BLAME BLACKS for being angry. One of my college classmates (West Point '81) is sick of the DC cops pulling him over. But why ARE the cops so quick to the trigger ? Is it because they're born white and therefore racist, or is it because they're sick of blacks with no daddy, no job, getting rocks thrown at them, killing babies, etc.

    Not to mention the conspiracy side of things - do you really think this guy was a lone wolf in Dallas ? Do we know what kind of rifle he used ? And there's no "trail" of cohorts who planned this ? C'mon, the lone wolf doesn't pass the smell test. 

    And the response - blame it on the white guys (and guns). I call B.S. Sorry !

    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 08:35 am

    Absolutely ridiculous WP.

  • brightnsalty
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 05:17 pm

    @William Peck

    Did it ever occur to you that you might not fully understand what the black experience is like since you're not black? Is that a difficult concept? 

    You say that race relations are fine. Can you look at the protests across the country, the riots in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and say with a straight face that everything's fine? I'm inclined to go with Mr. Bradley on this one. I would echo his question: do you have any close black friends? Have you talked with them and *listened*? If not, then you actually have no idea what you're talking about and are the exact problem Mr. Bradley describes.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 07:39 pm

    @brightnsalty - another straw man - no one can understand anyone else. In case you missed it, I did say that I bet Mr. Bradley has personal experiences of racism. And I did say that I believe blacks have a right to be angry - did you miss that too ?

    You misquoted me too - I said "race relations are fine at the local level". Um, Ferguson was inflamed by the press - and the POTUS - all by a false narrative. Michael Brown was a thug who struggled with a police officer, going for his gun. Then his step-dad was the one who said "Burn this place down" - that's a nice response. 

    And Baltimore - oh, I live there, btw. Let's see - this was stoked by the race baitor Al Sharpton, who was seen with Mayor Stephane Rawlings-Blake soon after the incident, and who chanted about "justice for Freddie Gray", instead of simply "justice", which I believe is blind, isn't it ? Add on top of that the prosecutor who rushed to judgment, and who's 0 for 3 in convictions of the police officers, and about to go 0 for 4.

    Perhaps if ONE BLACK LEADER had called for calm, instead of the WAR ON COPS, we might have had a different outcome in all of the examples you reference.

    So I am the exact problem that Mr. Bradley describes ? Like I'm the one that caused Michael Brown to attack the police officer ? And I'm the one who caused the assasination of cops in Dallas ? So you've studied the situation exhaustively and determined I'm the problem ? Not the Democrats. Not the race baitors. Not the abortionists. etc. it's me. got it.

    Perhaps you should read "Not Tragically Colored" (reviewed on World today) before you take the liberal's approach to shut me up.

    btw, let's see, I have a black friend at church whom I spent many hours with, counseling him, I have a number of black aquaintances around town whom my son played sports with, I have several black work colleagues. I was an Army officer, serving with many black officers and enlisted men. And, oh, I was a company commander of a Maryland Army Nation Guard unit in West Baltimore for three successful years, which was like 95% black, including my two lieutenants. And my dad was a teacher, coach, administrator of a school where most of the kids came from Philadelphia (and black). In all cases we all got along fine. Does that pass your muster ? May I keep my opinion ?

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 08:20 pm

    and in case you can't figure it out, let me be clear - my anger is directed at the institutions that perpetuate this chaos. Currently, those intstitutions include the POTUS, the Supreme Court, the US Senate, the US House, the race baitors, the whites who perpetuate this (Pelosi, Reid, etc.), the Democrats in the inner city, the media, Hollywood, Saul Alinsky, The Frankfurt School, Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, etc.

    All at the expense of the blacks. Yet the fingers point at cops, whites, and guns.

    btw, Paul Kengor, a historian at Grove City College and author of many books, started to write a book on the history of the Cold War, after many of the documents had been declassified (~2005). As he studied the path of history from the Russian Revolution through WWII and today, he connected the dots (the people) of COMMUNISTS who continued to march their misery into the USA. At one point, he realized the dots were connected STRAIGHT to Barack Obama, and he said this was "chilling". When his book came out, they called him out, called him a racist, etc., because he was "going after the black man Obama". So he had to prove to everyone via  emails and such  that he had started the book well before Obama announced his Presidency.

