Just One More White Man Commenting on Ferguson

I know, I know. So many people all talking about Ferguson. I even made a joke that today 50 million bloggers would be posting, telling us all how to think about Ferguson (and I would, probably, be one of the 50 million).

ferguson rioter

I really wrestled with posting on the issue (obviously I caved). But part of me really dislikes being told I can’t do something, and there was an overwhelming feeling on social media today that white commentators should just be quiet and listen rather than speaking.

I understand the sentiment behind that feeling and I agree that we SHOULD be listening to the stories of other people. Still, asking me not to speak because of the color of my skin is ALSO racist. My skin color doesn’t affect my brain or my spirituality. If pastors were not allowed to speak on issues they had no direct involvement in then we could never preach on a lot of topics. Never having been married to more than one woman I could speak on polygamy. Having never been divorced I couldn’t speak to the biblical view on divorce. You get the point? We speak on the biblical perspective on things even when we don’t have direct experience because we don’t preach our experiences – we preach God’s revelation. That means we can speak to any issue when we come at it from a biblical perspective.

Ferguson and race-relations is no different. I won’t speak to the legal and justice issues, because I’m not a lawyer. I will speak to the idea of biblical behavior, since the Bible is what I know.

We’re all getting it wrong. There seems to be (I’m going to use the word overwhelming again for the second time in a single post) OVERWHELMING feeling that the riots are justified behavior. They are not – at least not from a biblical point of view.

The Bible calls us to exemplary behavior, even when we are mistreated by harsh and unfair people. There is no Christian justification for the Ferguson riots. Before you accuse me of being racist, please note that I also feel that white people were not biblically justified in violent revolution against England (a position I know MANY disagree with).

There is never biblical justification for violent and riotous behavior in order to bring social change. The supreme example of this is Jesus, who never participated in such behavior. When Peter was ready to riot and drew his sword, cutting off a man’s ear, Jesus told him to simmer down.

There is no biblical excuse for the riots in Ferguson.

But the rioters aren’t the only ones getting it wrong. Many of us watching and responding are also getting it wrong. Instead of reacting with compassion and trying to understand the anger and the hurt driving the riots, many get defensive and are content simply to point fingers at bad behavior.

But we need to do better. From a biblical point of view, we are called to care for the outsider, the alien, and the disenfranchised (this is actually an Old Testament AND New Testament concept). Pointing fingers at bad behavior without trying to understand what is motivating the behavior is not seeking to care for the disenfranchised. When the disenfranchised try to tell those in power, “This isn’t right!” the correct response is not, “Sit down and behave!” The correct response is, “Let me help you pursue justice and righteousness.”

This does NOT excuse the riotous behavior. It is simply to say we must do better at caring for those who are not feeling justice being done to them.

There is no easy road forward. There is a lot of anger on both sides that prevents the black and white communities from having real conversations with each other. But God calls us to pursue peace – to be peacemakers. A pastor friend of mine once told me, “The peace that Jesus brought was a costly peace. The peace that He calls US to bring is going to have to cost us, too.”

Until we’re willing to pay that cost and REALLY pursue peace and justice, the conflict will never go away.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so feel free to respond. Just keep it polite and your comments won’t be deleted. 😉

Also, if this post resonated with you in any way, please share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and any other method you personally use.

Blessings!

Related Posts:
Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple
It’s Great Being White
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black
America: Still Racist After All These Years

Innocent Racism: Sooo…Exactly What Are You?

So this week a friend send me this video to watch. I was laughing so hard I nearly died laughing.

Seriously, it was pretty bad. Fortunately my wife was able to revive me. Then I watched it again.

Have at it:

While it’s incredibly funny, the video highlights an all-too-true reality: We judge people based on external qualities and then form opinions based on those judgments. I know what you’re thinking:

“Oh boy – here we go again. Another post on race.”

Well…yes. While some deny it or try to trivialize it, the truth is that this is a common experience in the world. As husband to a mixed-race woman I’ve been there and have heard people ask:

“So…what are you?”

“Where are you from originally?”

Here’s a true story – Years ago we were interviewing for a church position. We had sent in a resume, photograph, sermon sample, etc. The search committee called me to conduct a phone interview. Over the phone one of the deacons asked, “What ethnicity is your wife?” My response? “Um, why does it matter?”

We did not end up going to that church.

Our problem is that, in these questions we pretend that we’re not racist. But we are. If we weren’t racist why would we even need to ask the question? I know,  know. You’re just curious. You just want information.

