It was 1987. I walked across Rutgers University campus with another freshman friend. We were on our way to a meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). In the gobs of our gab we happened upon the topic of the recent scandalous departure of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship president, Gordon McDonald. Interim President, Tom Dunkerton, guided the organization for the next year, appointing Dr. Samuel Barkat as first VP of Multiethnic Ministries. Soon after, Dr. Steve Hayner would accept the mantle of president of the troubled organization. Over the next 13 years, Hayner guided Intervarsity into a period of stability, growth, and racial healing.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of Hayner’s leadership was his close partnership with Dr. Barkat. Together they stood on the sovereign foundations of Intervarsity’s historic struggles toward racial righteousness and guided the organization through a deep examination of its multiethnic dynamics and its white dominant culture. Ultimately, their work led the parachurch collegiate ministry through a transformative examination of its own white western cultural lens and how that lens shaped their understanding of Jesus and the gospel.
How tough is it to create a racially diverse denomination? Consider a recent luncheon organized by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
About 100 Nashville-area evangelical leaders accepted invitations to a lunch hosted by the denomination’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On the agenda: a pitch for a spring summit and a short discussion by ERLC President Russell Moore about the need for churches to become more racially diverse.
The number of African-Americans who showed up for the lunch? Four (two of them denomination employees).
ERLC leaders originally planned a summit on bioethics. They quickly shifted gears after grand juries in November and December failed to indict police officers for the deaths of young unarmed black men. Moore’s social media remarks condemning the New York City jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner were met with an angry backlash, some from people filling Southern Baptist pews and pulpits.
Black church leaders are greeting news of the summit with reactions ranging from polite skepticism to hopeful support.
“Excuse my ignorance, I thought I was a free black man.”
“I’m 11 [years old], I matter.”
“You can choose to look away, but never again can you say you didn’t know.”
“How many times do we have to protest the same [s**t]?”
“White silence is white violence.”
“We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
These signs, and many others, lined the horizon of Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday in Washington, D.C. In a ‘Justice for All’ march organized by Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, thousands of protesters gathered to protest police actions that have resulted in the deaths of unarmed young black men across the United States.
After marching from Freedom Plaza to the U.S. Capitol, protesters listened to speakers from national racial justice organizations address some of these most recent acts of police brutality.
Al Sharpton sought to draw attention to the diversity present on the streets.
“This is not a black march or a white march. This is an American march for American rights,” he said.
Indeed, the black community was not alone in speaking up against police brutality. One Latina activist encouraged her Latino brothers and sisters to “voice their pain” from police harassment and “come forth and unify with the African American community so we can be strong together.”
“¡Ya Basta!” she concluded. [“Enough is enough!”]
Could it be that the crescendo of dissention is divinely synched to yet again heighten disruptive unease among the status quo? Could it be that the promise of Emmanuel — "God is with us" — as proclaimed by the heavenly host, but feared by powerful elite, is unavoidably linked through the eternal truth — such that even the Church universal cannot celebrate one and avoid the other? Could it be that through Advent, we are called to acknowledge the humanity and parity of personhood, rather than rest in the laurels of privilege? The anger of youthful Ferguson protests was marginalized and dubbed as riots, but could it be that this Advent response manifested in expanded multiethnic solidarity is of divine intent to raise challenge to elitism and to demand respect for people of color as equals rather than as patronized subordinates? Could it be that whether or not the media chooses to ignore the connection, the Advent message for those with ears to hear is that perpetrators of brutality, the comfortable protectors of privilege, and the self-serving pundits of power that tried to nullify the everlasting promise were unsuccessful then and now? Could it be by divine design that unknown names, stolen lives, are now divinely lifted to eternal and global recognition as sacrificial symbols so that truth could come to light?
I currently serve as Pastoral Associate at a Catholic parish in Buffalo, NY, where our pastor decided to hold monthly Prayer Hours for Peace in response to the violent outbreaks in Syria, the uprising in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death, ISIS, gang violence — to name a few.
Our November Prayer Hour for Peace offered four rounds of Scripture passages and ten-minute reflection and prayer time, followed with an excerpt from a Pax Christi USA prayer called “Just for Today.”
I read this excerpt aloud:
“Just for today, I will believe that world peace is possible. I will remember that hope is the most important gift I can give my world.”
The next Scripture verse was from Psalm 122:6-8.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you.”
For the next ten minutes, I inhaled “belief….possible” and exhaled “hope most important gift.” Physically, my body relaxed, and I watched my hope flow out into my immediate surroundings.
We must engage in courageous conversations. We need to have them in and amongst our own people—our families and our children, our close friends and allies, and in our racial/ethnic groups. A caucus can be an important thing. Make space for the asking of deep questions and the sharing of even awkward sentiments. Why is this happening? What does it mean? How does it affect my soul? Aren’t we past race yet, and can I do anything about this? How does my faith in God relate to these issues? How can I be a healer?
