This was written in response to Dr. Platypus' call for posts on racial reconciliation as part of the next Christian Reconciliation Carnival, which he will be hosting. I'm swerving an inch from the topic, but it's still in the same neighborhood. Dr. P.'s call for posts is up; please send in your posts and questions on anything related to Christian reconciliation for the next Christian Reconciliation Carnival.
The KKK and the NAACP agree?
I did a spooky thing researching this post. I actually went and read several articles at a KKK website to do a little fact-checking. Yes, of course I found some appalling things; I'd have to rate that website "exceeds expectations" on prejudice. Their message was being dressed up and marketed as some sort of Christian nationalism, even though I expect most Christians -- including most Christians of European descent -- would have trouble recognizing Christianity in their message.
The reason I went to the Klan site is because I was fairly sure I had noticed some common ground between the message of the KKK and the NAACP. No, really, hear me out. Here are things that both the KKK and NAACP want to point out: Drug problems in the black community. Welfare-dependence, poverty, family breakdown in the black community. Blacks overrepresented among criminals and convicts. HIV/AIDS rampant in the black community. Poor educational performance in the black community. When both the leaders of a community and their worst enemies acknowledge the same problems, it's time to admit that the problems are there. I also wonder whether the best way to disarm those enemies (e.g. the Klan) is to effectively tackle the problems in the black community. Effectively ... that's where the rubber meets the road.
If we believe the problems in the black community are hopeless, if we have abandoned the problems and the people and made it "their" problem not "our" problem, then racism has already crept in. If we give up hope for the redemption of black communities, then we give up the common ground of our shared humanity. If pointing a blaming finger replaces love, the difference between our thoughts and open bigotry becomes a matter of degree rather than kind.
The Image of God
When I read those articles at the Klan website, I saw a trend in how the Klan views blacks. The KKK does not recognize in blacks what is common to all humanity: the image of God. Blacks are made in the image of God, like all other races, and because of this blacks have an incalculable worth and dignity through God's act of love in making his masterpiece of humanity. The image of God is one that blacks also share including a rational mind, the capability of love, and the drive to creativity. Blacks, along with all of mankind, are given the gift of lordship over the world and the responsibility of care for the world, and the call to be a channel of God's blessing to the world. Blacks, along with all of humanity, are loved and treasured by God. Bigotry fails to see the image of God in the other.
The Fall of Man
When I read those articles at the Klan website, I saw a trend in how the Klan views whites. The main thing the KKK does not recognize in whites is also common to all humanity: the fall into sin. We all share in the fall, blacks and whites both. Christ died for us all, and has redeemed us from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Christ restores us, cleans us, forgives us. He binds up the brokenhearted, is at home with the outcasts, and welcomes sinners. This is our common humanity and our common bond. While prejudice may talk the game of being Christian, it does not see our sin as our common bond, does not offer hope of redemption. Strangely, we find that self-elevating self-righteousness degrades us, while in our humility we are uplifted.
Hope and Transformation
There is a limit to what a law can do. In the years since slavery was abolished in this country, some things have become very clear. No law can set a man's mind free. No law can give hope. No law, reaching in from the outside, can change what is inside us. Justice in the laws was necessary; it just wasn't enough. Opportunity is necessary, but it is also not enough to fix a broken life or a broken community. If the black communities are to have life again, there must be hope. Hope causes change from the inside out. It allows people to notice opportunities and do something with them. The first hope has already been discussed: that we are all made in the image of God. Next I'll discuss the very practical hope of redemption.
In the U.S., an incredible number of young black men give up on themselves and become criminals. It is common to hear the call: let's reach the next generation and save them from that fate. I think that's too low and distant a goal. I think we have to reach this generation and save this generation from that fate, even the people already in prison. Redemption can do that. Redemption starts with lives that are already ruined and meets them with compassion instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of accusation. Redemption proclaims the year of the Lord's favor when our debts are canceled, our sins are forgiven. I do not believe it will work to reach the children but give up on the parents. I believe we must reach the parents, wherever they are, even in prison, with the message of hope and redemption.
We hear that it is unfair how many blacks end up in prison. That raises a whole series of questions about whether the justice system works. But I think the justice system has problems at every stage, not just in the courtrooms, not just in the arrests, but in how different neighborhoods are handled. There is a temptation to solve the problem backwards, trying to reduce how many people are caught rather than how many people commit crimes. Failing to address the crime problem in black neighborhoods just leads to more black-on-black crime. This makes for some neighborhoods that are overrun by crime, neighborhoods where I wouldn't want to stay after dark. So how about the people trying to raise families there? If black communities are going to have their dignity restored, they must be safe places to raise children, safe places to live, safe places to work, safe places to start businesses.
My neighbor across the street is a teenage black girl who spends weekdays with her aunt on the wrong side of the tracks and weekends with her father in my neighborhood. "The police don't care," she tells me. There's crime going on all over the place. Parents send their young children to run drugs for them because nobody will question a child. "They aren't doing anything to stop them." Speaking of needing a safe neighborhood, this young girl has already been raped twice while in the other neighborhood; it has definitely taken a toll on her outlook on life. Chalk up a few more reasons for needing to reach the parents' generation if we want to give hope to the children.
The Light of the World?
In those neighborhoods, where are the churches? My friend tells me that her church in that neighborhood is full of people who praise the Lord on Sunday and deal crack on Monday. I wonder, does the preacher ever tell them to stop? Did he used to tell them to stop but gave up? Has he kept saying it but stopped meaning it, stopped expecting anybody to listen to him? Or does he just not dare to say anything for fear people won't listen and he'll be proved irrelevant? Meanwhile, by not saying anything, he would have already made himself irrelevant on that level. The Bible isn't afraid to name the ugly sins we fall into, the ways we trap ourselves and wreck our lives.
It may not be that simple. It may be that the church is the only thing those drug dealers have to keep them from giving up on life completely. Then again, the preacher is human too; it has to be tempting to give up.
It's easy to sit here in a mostly-white corner of the blogosphere and try to play armchair quarterback on the problems in someone else's community. If we're looking at Christian reconciliation, it has to start here: we have to know each other. We have to meet each other and talk to each other. We have to listen to each other, even offer support. I think my church has a sister church in some country in Eastern Europe, where we check on their well-being and their needs, offer them prayers and support; we make it a point to offer friendship, to know how they are and ask how they are. But we don't have a sister church in a poor neighborhood in our own city. Black churches and white churches are, by and large, not "in fellowship" with each other doctrinally. The church's divisions help perpetuate the brokenness and dysfunction of poor communities, making us relatively ineffective in addressing problems. The ultimate Christian gift we can give each other is fellowship.
I wish there were a nice tidy conclusion to this post. But if there were, this post would no longer match the real world. The real conclusion to racial reconciliation is when redemption reaches every corner of the real world.