Baloney.

That’s the kind of question you ask when you have a real relationship with and you end up having a conversation about family trees. It’s not something you ask someone superficially.

The Apostle Paul tried to address the way we view each other and the ways those views play out in behavior. He said that there is no class distinction in Christianity. There is not race distinction in Christianity. There is no gender distinction in Christianity. In Jesus the playing field is leveled. We are no longer this or that. We simply are. When you ask a person what he is and where he comes from you are taking away his ability simply to be.

That’s not Christian. Well, I suppose it too often IS Christian.

But it’s not supposed to be…

It’s Great Being White!

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hooray, I’m White! I wish all of you could be white, too. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t randomly get pulled over by the police when I’m driving. I have a fairly easy time making my way through airport security checkpoints. I get left alone by clerks when I’m shopping and perusing. Heck – I can even wander aimlessly and still not be eyeballed by nosy employees. I’m fairly certain that everyone would choose to be a white guy like me if they knew how many perks and benefits I get.

Yes, being a clean-cut white male is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life…

I hope you are intelligent enough to know that I’m being facetious. As Boromir might say:

Boromir on Racism
Boromir on Racism

Yet we cannot deny that there is unfair treatment towards people of different ethnic groups and different skin tones. Racism is a problem that we will be combating for a long time.

I recently came upon a picture on Facebook that talked about fairness to the gist of: If Black people have Black Pride, why is it wrong for us to have White Pride? The basic sentiment was that these people thought it was unfair for Blacks to have scholarship funds, Pride, and everything else yet it would be racist and politically incorrect to have any of these things for Whites.

The basic flaw with their position is that, as I mentioned earlier, it’s already pretty great being White. Most of American society is geared towards me. Movies, Television, College…and on and on. Heck, when this nation was founded people like me were considered 5/5 of a human. I’m whole! Yay, me!

Not so much for minorities. Most of American society has not been geared towards real equality. When only 3/5 of the Black population was counted for purposes of government representation our founding fathers (you know, those great Christian men who birthed this great Christian nation) created an inherent inequality.

In order to maintain any kind of community cohesion, there has been a necessity for Blacks to pursue avenues like the NAACP, UNCF, and the like. These organizations strive to see Black individuals validated. I have never had to fight for validity – I’m White.

In a perfect world it would not matter what anyone looked like. Jesus was commended for his authenticity and his ability to be real no matter who he was talking to. One time the Pharisees complimented him and said:

“We know you are true and that it doesn’t matter to you who anyone is, for you don’t look at men’s faces.” (Mark 12:14)

We do that – we see who we’re talking to before we act. Not Jesus – he was real no matter who was standing before him. That ought to be our goal. In the meantime, why do we have a problem with organizations that seek to give people a sense of validity?

Those who were complaining were saying, “If we can’t do it then you shouldn’t be able to either.” This is a worldly perspective on fairness and justice. It’s the law of reciprocity. Jesus tries to move us beyond that. If someone insults us by slapping our face – turn the other cheek. If someone imposes on us and forces us to go one mile, choose to go two. If someone asks to borrow from you, don’t be stingy but give generously.

We have a choice – we can perpetuate racist animosity or we can choose to join the cause to seek validation for ALL ethnic groups. So there are groups that exist to help minorities – the Church (and the Christians of the Church) should support such causes. Rather than begrudge people a stepstool, why not help people who are not as fortunate as I am to have picked a White family to be born into? 😛

Many kids in church grow up singing:

Red and Yellow, Black and White – they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.

So should we….

Related Posts:
My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black
Reflections on Racism from a Mixed-Race Couple
America: Still Racist After All These Years

Reflections on 9/11: Can We Find a Way Forward?

we will not fear, though the earth should change
we will not fear, though the earth should change

September 11 is a strange time for Americans. It’s a day where we lump together a bunch of emotions and attitudes into one big kettle: loss, grief, sorrow, anger, self-righteousness, racism, vengeance, patriotism…and that just to name a few.

It was an event that shook America to its core. It’s one of those events where everyone remembers where he was and what he was doing when it happened. It was an event that forever altered reality.

On the anniversary of that day I want to reflect on some issues.

First: This is a time to remember those we lost. Nearly 3000 people died. The ripple effects of those lives is huge. It is appropriate to think of those people, to mourn our loss at their untimely passing. I was once asked if it was selfish to grieve over the loss of a loved one. I wouldn’t call it selfish – I would call it human. We build bonds and attachments with people. It is normal to feel pain at having people taken away. But yes, grief focuses on personal loss and not on the final destination of the other.