And we must have these conversations across what might seem to be natural divides. We need to have cross-racial/cross ethnic conversations. In order to do this, we must have relationships. We can’t liberate each other while we are in silos. Multiracial/multiethnic congregations like Middle Collegiate Church are critical to the work of racial reconciliation. If your church is diverse, think of ways to encourage deeper relationships. In our context, we have an ongoing small group called Erasing Racism, in which we are having critical conversations about race. If your context is mono-cultural, find a partner with whom to relate. Create a joint worship celebration or prayer vigil during Advent and have conversation as you break bread. Use questions like: When was the first time I was othered due to my personhood? When have I othered someone else? How can these experiences plant seeds for empathy? How did I learn the story of race and what can I do to change it?
It might be tempting for some viewers to see Dear White People as over-the-top. To see some of its characters as caricatures, or the offensive party that makes up its climax — with white students dressed in blackface — as unrealistic. But it’s not. For evidence, you only need to look as far as the credits, which show photos from similar events at other schools across the country. And when the president of Winchester claims that “racism is over in America,” it doesn’t sound too different from Bill O’Reilly’s similar claim on The Daily Show just last week.
Dear White People is clever, loving, angry satire. It’s a multi-faceted exploration of race in a time when such portrayals are needed, like peroxide on a deep cut. The film sometimes falters in its process, but delivers the goods when it matters most. The fact that it comes so stingingly close to reality is stunning. It’s funny. It’s sad.
Editor's Note: In light of this week’s events in Ferguson, Missouri, several writers at ON Scripture took a few moments to reflect upon what they would/will be preaching on this Sunday. To continue the conversation, join on Twitter at #onscripture.
Eric D. Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary: St Paul, MN
The last thing a preacher wants to do on a Saturday night is to log into Facebook.
I exaggerate, of course, but I found myself scrambling last week when I learned of Michael Brown’s shooting last Saturday. My sermon for Sunday morning was ready to go. But I had to reassess all my work when I heard the witness of so many African American friends in particular as the news from Ferguson began spreading across social media. The frustration and disbelief, rage and disappointment, resignation and passion I heard moved me. But even more convicting was the fact that so many others were simply unaware of this event at the moment and unfazed by its repercussions.
In certain communities, no one had to pay attention to Michael Brown. In certain communities, his death did not resonate with significance. In certain communities, no one would confront the preacher and ask why she did not respond to the death of this young person.
And yet in other communities, his death was a touchstone, a cause for prayer and lament and righteous anger and faithful expectation.
These distinct reactions are a raw reminder that our communities of faith remain largely segregated. Though we worship the same God, the contexts within which we seek God’s face are radically different. In such a divided context, what does it look like to love your neighbor? What does it look like to be “one” church even as we are profoundly divided?
When he was a boy, the Rev. Thomas Barclay noticed a difference between the worshippers of his small Pentecostal denomination and churches he visited of the larger Assemblies of God.
“Why are they all white and we’re all black?” he asked his father.
After a racial divide that lasted for nearly a century, the two denominations, the Assemblies of God and the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, have agreed to a new partnership.
Death is horrible enough. But systematic injustice — one that allows white boys to assume success, yet leads black boys to cower from the very institutions created to protect our own wellbeing — is a travesty. Listen to the stories from Saturday and Sunday nights, of 12-year-old black boys who asked to sleep in bed with their parents because they were afraid. If black youth in America can’t rely on the police, the law, or their own neighborhood for protection — where can they go?
[Will Campbell] confused his critics – first the Right and then the Left – by insisting that his soul did not belong to any team – racial, political, religious, cultural. It belonged to the Kingdom of God. There was only one team, and that was the family of ALL God’s children everywhere.
Compassion came first in his hierarchy of values. Compassion led him to campaign for justice in the Civil Rights Movement, and compassion led him to sip whiskey with the cross-burners in the rocking chairs on their front porches. His was a ministry of reconciliation, a living, idiosyncratic expression a bold declaration of the biblical Gospel that God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s own self.
This year marks a long list of anniversaries in our nation's long march for civil rights: We now mark 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation; and 50 years since the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," the March on Washington, the bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, and the murder of Medgar Evers in his driveway.
In remembrance of the sacred journey, The Faith and Politics Institute's Civil Rights Pilgrimage drew more than 250 people, including 30 members of Congress, for a three-day tour of civil rights landmarks and first-hand testimonies from the movement's leaders. Throughout the pilgrimage — moving from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to Montgomery to Selma — the delegation learned, grew, and continued the conversation together: white and black, Republican and Democrat, man and woman, senior and child. We all returned to Washington, D.C., and to our homes across the country, with a renewed sense of responsibility for the common good.
A number of events made the term 'reconciliation' mean more than the definition I had somehow created for myself over the past 30 years. Reconciliation is calling the person who beat and humiliated you 'brother.' Reconciliation is sharing a platform, sharing a deeply intertwined story — and sharing an authentic embrace — with the offspring of your parents' enemies.
[Photo Gallery at the jump.]