It was only four years ago that I sat in my pastor’s office, him speaking to me about the church. I was looking for a church home and I found this one to align more with my theological convictions. But there was one thing he wanted me to know about this particular church, and he wanted me to know before I joined. This church was apart of the Southern Baptist Convention; a predominately white convention formed in 1845, relentless to keep the institution of slavery. I had only heard very little about this before my pastor shared these facts with me, it grieved my heart so much. He went on to tell me about the public apology that the convention made in 1995 (150 yrs later), and also the direction the convention was going to continue moving towards reconciliation. This encouraged me that the Gospel was changing things in this convention, and that I would be safe to serve and grow here. So I joined the church.
Even though I experienced great fellowship serving with my new white family, it wasn’t long before I started noticing how far we had to go. It seemed like much of the leadership of the convention were aware of the need to pursue reconciliation with African-Americans, but for many of the local members of the SBC; there wasn’t a real genuine desire. Individuals in my convention wanted to be my friend, but showed resistance in discussing issues that still affected the people group I represented. I have to admit that I’m still trying to understand this, and in doing so find my role in the convention.
I was led this year to engage many of my white brothers and sisters and ask them specifically about reconciliation. Because of our relationship (and really just asking for honest feedback), I was able to hear consistent reasoning that explained much of their resistance and irritation on the subject of “racial reconciliation”. I summed up all their feedback to three things that I kept hearing consistently; 1. Radical African-American leaders, 2. Being asked to repent of something they didn’t do, and 3. Focusing too much on Race issues. To be fair to them, I withheld my personal opinions. I was grateful just for them to express to me what bothered them about reconciliation. Below I have also written three responses to these barriers, and how I think we can overcome them.
- Not All African-American Leaders Are Radicals
Most African-Americans don’t realize that when you bring up “racial reconciliation” to a white friend, specific images of reference pop in their mind. They think of people like Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, etc. So when African Americans think the white majority are resisting biblical reconciliation, what may be happening is that they are really resisting the radical and left wing speech of the men I just listed, which most gospel centered African Americans don’t agree with anyway. The white majority may not realize that gospel centered African Americans don’t align with these men beliefs, and however similar our terms may sound, they shouldn’t assume that we mean the same thing.
2. There Is A Reason Why Radical Leaders Share Their Views The Way They Do
Some of my white friends have shared a similar irritation and concern with racial justice advocates, they tend to see them as opportunist, using tragic events to boost agenda’s. It’s important for the white majority to know that historically African-Americans have a group and shared experience in this country. Most of it has been forms of oppression. Black peoples experience in American begins with slavery. Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile said it best:
“Our experience (African-Americans) in this country has been defined first and foremost by this pigment that we share. So when we have these conversations about how to make progress, African Americans go to group experience pretty quickly. We speak in ‘we.’ And white Americans go pretty quickly to individual and speak of ‘I’.”
However much or less effective, the reason why most African-American leaders share their views the way they do is because they are speaking in reference to the present and past. There are growing injustices on African American people that are being stacked on top of injustices that have still gone unaddressed. So when you are listening to an African American speak about racial justice, this is what is on their mind. So the white majority can’t be too quick to turn off even the most harsh voice. Listen for the truth that is in their speech. This is also what unites many African-Americans. No matter what our disagreements, the intuitive knowledge of our shared sufferings in this country unites us to join together at the news of more injustice. And this finally leads me to the last response.
3. The Dominate Culture Makes It Easier For The White Majority To Be Ignorant Of The Core Concerns of African Americans
What can be misunderstood about some African-Americans, is although most of us do indeed share this intuitive concern for injustice, we may not agree with every aspect of what is said when the more popular African Americans get the national news spot light. If the white majority continues to misunderstand this, they will never go deeper with any African-American about core concerns that matter to them because they will assume we all share the same conclusion. So therefore, reconciliation is only somewhat complete. If I can’t share with you what I cry about, you’re probably not my real friend yet. If you never even ask me why I’m grieving, your probably not my real friend yet.
If you are white, your desire to pursue biblical reconciliation with your minority family will come and go. Sometimes you will desire it, and sometimes you just won’t. It has nothing to do with any lack of knowledge or spiritual gift. It has everything to do with you being apart of the dominate culture, and the reality of looking around and seeing no one but people like you over and over again. You need minority friendships; real ones that are deep and meaningful. The work place is not enough, some how you have to make an African-American comfortable enough to invite you into their home. If you don’t, everything you know and heard about African-Americans is subject to be flawed; simply because you don’t really know any of them. You know TV and workplace African-Americans, how meaningful of a relationship could that be?
Reconciliation is biblical and it’s the gospel; God reconciling all broken things to Himself through Christ and enabling us to reconcile with each other. If we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must believe and obey His command to be reconciled to each other. We must also be committed to fixing what is wrong. I have resolved to do my part in pursuing this aspect of the gospel, and I hope that more African-Americans and the White Americans will join along.