Second: This is a time to turn to God. In the midst of that tragedy God provided comfort that no one else could. The psalmist writes:

God is our shelter and our strength. When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help. So why run and hide? No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.

When the earth spins out of control,
     we are sure and fearless.
When mountains crumble and waters run wild,
     we are sure and fearless.
Even in the heavy winds and huge waves, or as the mountains shake,
     we are sure and fearless.

Trouble is on the horizon for the outside nations, not long until kingdoms will fall;
    God’s voice thunders and the earth shakes.
You know the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies, surrounds us and protects us;
    the True God of Jacob is our shelter, close to His heart.

(Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7)

The earth definitely changed on 9/11. And this song, written thousands of years ago, is still as appropriate today as it ever was. We who believe have a reason for peace – even in the middle of chaos. We who believe have a Power greater than any other power on which we can depend. When the world is falling down around us we turn to Him and find hope. We find comfort. We find peace.

Third: This is NOT a time to embrace hatred and racism. Over the last 15 years I’ve seen many Americans speak and behave as though 9/11 gives us freedom to hate, belittle, or discriminate against people of Middle Eastern descent. Let it not be so. It is wrong direct our anger towards Middle Eastern people. Over the years since 9/11 I’ve heard many derogatory comments about Arabs. Racism in any form is NEVER okay. It really doesn’t matter what you feel the other ethnic group has done – no group is so monolithic that you can fault all for the actions of a few. Would you lump Arab Christians into your hatred? It’s just stupid. Let’s fault the bad guys and not lump others in simply because of their ethnic group. It’s poor logic. It’s the logic that looks at the Charles Manson “family” and hypothesize that all white people are cult-following murderers. So let’s drop the racist element from 9/11, huh? No more “Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out” attitudes.

Fourth: As difficult as it might be, for our own sake we need to practice forgiveness. We forgive others because we are people who have been forgiven. Jesus himself taught us to pray:

“And forgive us our debts, as also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness does not seek vengeance. We do need to seek justice for wrongs. One of the roles of government is to hold people accountable for wrong doing. But as individuals we can let go of the idea of vengeance and move forward in forgiveness. Because let’s be honest…a lot of our mentality (not just from politicians and military leaders but from civilians as well) regarding the “war on terror” has been about vengeance, not simply justice. It’s not our place to avenge.

Let’s be people of justice.

Let’s be people of peace.

Let’s be people of forgiveness.

It’s the only real way forward.

Related Posts:
~ Patriotism Vs. Faith
~ Learning How to Forgive
~ Spread the Love: Making 9/11 a Day of Forgiveness

Forced Gay: Punishment for Religious Dissent?

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you haven’t heard by now let me tell you. New Mexico is a hot mess. Just recently there was a State Supreme Court decision that a Christian-owned photography studio violated a gay couple’s human rights when the studio declined to do the couple’s wedding pictures.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog says:

Under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, it’s unlawful for a public accommodation to refuse to offer its services to someone because of the person’s sexual orientation. The same law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry and gender.

The phrase “public accommodation” generally means public and private places (even retail establishments) used by the public.

As a business used by the public, the New Mexico Supreme Court says that the Christian couple needed to accommodate the same-sex couple with their services. I’ve seen a lot of Evangelicals (my own camp of Christendom – and yes, I know Christendom is an historically loaded word, for all of you theologians and church historians) get their noses bent out of shape about this New Mexico case.

But before we jump on the bandwagon of martyrdom and outrage at the persecution of Christians let’s think through the whole thing. Ready? Thinking caps ON!

The whole idea of disallowing businesses to refuse service to people is actually a good thing. It was a critical piece of the civil rights movement. It’s the piece of the puzzle that tells restaurants, ”You cannot refuse service to colored people.” It’s the piece that says landlords cannot refuse housing to someone based on a personal agenda. It’s a good thing…until we feel it is working against our own beliefs.

When we get called on violating someone else, rather than respond with humility and an apology, we get all in a huff. HOW DARE YOU TREAD ON MY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS! Slow down, turbo. Think about it. Let’s ponder the case of the photographer.

The business didn’t want to be seen as supporting a cause they disagreed with. I understand that – I really do. But I have a hard time believing that they only serve good Christian folk. Would they take pictures of an atheist wedding? Would they take pictures at a reception where people would be getting hammered? Do you really mean to tell me that this business weeds out all sinners and only serves the perfect elect?