  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 09:31 pm

    Hillary Clinton also blames whites, and cops. So I guess we're good. I'll shut up now that she has echoed Anthony's message.


  • KR
    Posted: Sat, 07/09/2016 11:58 pm


    I'm glad that I've read a number of your earlier pieces, as I would otherwise have been tempted too quickly to start taking exception to some of the things you'e said. 

    Like many others, I reject much of the the national narrative that the Left wishes forever to uphold--the narrative by which African Americans are forever victims, the injustice of any approach to justice that isn't ongoingly compensatory, and the narrative that says that nothing has changed and, therefore, that opportunities do not exist.

    While I believe that these things involve serious falsehoods and manipulations, your editorial has me revisiting an old question: Given that so many claims of the Left are demonstrably false, why do so many African Americans nevertheless embrace them? 

    Obviously, one part of an answer would tie to a great deal of history, not only troubled but outrageously unjust.  On the other hand, the terrible breakdown of the African American family in the last half-dozen decades would also be a major factor.  You, however, haven't focused on these big factors, you've focused on something small that can greatly exacerbate or greatly alleviate the strength of these factors.  You've focused us on personal relationships between blacks and whites.. 

    You recognize that many whites--many white conservative Christians--have significant good will and even some readiness to reach out.  This is what I hear you encouraging to greater growth and intensity.  However, as one of these conservative white Christian men (and without wallowing in sentimental white guilt), I think I have to recognize that my goodwill and readiness still falls far short of that which would ever be likely to be a tide-turner.

    The deficit is one of Christian brotherhood.  What is it that makes many of the Left's seemingly unbelievable claims somehow believable to a young black man or woman?  I fear that the believability hinges upon a lack of a personal relationship with a white person who lives the Christian mandate in grace.  This would be the Christian who doesn't just "stoop" to be nice or open or helpful, but who really listens and cares.  This Christian isn't going to panic or run away when the sufferer's emotions, sense of history, and sense of political solutions seem, perhaps, to be frightfully skewed.  This Christian would need to listen so ardently that, even across racial and cultural divides, the love of Christ--and the possibility for brotherhood in Christ--would become palpable. 

    As we fail to embody something like this, the stokers of wrath, the spoonfeeders of false comforts, and the acids of despair tend to have the upper hand.


  • savedsinner
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 07:40 am

    Thank you all for your thoughtful responses, especially KR; and thank God for this forum to air our heart-felt concerns via the ever-expanding influence of World and its varied ministries in our lives. Courage in Christ to do our individual part in doing Justice and Righteousness.. 

    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 08:30 am

    Correction: I live in Valdosta. Both the officer and the perpetrator are recovering in the hospital. No one knows a motive yet.

  • KD
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 09:19 am

    "In recent years, it’s not the church that has influenced American culture so much as the culture that has guided the church." This statement is as true as it is tragic. It should have been the other way around. The church should have "influenced American culture." How different today's society would have been if the church had influenced the culture!

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 10:45 am

    I have three points I want to make about the subject matter of this article. 

    First, I agree with Dr. Bradley that personal relationships at the local level are the best way to resolve current racial tensions.

    Second, as much as I agree with the gist of the article, I am alarmed that Dr. Bradley and WORLD give up on the church's institutional influence.  Dr. Bradley notes that the church has lately been influenced by culture rather than the other way around.  He then suggests that the church take a backseat on cultural matters and that we change culture strictly from outside the church.  Perhaps I am misinterpreting WORLD's message here, but it sounds as though WORLD and Dr. Bradley are abandoning the idea that the evangelical church can be an instrument of cultural change.  I recognize that the visible church is only one of several societal institutions validated by God, but surely we do not have to go outside the church to change the church itself.  On the contrary, I believe the church, through Christ, can effect positive societal good.

