Moving Mountains

Four Easy Ways to Be a White Supremacist

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EVEN AS SOUTHERN states—and GOP candidates—jumped through hoops to distance themselves from the Confederate flag, a backlash erupted among those claiming the flag was merely a symbol of “heritage.” Battle-flag waving Southerners (and Confederacy sympathizers) seemed to leap at the opportunity to wave their banner high.

But what about the rest of us? One of the most profound statements I’ve heard recently came from Rev. Jin Kim, founding pastor of Church of All Nations in Minnesota. This Korean-born pastor stood at the podium of the Sojourners Summit and said with conviction: “I am a white supremacist.”

How can this man, a person of color who’s dedicated his life to ethnic and cultural reconciliation, be a white supremacist? The same way any of us can. After all, at its heart white supremacy is not about white hoods, battle flags, and burning crosses. Those symbols are what we call explicit bias. People know when they are practicing it.

But most often white supremacy is about implicit bias that favors whiteness. It’s about the unconscious associations we make in our minds before we even know we’ve done it. White? Rich. Black? Poor. White? Good. Black? Bad. White? Trustworthy. Black? Scary. You get the idea.

These are the unconscious biases that shape the way we order our lives; the communities we live in, the places we shop, the churches we attend, the leadership from others we accept (or reject), and the policies we support (or don’t).

It’s not hard to fume at the thought of the killer of Mother Emanuel’s Nine. And it feels good to click “like” and share posts calling for the removal of Confederate flags.

But if we stop there, bias beats us. It is the unconscious biases of the masses that keep us from moving forward, not the explicit biases of the few. So, check out this tongue-in-cheek list of four easy ways to be a white supremacist (regardless of your own race).

1. Plan a conference on church planting with a speaker lineup so white it would make Honey Boo Boo blush. And if you want to increase your “diversity,” have one speaker of color (even if he is from India), an Asian emcee, and maybe a black worship leader.

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Called to Lead, Bank Accounts Be Damned

 

SHE WAS MAD—fuming.

Thirteen black evangelical leaders rolled across Southern states on a speaking tour of historic black colleges and universities. On a mission to call forth the next generation of black leaders, we traversed the land where our ancestors had worked fingers to bone, drank from separate fountains, and cut loved ones down from trees like dead fruit.

But this is not what made Vera mad.

For the last hour a crowd of black leaders sat, stood, and leaned in as we shared our stories of barriers to advancement within white evangelical organizations. It wasn’t a mean-spirited conversation. It was a needed one—a healing one. Our stories were strikingly similar, even though none of us had worked in the same organization.

Within well-meaning white evangelical missions agencies, we had all been told that confirmation of our call to leadership would be discerned in part by our ability to raise money for the organization. Mind you, most of us had taken on debt to accept the low salaries offered by the white agencies. And most of us suffered economic isolation as we watched our white peers accept the same salaries but somehow take vacations and buy homes while we scrimped to pay rent.

Now, as our chartered bus eased its way through the narrow, tree-lined lanes at Dillard University in New Orleans, Vera said: “I’m mad at this conversation.”

Vera (we’ll call her that) was new to our traveling village, so I didn’t know how to read her anger. Did she feel our gripes were unjustified?

“I’m mad that this is exactly what I have been experiencing inside my own organization,” she continued. “I’ve tried to explain it to our leaders, but no one has heard me.”

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A History of (Non)Violence

I WALKED THROUGH the halls of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.—slowly. Original documents lined the walls of the nation’s central memorial to the local actions that helped trigger the national mass movement for civil rights. To skim would have been a sacrilege. Each document was evidence. Evidence of struggle. Evidence that America’s apartheid happened. Evidence of a miracle.

The museum is like a labyrinth. Each room builds on the last, adding color and depth to a reality most of the nation has only experienced in the two-dimensional contours of sepia-toned documentary footage and pictures.

I entered the room with the kitchen table where Martin Luther King Jr. dropped to his knees and prayed, weeping, scared, and still holding onto the last vestiges of his personal dream for a middle-class preacher’s life. For my tour group, the room was about that table, but the documents lining the walls like wallpaper caught my eye.

One stood out. It was a full-page newspaper ad with a letter from the White Citizens’ Council of Montgomery to the blacks of Montgomery. The letter pleaded with the black citizens to “stop their violent attack on their city.”

The first time I read “Stop this violence,” I was befuddled. What violence?

I scanned my memory for any trace of violence in the Montgomery bus boycott by the blacks who engaged in economic protest, refusing a public service that proclaimed and enforced a spiritual lie: Blacks are less than human. They had dropped one too many coins into the slot only to have to give up their seat to a white person if the bus was too full. The blacks of Montgomery refused to comply any longer with their society’s sin. They couldn’t continue taking up the public shovel to heap another pile of dirt on the carcass of their deadened dignity. So they walked.

And weeks into walking, the White Citizens’ Council called their protest “violent.”

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An Education in Implicit Bias

2014 WAS NOTHING if not the year when implicit bias was exposed in law enforcement, the justice system, and media reporting. As the nation sorted out reporting on the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., police treatment of protesters, and the accuracy of the reporting itself, the words “implicit bias” or “unconscious bias” jumped to the fore again and again.

According to the Kirwan Institute report “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014,” “Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”

My question is this: If 2014 opened the eyes of the general public to the presence of implicit biases embedded in our systems, could 2015 be the year when we begin to take a closer look at the impacts of implicit bias in our public systems and structures—and the way we talk about them?