Hi there. Welcome back to earth. I really don’t see that happening.

It doesn’t matter that the couple was able to find another photographer. If my wife and I tried to eat in a restaurant and were denied service because we’re a mixed-race couple IT DOESN’T MATTER IF WE CAN EAT AT THE SUBWAY DOWN THE STREET – IT’S WRONG! Was I clear about that? Unfortunately it still happens. As recently as 2004, Cracker Barrel was discriminating against brown people (segregated seating and giving colored people poorer service). This is not the stuff of theory – this is too true in our “modern” society.

On the flip side, the law also protects Christians. It means that we can’t be denied service from an atheist shop owner/operator simply because we’re Christian. The law is geared to protect ALL people. We don’t get to pick and choose to apply it to some people and then exclude others. Otherwise any shop can turn down anyone for any “belief” the owner has. And there are some crazy beliefs out there. We don’t want personal beliefs dictating service.

So let’s get off our moral high horses and recognize that we goofed this time. If you can’t do it, then I’ll do it for us.

To everyone who has been denied service from an Evangelical Christian, I am saddened that you were treated in such a manner. You did not deserve to bear the brunt of discrimination.

To the rest of us – we can do better. Jesus said that we’re to treat people the way we want to be treated (that thingy called the Golden Rule?). We don’t get to treat people based on whether or not they fit our preferred profile.

So like this post and share this post with the world (shameless plug, yes?) because there are too many of us out there that think we can pick and choose who we will be decent to; who we will serve or cast aside.

And that’s really not Christ-like, you know?

How about you? Have you had to face discrimination for any reason? Anything you are able to talk about?

Related Posts:
~ Forced Gay 2: A Response to Critics
~ Jumping Into the Fray: A Christian Response to Gay Marriage

Muslims, Murder, & Forgiveness

Love – Forgive - Live

If you haven’t heard by now Nidal Hasan, the Soldier who murdered 13 people and injured dozens others in a mass shooting back in 2009, was finally convicted – found guilty of premeditated murder. You can read about it here. I wanted to take a few minutes to respond because I believe how Christians respond is important.

It will be very easy to let our response focus on the murderer’s religion. He is a Muslim. His shooting spree seemed (at least in part) to be motivated by a reaction to American involvement in Muslim nations overseas. Prosecutors claim Hasan believed he had a jihad duty to kill as many Soldiers as possible. He also yelled, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great in Arabic) before opening fire on innocents. Yes, there seems to be a strong connection to his Islamic faith.

I know that there will be many individuals (and conservative talking heads) who will want to point out that Islam is not compatible with the West and will always be opposed to Democracy. I’ve heard the arguments that Islam will never truly be peaceful towards Christianity. It is easy to lump all Muslims into a single category. It’s almost a natural reaction because we’ve been at war in Muslim nations for so long. Americans been attacked at home and abroad by Muslims. And I will be totally honest here – I also believe that in the big picture Islam will never be at peace with Christianity.

I do not believe, however, that we can demonize all individuals because of the actions of others. I do not want to lumped together with “Christians” from Westboro Baptist Church. Hasan is Muslim, yes, but he acted alone. The tendency will be to look sideways at all Muslims (indeed, all brown-skinned foreigners) as if any of them, at any moment, might open fire. But let’s not jump to that extreme. Before you know it we’ll be creating internment camps for anyone who is “other than.”

Let’s remember that sick individuals do sick things all the time without greater ties to worldwide movements. When a white teenager opens fire on a movie theater we don’t go around acting suspiciously of all white teens (well, maybe some people do, but in general I think not!). Jump off the bandwagon and turn off Fair and Balanced news outlets and use common sense. Messed up people do messed up things. Don’t fly off the handle – Hasan admitted to the shooting and was found guilty. He will pay – possibly with his life.

From a biblical point of view we need to consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. (Romans 12:14,17a)

Nidal Hasan committed atrocious acts of evil against dozens of people. There is no excuse. There is no justification. But God calls the faithful to live a different way – without seeking to do damage to the offender, God calls us to bless and to avoid vengeance. We are to pursue forgiveness, in spite of what people do to us. It’s hard to even talk about, much less to live out. Like the Matthew West song says:

It’s the hardest thing to give away, it’s the last thing on your mind today – it always goes to those who don’t deserve – – -forgiveness

There will be hours of talk radio and news reports filled with stories, speculation, and judgments against Nidal Hasan. He will get what is coming to him. Even if you think his earthly punishment is not severe enough we can rest knowing that all of us will one day stand before the Creator of the Universe and give an account for our behavior here on earth. Hasan will. I will. You will, too.

