How should the mostly white population of Isanti County respond? Are there things that the churches and people of faith in our communities can do? How do we value the men and women who protect us at the risk of their own safety? How do we reach across racial lines in love and unity? What would Jesus do?
Authors of the book, Divided By Faith, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America through a nationwide survey. Their findings reported was written in 2000 and concluded that despite efforts to address the problem of racial discrimination, evangelicals themselves seem to be preserving America’s racial divide. Because I am a white evangelical Christian, I was defensive of their findings.
Jesus often frustrated His followers by showing up at controversial gatherings. If Jesus were here today would He show up on I-35 blocking traffic? Would Jesus be among the wounded or killed in Dallas’ protest? Would He attend the funerals of both white officers and African American offenders?
The authors are not accusing evangelicals of active racism. Instead it is the emphasis on individualism, free-will and personal relationships that perpetuates racial inequality. In their surveys, white conservative Protestants hold blacks more individually accountable than other whites do. Nearly two-thirds of white conservative Protestants say that blacks are poor because they lack sufficient motivation compared to half of other white Americans. White conservative Protestants are less likely to explain racial inequality in structural terms such as economic, political, educational, social and religious systems.
Most white American evangelicals have good intentions for positive race relations. Movements such as Promise-Keepers have helped white Christians form friendships across race lines. The emphasis on the need for confession and forgiveness of past injustices have offered important contributions towards healing. They are good beginnings, but alone falls short.
In the Bible there was great hostility among the Jews and Greeks, much like our race differences today. Jesus came to break hostility between people groups.
Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV)
For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.
Jesus purpose is not a color-blind humanity that ignores that differences and value that each race brings into the world. His purpose is an end to hostility that is accomplished by embracing the salvation through Jesus that brings reconciliation.
Emerson and Smith’s final words of their book reads, “Educated, sacrificial, realistic efforts made in faith across racial lines can help us together move towards a more just equitable, and peaceful society. And that is a purpose worth striving toward.”
May “reconciled” become the new “R” word.