For example, take this tit-for-tat about the education system: On Oct. 11, in his third column in a series called “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” Nick Kristof wrote in The New York Times, “Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks and that gives public schools serving disadvantaged children many fewer resources than those serving affluent children. We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

On Oct. 23, Norman Leahy and Paul Goldman posted their own op-ed in The Washington Post titled, “When ‘whites’ don’t get it—a rebuttal.”

Their direct “rebuttal” didn’t address Kristof’s point at all. Instead, they expressed deep offense that Kristof would paint all whites with the same big brush; they then proceeded to highlight one case of corruption by black legislators in one Southern town. If that’s not painting with a big brush, then what is?

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The Valley of Lament

WE HAVE AMPLE reason to weep of late: war in Gaza, crisis in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, the slaying of five unarmed black men in one month at the hands of U.S. police officers, and the demise of congressional immigration reform.

Scripture calls us to cross over into the valley of lament at times such as these. Yet most of us are more comfortable on the plateau of rage or the plain of apathy.

I once led a training on lament and racial reconciliation. Twenty college students sat in the living room of a ministry house as I recited a lament from Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (9:1).

I spoke of the impact of racial injustice in our nation and on our campuses. I recounted slave narratives to the students—stories that had brought me to tears privately. Yet, when the last word was read, the students sat silent with glazed eyes staring back at me.

I didn’t get it. The whippings of human beings, the children separated from their mothers and fathers, the hands, feet, and lives lost in the midst of America’s darkest hours—these things happened. How could we not lament?

My new book, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, co-authored with Soong-Chan Rah, Mae Cannon, and Troy Jackson, opens with teachings on the value, purpose, and practice of lament and confession (see excerpt, page 46). “The church tends to view itself as the world’s problem solver,” we suggest. “This belief ... results in a diminishing of, or a blindness to, lament and the necessary confession that is inherent within it.”

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What Moves Mountains?

LOVE. THAT'S WHAT moves mountains. That’s what the inimitable Dr. Maya Angelou shared with Oprah Winfrey in an interview a  year before Angelou’s passing on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86.

In the days following her death, tributes blanketed the television and internet. Perhaps the greatest came on Sunday evening, June 1, as Oprah Winfrey aired a series of exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou. Thus, the prophet spoke from the grave and this is what she said: “Love moves mountains.”

Jesus said faith moves mountains—faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). Did Dr. Maya Angelou dare to contradict Jesus? The poet/prophet says love. Jesus said faith. Which is it? Perhaps both.

People of faith know—they have witnessed it. Faith does move mountains. But they also know this: Faith’s power can lay dormant until it’s set ablaze by love. Perhaps only love has the power to fortify faith enough to make the earth quake.

Anger can shake earth, but it cannot move it. Rage can break earth, but it cannot move it. What if faith the size of a mustard seed requires the force of love to move the mountain? If that is the case, we are left with one haunting question: Why have we seen so few mountains move in our lifetime?

Perhaps the miracle has eluded us not because we lack faith, but rather because we live in a generation that can get by most of the time without really loving—I mean really loving—loving sacrificially—loving with vulnerability—loving with the force of a Mack truck. I mean the make-you-join-a-freedom-ride-even-though-you-may-be-lynched kind of love. I mean the kind of love that looks on the humanity of “the other” and is melted from the inside—the kind of love that lays down one’s life, one’s dreams, one’s health, and one’s well-being for the good of “the other.”

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The Expectation Deficit

RECENTLY, the U.S. celebrated the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education that declared unconstitutional state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students. By winning the Brown case, Thurgood Marshall broke the rock-hard foundation of racial barriers between black and white schools in the U.S.

But the civil right of equal opportunity for equal education never ensured the human right of equal access to it. Thus the explicitly racial divide, reinforced by law, was replaced by a close kin: the poverty divide, reinforced by economic blight entrenched by white flight to the suburbs.

Ten years later President Lyndon B. Johnson took a bulldozer to that new economic divide by declaring, in his January 1964 State of the Union address, an unconditional “War on Poverty.” He said, “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined.” And it did.

EVERY WAR HAS multiple fronts. Johnson’s fight against poverty was a legislative one, which played out in states, cities, and school districts across the country. Within two years Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act, the Food Stamp Act, the Economic Opportunity Act, and the Social Security Act. Each act was a legislative beachhead in the assault against U.S. poverty.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 represented a major shift in the way the U.S. conceived public education. In this act, Johnson took direct aim at the economic infrastructure that barred blacks and other impoverished people from accessing equal education.

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Enduring Family Values

NEARLY 50 YEARS ago, the U.S. Department of Labor issued one of the most controversial and influential reports of our time, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” aka “The Moynihan Report,” named after its author Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The March 1965 report offered our nation’s first comprehensive look at the roots of poverty in the African-American community 100 years after the Civil War. The picture wasn’t pretty.

Pointing to black poverty’s roots, Moynihan started with the hell that was the U.S. slave system: “American slavery was profoundly different from, and in its lasting effects on individuals and their children, indescribably worse than, any recorded servitude, ancient or modern.” Going on to quote Nathan Glazer, Moynihan illuminated the absolute powerlessness and dehumanization of enslaved black people under antebellum law and within the social structures of slavery.

Moynihan went on to examine the impact of the Reconstruction period, urbanization, unemployment, and inequitable wages on African Americans’ economic station in U.S. society. He concluded that the single greatest result of these forces was black families’ demise. And the single greatest result of this demise was entrenched poverty, according to Moynihan.

A 2013 Urban Institute report, “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” reflected that in the early 1960s Moynihan was alarmed that 20 percent of black children lived in single parent households with their mothers (not their fathers), but by 2010, 20 percent of white families lived in such households while 53 percent of black children were being raised by their mothers. According to the Urban Institute, fatherlessness in the U.S. has gotten worse, and it is no respecter of race.

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