In light of Trayvon Martin's death and the fact that his killer remained free I, for a time, wore a hoodie as many in the black community have.
Why was I wearing a hoodie? I’m doing my best as a white man to practice Christian racial reconciliation. I believe that the only way the Gospel can be fully lived out is if whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native-Americans and people in the Body of Christ are willing to share life together, empathize with one another and love one another. When injustice arises loving my brothers and sisters of color also means standing in solidarity with them against injustice. I wore a hoodie as a reminder to all who saw me that justice was failing Trayvon and his family. For me it isn't some liberal agenda with a Christian twist, but the very Gospel of Christ. My life has been deeply enriched by my friends from other cultures and races. When I say "enriched" I'm not referring to trying new ethnic foods or learning a little Spanish. I'm talking about my entire life being changed and my view of the world transformed. I look at US history with much greater desire to see God's kingdom come instead of the American dream. I see who the true heroes of our country are. The Christianity I practice is so much more grounded because I can see how God stands with the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus, our Lord and God, is misunderstood, oppressed and marginalized with them.
Sadly, the most racially segregated day and time every week in the US is Sunday mornings, but the calling of God for all white people is to experience understanding, empathy, friendship, and ultimately what Martin Luther King Jr. called the "Beloved Community." I don't believe this kind of understanding and intimacy between our races was just MLK Jr.'s idea but Christ's dream for us from the beginning of time. I've seen the Beloved Community with my own eyes, touched it with my hands and listened to its utterly holy music. I wouldn't return to my old way of living even if you pulled a billy-stick on me. I'm gripped with fascination and I'm hoping I've said something to pique your interest, to help you risk understanding what I believe Christians of a different race experience. I want you to know Christ better and your true identity as a white person.
Below are the steps I'm humbly offering as a way toward God's dream of Beloved Community. The first step is the way in the door and each following it requires more taking up of the cross, but results in more resurrection as you discover more of yourself in Christ. I haven't found this road to be linear. I constantly find myself returning to each of the steps and with each pass through them I'm more fascinated and changed.
Here is the road I suggest and a few stories to illustrate what I mean:
1. Read books about Christian racial reconciliation. Here are two great places to start. Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp and Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Reading is an excellent way to help you wrestle with the stories of people of color and the falsehood of the dominant white narrative. The books I’ve suggested are written by white people who have learned to see the world with Jesus’ eyes. This exploration gets much deeper as you read books by people of color about race. John Perkins’ honest memoir Let Justice Roll Down is an excellent entry point.
2. Attend gatherings where people of color are encouraged to speak freely about race. Try to believe what you hear, even if you find it unbelievable and painful. People of color experience many insults, acts of violence and injustices that we will very rarely (if ever )experience as whites.
One example of a place where you can hear these perspectives was the Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon that happened in February 2012. There are Christian conferences and gatherings like this happening frequently. This could include attending an African-American or Asian-American church regularly.
Note: Statistical evidence has shown that both black and white folks are interested in racial reconciliation. White folks prefer to practice this in an informal format, but interestingly black folks, at a much higher rate, prefer to experience interracial dialogue in a formal setting or have white folks attend formal gatherings that address racial issues before they meet informally to talk about race. In light of this don't underestimate the value of the first two steps.
3. Make meaningful friendships with people of color. Eric Law in The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community suggests that white folks learn to embrace the cross in their relationships with people of color. Our relationship with them must include searching out honest ways to serve them, to lift them up instead of ourselves. A meaningful friendship also includes allowing people of color serve us.
Some years ago I made friends with Raj, who is an Indian-American. While I was teaching on race at the university I asked him to come and share about his experience in the US as an Indian-American. As we listened I was amazed and shocked at the tragic and optimistic story of Raj embracing an identity that is marginalized. I could only see him as a hero and a trailblazer after he shared with us. He also appreciated the chance to articulate his journey. Our relationship only grew after this experience.
4. Work to listen deeply to your friends of a different race.
By listening deeply I mean that we must learn to not just hear the ideas that people of color are sharing, but work our hardest to imagine ourselves in their shoes. Listening so it affects us in such a way that we let it demand change and action of us.
Years ago I had a Palestinian friend named Fatima. She is a fiery beautiful Muslim whose faith is both zealous and humble. At the time one of my classes in seminary discussed how the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was oppressing her people. The next time I met with her I asked her to tell me about the suppression of her people. She told me about the poverty, harassment, terrorism and marginalization that the Palestinian people feel down in their very being, because of the massive power and oppressive methods of the Israeli army. At first I couldn't believe it was true. Luckily she was willing to tell me again and again and soon it took hold of me how oppressed the Palestinian people feel. Later in class I was asked to share about "Why are Muslims angry at the US?" I shared her story as well as the story of a Palestinian Christian at our seminary who told me that if he had lost his family by the Israeli army's oppressive methods he would seriously consider giving his life for the cause of Palestinian freedom. I never could have understood the magnitude of these stories if I wouldn't have learned to listen deeply.
I offer these four steps to you. My longing to know Christ deeper is drawing me down this road. I really hope you choose to take this journey with me in loving people of all colors. It’s time white folks wake up to our need to humbly and empathetically cross the racial lines. Jesus is waiting there for us.