    Third, I would caution against comparing the police-instigated shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis as being racially motivated to the same extent as the shootings in Dallas were.  Dr. Bradley, so far as I can tell, does not explicitly make this mistake, but many Americans are making it.  At this time, we simply do not know what motivated the police in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, and to assume the shootings there were instances of racial violence merely because of the policemens' light skin color is an assumption that is itself virulently racist.  Indeed, though the police involved in pulling the triggers are routinely described as white (even in Dr. Bradley's article), one of them was also Hispanic--a fact that further strains current racial narratives.  Many Christians are propagating the idea that police all across the country are out shooting unarmed black men at every opportunity, and the propagation of this narrative needs to stop, especially since the same Christians propagating the idea don't actually believe it (I see no calls for the arrest and resignation of all police everywhere).  The narrative that the police are hunting minorities with lethal force is often disguised in so-called Gospel language, but that fails to change the fact that it unjustly vilifies police--white, black, Hispanic, and otherwise.  We need to fight for racial justice for minorities, and we need to fight against racial profiling by law enforcement when it occurs, but we need to do so properly, honestly, and biblically. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 07/12/2016 09:37 pm

    DCal3000, I believe that Dr. Bradley and WORLD agree with your second point.  He was just saying that we can't effect change by sitting in the pews.  We need to participate in the surrounding community.

    As to your third point, just a couple of clarifications, although I agree with your larger point:

    First, many Black people do not see White or Black, when they see police; they see Blue.  From their perspective, the skin color of the police officer makes no difference.  As a matter of fact, at times they receive worse treatment at the hands of Black officers.  That is their perception, anyway, and I am not about to dismiss this perception without solid evidence to refute it.

    Second, I do not hear reasonable Black people saying that police are getting up in the morning thinking, "I'm gonna kill me a Black today."  They are saying that police are more likely to treat Black people more roughly than others, although they may not shoot them.  Interestingly, Michael Medved cited some statistics on his show today that bears out this notion.  (I forget who did the study.)

    But good post, all around.

  • DCal3000
    Posted: Sun, 07/17/2016 08:57 pm

    I want to thank Mr. Brossard for his earlier reply to my comment.  His points in that reply are good ones.  If Dr. Bradley meant that we simply need to get out of the pews to effect racial reconciliation, I wholeheartedly agree.  We should live out our Christianity in every part of our lives.  The wording of Dr. Bradley's article, however, sounded to me as though Dr. Bradley was saying the church changes from the outside rather than from within.  He noted, for instance, "In recent years, it's not the church that has influenced American culture so much as the culture that has influenced the church." Dr. Bradley then seemed to suggest that such a path continue and that efforts to reform the church from within are of minimal importance.  If Dr. Bradley was making such a suggestion, then I disagree with him (holding instead that efforts to effect cultural change from within the church are of great importance).  I may, of course, have been misinterpreting the article.  Whether I was or not, I have a great respect for Dr. Bradley and find his perspectives on Christian thought to be fascinating.

    Regarding my other point (that our cultural narrative is starting to suggest police are out to kill minorities), I find ample evidence on social media and in news articles.  Many whites who endure traffic stops, etc. enjoy posting the saying "If I were black, I'd be dead." Such a saying directly and without equivocation asserts that minorities who endure similar traffic stops are more likely than not to be gunned down in cold blood by the police.  Similarly, the saying "Hands up, don't shoot" (though it refers to the tragedy in Ferguson) has come to convey the impression that American police in general make a habit of shooting people with their hands up.  It is appropriate to protest crimes by specific policemen and departments, and it is fine to work to ensure that the police in general do not engage in racial profiling.  However, the idea that the police are practically committing genocide is manifestly untrue, and people need to stop suggesting otherwise.

  • JH
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 02:25 pm

    Thank you for this article, Mr. Bradley. The truths in this article need to be in our hearts and on our minds each day.  As a baby boomer, I need to hear this frequently.  May God give us grace to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

  •  FreedomInTejas's picture
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 08:27 pm

    "These changes will occur largely outside local churches." 

    I hope not. Rather, I pray those changes will overwhelmingly first take place inside the local churches.


  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 07/12/2016 09:42 pm

    Great link, FreedomInTejas.  Thank you.

  • Grasp at heel
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 08:39 pm

    Any body else read about how the police in Dallas who were killed because of things that happened in Minnesota and Baton Rouge; or how the Dallas law enforcement had a 20 year record low for police brutality, like 13 complaints.... (on this website)? If any change is going to be effective it will be from born agian christians in the churches through the power of the holy spirit anything else is pointless and temporary. No doubt there is a problem but Black Lives Matter is not the answer as we have seen. It is too bad it took the murder of five law abiding servants for us to find out.