So let’s not focus on hatred and fear and loathing of this sick and evil man. Let’s turn those emotions over to God. If you have to direct your focus anywhere, grieve and mourn with the families that are suffering loss because of this man’s actions. Love on the survivors.

Forgive.

Live.

Fighting Discrimination

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this country has lost its ever-lovin’ mind. It is clearer than ever before that we face sharp distinctions between categories of people. Distinctions in and of themselves are not bad things. Our lives fall into categories based on a variety of things: age group, ethnicity, gender, education level, income, homeowner or renter…and the list goes on and on. It’s impossible to live a “category-free” life.

The problem is when we discriminate based on categories. In simpler terms, discrimination is about playing favorites. Every grade-school child knows about playing favorites. The popular or athletic kids are always picked first for games. The kids in the negative categories (unpopular, overweight, uncoordinated, whatever) are discriminated against and picked last – if picked at all. Playing favorites. Discrimination. It’s the same thing. It’s about treating some people more or less favorably based upon some quality or characteristic.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been going on since the dawn of time. In his letter to the Diaspora James writes:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

James’ audience had a particular problem of treating wealthy people better than they treated the poor. The rich got the best seats and the most attention. The poor got the floor and the cold shoulder. The principle at work in his churches is the same principle that drives discrimination today: paying attention and responding to outward appearances is the primary way of showing partiality.

Not only is discrimination incompatible with authentic Christian behavior but it is actually sinful. It is contrary to the will and character of God to discriminate against and treat people as less-than because of a category to which they belong. If you show partiality you are committing sin. That’s not me saying that – it’s the Bible. The Bible repeatedly tries to move us away from a mindset of discriminating against people, showing favoritism, because of their categories.

One of the most popular stories from the Gospels is about Jesus calling out his disciples for discriminating:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

Even Jesus’ closest companions fell into discrimination. It happens whenever we start to think less of someone because of his status. He doesn’t count as much, he’s only a child. She doesn’t count as much, she’s just a woman. They don’t count as much, they’re not _________ (fill in the blank). There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t play favorites – why do we? It’s because we let our identity come from our categories rather than from God. We’re ethnic before we’re Christian. We’re political before we’re Christian. We’re employees before we’re Christian. We’ve got our priorities backwards. We need to shed the classifications of this world. Our sense of identity ought to come from God.

So what’s the answer? First, we have to change our allegiances, our priorities, our categories. We need to stop seeing others with the classifications of this world and start seeing people through God’s eyes. It comes down to loving people the same way you love yourself (a biblical concept). No one wants to be treated as less-than or other-than. So don’t treat others that way.

Second, we need to see OURSELVES without the categories of this world and see ourselves through God’s eyes. One of the early leaders in church history was a young guy named Timothy. It seems that some preferred to classify Tim by his age rather than by his calling as Pastor. Paul instructs Tim to shed the human classifications and to remember the calling that God has given you.

It’s time to make a change. It’s time for Christians to lead the charge. We should not put up with discrimination. We should recognize that identity is not determined by human categories but on our Creator. Imagine a world where physical distinctions disappear and we treat each other decently simply because we’re all made by the same creator. It’s tough – I know. But try. Drop all the other labels and put on this one: CHILD OF GOD.

How about you? How have you been discriminated against? In all honesty, how have you discriminated against others?

My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

Family - Christmas 2012

I’m a White man married to a Black woman. Actually, she’s only 65% Black. She wanted a DNA test for our anniversary and, being the romantic that I am, I got it for her. So we know that 65% of her DNA traces itself to Sub-Saharan Africa.

But the DNA test also shows that 29.8% of her DNA traces back to European descent. It was a shock for her. She sat looking at the test results for minutes with her mouth agape, processing the information. When I asked her a question she stopped me and said, “Give me a minute – I’m having revelations here!” Nowhere in her personal sense of identity and self did she imagine that such a large chunk of her DNA was European. But the world in which we live doesn’t give a hoot. You see – she’ll always be Black here in America.

