In 1968, The Kerner Commission published a report on racial conditions in this country. One of its conclusions was that there were two unequal Americas: one white, one black. Most people who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, remember images of racial injustice, intolerance, and inhumanity: Rosa Parks daring to sit on a bus, police shooting fire hoses, governors barricading schools. And there are the images in death of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Today the images are Ferguson and Baltimore, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey, and Tamir Rice. The battles about whether Black lives matter are not only against racism, social and political injustice but against principalities and powers of evil.
Speakers at Urbana 2015 (theme: What Stories Will You Tell?) addressed the Black Lives Matter movement. InterVarsity chose to participate in this conversation, saying, “We believe that Christians have something distinctive to contribute in order to advance the gospel.” Prior to my getting the 2015 videos online, I listened to Tom Skinner’s talk at Urbana 1970. There he presented a history of American racism and said, then, that Black lives matter (as does the above 1787 anti-slavery symbol). Many were angry at Skinner. But he spoke the truth.
Some might disagree with the 2015 content. Those who are might be angry at the pro-life comment, “We are too busy holding mercy from the living and giving it to the unborn” or “Racism is an age-old idol. Tear it down. Justice is not to try, convict, and execute on the street.” But, can anyone be angry about the prayer? “God—wreck our hearts to haunt us. Challenge us.” The prayer challenges us to see the injustice that continues to divide us into two (or more) Americas. It challenges us to come together, hear each other’s stories and do something to address the parts of the body that hurt. It challenges us to say, “Whatever life is like in your shoes, I want to know about it. You don’t think your life is important? Tell me more.” We can’t address what we don’t talk about.
What to do?
I believe we must bridge the cross-cultural and racial divide and hear the stories together at the foot of the cross. Suspend judgment. Listen to everyone’s stories. Engage in dialogue. Learn. Empathize. Offer hope. Establish relationships. It can be done.
Years ago, I facilitated the church Reconcilers Fellowship. The hope was to create a diverse community and a safe place to dialogue. These continue at Bridge-Builders every fourth Sunday.
In the group was someone who witnessed a lynching, another whose only contact with people of color was “the help,” one whose family had “passed” the brown paper bag test, two who grew up involved in protest marches, and one who wakens daily fearing the racism he will face. In seeking reconciliation, they all knew the risks of vulnerability, rejection, and pain. They knew, like evangelist Tom Skinner:
Racial reconciliation is surgery, and surgery is never painless. Fear of this pain prompts many Christians to ignore their racial blinders. It requires exposing our vital organs to the truth that we speak to each other. It’s risky. If trust hasn’t been built, the operation is destined to fail. But, when we build trust and stay on the table to the end of the surgery there is hope for healing in the most delicate and vital places. (Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals, 190).
Every church needs to begin the dialogue now. Now is always the time for reconciliation–to sit down together, learn to trust one another, pray together, and move forward together.