  • Auslander
    Posted: Sun, 07/10/2016 10:24 pm

    Just a question - do factual crime statistics have any place in any public discussion about race?  Moreover, is addressing the state of the inner-city black family acceptable in this discussion, or is that off-limits?

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 07/12/2016 09:56 pm

    Answer to both questions:  yes, if it actually helps to promote reconciliation.

  • Auslander
    Posted: Thu, 07/14/2016 10:57 pm

    @Brendan: So, let me get this straight.  If the facts on the ground promote harmony, introduce the facts.  If the facts on the ground cause some hand-wringing, throw out the facts?

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 07/16/2016 10:09 pm

    Auslander, God tells us to "be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19, ESV).  He also tells us that "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1, ESV).  So put yourself in the shoes of the average Black person right now, and answer your own question accordingly.

  • Auslander
    Posted: Sun, 07/17/2016 12:10 pm

    Well, I guess I don't see facts as harsh or gentle; they're just facts.  At some point people have to be confronted with the fact that their perception does not match the reality.  Granted, that could be done abrasively or with generosity.  But the sooner it's done, the sooner we can start having discussions within the realm of objective truth instead of subjective personal perspectives.


    Nevertheless, I think that broadcasting the truth and the real numbers consistently is a quicker way to do away with the misconception than this vague, amorphous "dialogue" everyone is constantly talking about.

    I do believe strongly in dialogue, don't get me wrong-I just tend to believe productive dialogue will center around how the culture as a whole can help the black community bring stability to its family units, particularly in an urban, low income context.  This is really the only thing that will help lower the disproportionate crime distribution over the long term.  Too much, the media tells us that all problems are ultimately material in nature, and Christians must stand up to reject this falsehood.

    Just a caveat - I tend toward a direct approach, probably because I grew up in the North, in a family that emphasized the building of bridges between races and nationalities.  I have been used to having very frank discussions with friends of color/foreign origin.  I live in the South now, which seems generally more charged and tangled up in all sorts of baggage.  So I just say that, not to say that we don't have to introduce the objective facts, but to recognize that different areas probably have different pathologies to overcome before those direct, fact-based discussions can happen.


  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 07/17/2016 01:42 pm

    Fairly spoken.  Sometimes the long way around is the quickest way to the other side.

  • JennyBeth
    Posted: Mon, 07/11/2016 10:44 am

    Thank you for this article. It propagates a lot of what has been on my heart lately: we are indeed a nation broken by bitterness and blinded by anger. The only true healing will come as we learn to love each other, not in a distant, abstract goodwill, but in knowing and hearing each other, understanding where the wounds are, and being willing to lay aside our own "rights" and defend those needier than ourselves.

  • DP
    Posted: Sat, 07/16/2016 10:52 am

    A good idea but the the media does not allow us to keep anything local.

  •  nxlcsdeo's picture
    Posted: Sat, 07/16/2016 02:03 pm

    Anthony, thank you so much for this brilliantly conceived, sensitively expressed article.  Yes, significant change always starts locally--as local as my own heart.  God help us to lament, listen, pray, and participate--starting with me. 

  • MarkPA
    Posted: Thu, 08/18/2016 10:40 am

    Impressed, but not favorably. I'll keep it in mind, but it's so shallow. So I am supposed to go find a black person to befriend so I can understand blacks? This discussion felt like the Obama/Nihilist agenda slipping into World Magazine while normalizing sexual perversion slips into the secular culture. I've had only three black friends in my 50+ years. They weren't close, but they were warm Christian friends; that was about 32 years ago. Perhaps it innoculated me against feeling inadequate that I don't have black friends now, because I neither feel it, nor believe I should. I have sins, but not having a black friend right now is not one of them. Citing Newt Gingrich did not favorably impress me either; I think of him as a brilliant, less than fully credible politician; I'm sure he had intelligent reasons for saying what he said when he said it. I have to wonder how Tony Evans, Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Larry Elder or Thomas Sowell would have written this.