So here we are; a White man and a (partially) Black woman. And we had the audacity to bring children into the world. So what are they? Seriously – how would you classify them? They’re 65% European and 33% Black. Do you classify them as White kids or Black kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking You, the reader. How do you label them?

We choose not to label them. They’re just our kids. To them, skin color is merely a description of their outward appearance – right now it plays no part in their sense of ethnicity and heritage. They only know that Daddy’s side of the family is “peach” and Momma’s side of the family is (mostly) “Brown.” Descriptively, they see themselves more on the peach side than the brown side. If you were to listen in on my daughter talking about family you would hear her describe herself as “peach.” They don’t have any vested interest or history in skin tone and identity. But the rest of the world does.

I find it odd that parts of the world, even parts of our community in the good ol’ U.S. of A., label my kids based on their parents rather than on themselves. For a Thanksgiving project my daughter’s class colored paper Pilgrims. Everyone in the class got a peach pilgrim to color. Not my daughter. She was given a brown Pilgrim. There was no malice involved. There was an assumption made because my child has a brown parent. She was classified as brown. It tore her up, not because she has an aversion to brown skin but because she wanted a Pilgrim that she thought reflected herself – one that matched her own sense of identity. Even well-meaning people in our church have described our kids as brown, not realizing that they have a different self-image.

I will pause here to admit that I’m getting angry and choked up as I write this. These are my kids we’re talking about – my babies – and the idea of people making them feel “other than” tears my heart out and makes the protective parent in me LIVID.

I’m not writing this because I have a problem with brown-skinned people. I don’t have a problem if my kids decide they want to identify with my wife’s side of the family and their “brown” heritage. It’s part of who they are. One day they’ll understand that better and we can have open discussions about identity and ethnicity. I think that would be wonderful.

No, I’m writing this because it seems that our country recently has lost its ever-loving-mind when it comes to race relations. The Zimmerman/Martin incident in Florida only highlights already existing tensions.

The original incident, the trial & verdict, and the national response show that there is still a racial rift in this country. Recently, President Obama made a statement that was, in my opinion, an attempt show solidarity with a grieving Black community and to help enlighten an unknowing White community.

I have seen and heard a lot of outrage at the President’s remarks. I have seen some ugly behavior and some terrible words thrown around. In my opinion (and that’s what you get – remember…my blog) the President was not making any statement as to the guilt or innocence of Martin or Zimmerman. The heart of his message, as a Black man, was:

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Years of slavery and abuse, yielding to discrimination and abuse, yielding to a façade of equality, have given the Black community a unique filter through which it interprets events. It’s a filter that lends it a sense of identity and purpose. When White America waves a dismissive hand and says, “It’s not about race” we are saying that our interpretation of who you are and what things mean matters more than your interpretation of who you are and what things mean. It’s an exaggerated scale of what happened with my daughter’s Pilgrim. My lens is better than your lens.

It does no good to tell someone that the lens through which they see and interpret events is wrong. It’s their lens. You have your own. A better conversation is to say, “I want to understand your lens and paradigm and then want to share with you about my lens and paradigm.” It’s hard to do – we all believe that our own lens is the best lens, the only correct lens. But sometimes our lenses get smudged and dirty and could stand being wiped off. It’s the only way to move forward.

As it stands there is too much of an Us vs. Them attitude when it comes to race relations. We focus on the “other than” instead of focusing on the unifying and uniting elements. Here’s the thing – In God’s Kingdom, there is no such thing as “Us and Them.” We’re all part of the community of faith. It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, for our faith transcends ethnicity. This isn’t a concept limited to the New Testament. It’s also found in the Old Testament. God tells Israel:

You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells a story of how the Apostle Peter acted differently towards Gentile Christians than he did towards Jewish Christians. Paul called him out and Peter repented.

We’re in a situation today where many people seem to prefer to exercise their politics before their faith. White and Black alike play the “race card” on each other. Neither side is exempt or immune. We certainly fail to treat each other like equals with the same privileges. We certainly don’t love the “other” like we love ourselves.

It’s time to change. We don’t have to continue down this path. We can turn around. We can work to see things through the lens of the other and help the other to see through our lens. We can work on finding common ground. We can work on true equality – which really only seems to come from God (humanity has a grand ability to botch things up). We can love others the same as we love ourselves.

So be careful how you talk to people. Be careful how you talk about people. Words have power, and you can use them to build or destroy. I firmly believe that God would prefer us to build. So watch what you say. When you speak, say it in love. And whatever you do, watch how you treat my kids.

They don’t know they’re black.

Related Posts:
~ Reflections on Race from a Mixed-Race Couple

Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple

In the still-festering mess of the Ferguson ordeal, I thought it was appropriate to bring back a post we wrote after the Zimmerman ordeal not too long ago…

Racial Tension

You have to live under a rock to have missed the verdict from the George Zimmerman trial.

This post is NOT about the trial or the verdict, but about an issue that this debacle brought up: racial profiling.  While I am not an expert on race relations or sociology, I am a white man who is married to a black woman, and we tend to take issues concerning race relations personally. For that reason, I’ve asked my wife to co-author this post with me. We do understand that this is a volatile issue and want to be sensitive, but race needs to be talked about.

We still live in a racist nation. Skin color and ethnic background play a huge role in personal identity and separating ourselves from others who are different. Just take a quick look at some Twitter posts or the comments section under news articles about the Zimmerman verdict and you will see an overwhelming number of hateful remarks towards people with different ethnicities. There is racism on both sides – it’s not a one-way street.

We have experienced American racism ourselves. While visiting family in Salt Lake City, Utah (a predominantly white area), we went out to the mall. We drew stares and odd looks from people while walking in public holding hands. It was palpable. At one point we passed another mixed race couple (a black man and white woman). We made eye contact and there was a nod of greeting and a look that passed between us of understanding, of solidarity. as if to say, “We understand.”

While the Bible calls us to live in harmony and that, in Christ Jesus, all old ethnic markers don’t matter, we have yet to really live as though there is no longer Jew or Gentile, Black or White, Latino or Asian. We hold to our ethnic identity more than we do our spiritual identity.

And so we’ll hit our theme: Racial Profiling

Chris:

Profiling is a normal part of how the human brain works to process and interpret information. This is not just about race but is true in other areas of life. When we see something or someone our brain compares it to past examples or experiences and then classifies that new thing or person based on what is already up in the old noodle. OF COURSE we are more than the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the way we smell or the way sound. But we are sensory people and someone’s experience of me is going to be based on their senses and the memories connected to those senses.

Is it right to judge someone in this way? No, it is not. But it’s a trait common to humanity. Seeing someone in skinny jeans messy hair carries associations in my head. The same with seeing someone in a coat and tie. People have made an issue out of Zimmerman profiling Martin because of his skin color and clothing. Even if subconscious, I think Zimmerman would have seen Martin and made certain associations based on appearance. Hear me out – I don’t think that profiling is a valid excuse for treating people poorly, but it helps us understand that we’re all in the same boat.

A real-life example: listen to black comedians imitate white people. They frequently use a nasal tone when impersonating whites. Do all whites sound like that? No, we don’t, but there are mental associations based on sensory memory. The problem is when we allow sensory memory to influence how well or how poorly we treat others. Then we’re judging the book by its cover and never really opening the book to see what it has to say.

It’s hard because it’s normal, but racism will never die as long as we are permitting our senses to dictate who and what a person is like before actually experiencing what a person is like.

Tené:

FACT: Simply because of the shade of my skin in some situations I am considered a less valuable/trustworthy customer, colleague, group member, participant, professional, driver…. I am treated differently. I look different, so I am labeled as “other than” and frequently for people of color that label silently morphs into “less than.” This less worthy mentality allows us to value people differently.

I am reminded of the recent deluge of racist tweets over the Hunger Games movie when a fan of the books admitted that they were less sad about a character’s death and did not want to see the movie once they learned that a beloved character did not, in fact, have blond hair and blue eyes but had “dark-brown” skin (she was a person of color).

And so, after all these years, we are still here. A persons’ value, and the value of his life, is determined by the amount brownness in their skin. What is really shocking is that, although fans had gotten to know her as and love her as a character, those feelings quickly turned to disgust when her skin tone was changed on them. If people can turn on a beloved fictional character at the drop of a hat I wonder about how horribly people with this mindset could treat someone that they do not know or care about? That doesn’t even take into account hair, dress, manner of speaking, gait, etc….

Sure, all of us project an image, but that image should never prevent us from being treated without decency, common courtesy, and (dare I even say it)…respect. The question for us as Christians should not be “What are others projecting?” but “Who are we reflecting?” Is Jesus seen in how we treat others? A person’s clothing, skin, smell, or other appearance should not matter to me as much as faith that we share.

Back to Chris:

Unfortunately we live in a world where we look at appearances and make judgments long before we get to know people. It’s part of how we’re wired. Even my wife buys into it (without realizing it) and tells me I need to shave before church events because the clean-shaven look projects a different image than a scruffy pastor!

IN DEALING WITH OURSELVES: On a practical level, then, we do project an image – an idea – of ourselves to people long before people actually get to know us. I’m not saying that you should care about what other people think, but I do believe that we ought to think about what we want to say about ourselves through sensory experiences. What does my dress communicate about me? How about my scent? What about shaving or being scruffy? It is not important to who I AM, but these things do interact with other people’s sensory memory.

IN DEALING WITH OTHERS: On a practical level, keep in mind that what you see with people is not necessarily what you get. We are complex human beings, far more complicated than a rash judgment can accommodate. Trayvon Martin was more than a black man in a hoodie, and reducing him to that does injustice to the complexity of life. Conversely, George Zimmerman is more complicated than the man many are portraying him to be. Life is not so simple.

The country is fighting racism that goes a long way back. Things probably won’t change until Jesus comes back. But we can all do our part to make it a better place.

Don’t settle for cookie-cutter answers and snap judgments.

What do you think? Please feel free to engage in debate from either side. I do ask that you keep it civil and polite no matter how heated you may feel….

Related Posts:
~ My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black
~ America: Still Racist After All These Years

America: Still Racist After all These Years

Racism. It’s still there. Sometimes it feels like we pretend it doesn’t exist but it does. It affects the way we look at people. It affects the way we treat people. It affects the way we talk about people. But it’s not something we address openly and honestly until something blows up and then everything is chaos and then all hell breaks loose.

No, I’m not even writing this in response to the Paula Deen debacle, though it certainly seems to fit.

Paula Deen’s situation reminds us that, no matter how far we have come, we are a people that draw lines of distinction based on race and heritage. Sometimes those lines of distinction are good and result in a renewed sense of pride and family background. I applaud people who utilize websites like ancestry.com or 23andme.com in an effort to know and appreciate their genetics and history. Knowing from where we come and from whom we come goes a long way in helping us create a personal sense of identity.

In regards to the words we use to define ethnicity, I do believe and emphatically suggest that we call people what THEY desire to be called, not what we think they should be called. I am Anglo-European. Let’s be totally honest, I’m Scottish on one side and Irish on the other. I’m white. A honkey.  But I’m married to a brown-skinned woman. It doesn’t matter what language was used around me growing up, she deserves to be identified in the way she chooses; Black, African-American, Negro, or even colored (which is how some of my wife’s older relatives still refer to themselves). Anything less is disrespect towards her AS A PERSON. It doesn’t matter where people come from – call them what they desire to be called.

This was part of Paula Deen’s problem. As an older white woman from the south, she probably grew up with some choice descriptors for brown-skinned people. And let’s be honest – it’s hard to break free from the language and images that were around during our formative years. It really takes a lot to move beyond how we were raised.

This is not to excuse something she might have said nearly 30 years ago, but it does help to understand where she is coming from and how she is wired. But this is a great illustration of the problem. Racism exists still. Many people don’t even realize that their behavior is racist – and that’s just wrong. It’s when you hear someone telling a story about someone else and they just “happen” to throw in the description of ethnicity.

“I was help up at knifepoint by this wild-eyed Mexican guy…”
“I was cut off by this black lady…”

We are racist every time we feel a need to describe ethnicity. Does it matter what race the thief was? Does it matter what race the crazy driver was? It adds nothing to the story except for the racist subtext you want to convey to your audience. We are racist every time we alter our behavior because of or around someone of different ethnicity. We are racist, and I don’t mean “we” as in “European-Americans like me.” Humanity is racist – we divide along ethnic lines.

Yet there is supposed to be a kinship that supersedes ethnicity. The bible says that we share a new family through our faith that moves us beyond all titles, descriptions, and subtext. It is no longer white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever-mix-you-want-to-be…. We shed all of that with one new title: CHRISTIAN.

This new title is supposed to characterize all we say and do. It’s supposed to saturate us and flow out of every pore. It’s supposed to take the old way of thinking about things and people and replace it with God’s way of viewing things and people.

Yep – we’re a racist planet. And we always will be as long as we hold to our ethnic identities over and above our spiritual identities. So, Christian, it’s time to grow. It’s time to change. It’s time to let stop identifying yourself by your race and to start identifying yourself by your faith.

Who are you?

My name is Chris. I’m white Christian.