This is the first of a series of six video episodes that address issues of race and racism that our society faces currently, but that have been part of our history as a nation since its founding. I began my sociology career as a graduate student at Penn State working with one of the nation's leading scholars of the Black church. Since that time, I have been teaching, writing, preaching and podcasting about the history of race and racism that is unique to the United States, and the racial injustice embedded in every social institution of our nation. I am aware that many white pastors find themselves at very different places than their members regarding social and racial justice issues, something that was also true during the Civil Rights era. I have received my share of criticism for my preaching and writing. At the same time I am sensitive to the fact that there is little awareness and understanding on the part of so many white folks--in our churches and outside our churches--of the story of oppression, violence and injustice experienced by Black Americans. Simply preaching one more sermon isn't likely to change many minds. As a result I am developing an eight session study for congregations and small groups based upon what I've been learning over the last three decades. Each session is accompanied by a video teaching found on my YouTube channel and at www.achurchdismantled.com as well as a one page study guide for discussion following the video. I will also be listing additional resources at the website.
In this episode we consider the story of Peter and Cornelius, where Peter's eyes are opened to what God was up to in bringing the Gospel to the outsiders. Yet, Peter still struggles to accept this new reality and must be told to his face by Paul, that he was clearly in the wrong.
In this episode I discuss the 18th and 19th century efforts by evangelicals to confront and destroy slavery and the resistance they encountered. And I wonder why evangelicals today as so offended by a movement in which those who have been long oppressed are simply crying out to be seen, embraced, and recognized as equals among all people. Without the systemic racism nurtured in U.S. history, there would be no need for a BLM movement. Can we reconsider how God might be using this movement to help complete the Civil Rights movement, a movement deeply embedded in the Scripture and the faithfulness of a Black Church?
Why is it so difficult for white evangelicals to accept the fact that we live in a socialized constructed society where racism is normative? And why do evangelicals respond to such statements with so much personal defensiveness?
We live in a nation within which the sin of racism is embedded into our social and cultural fabric just as was the commitment to “all men being equal” and religious freedom. We continue today to reap the blessing of religious freedom and no one would argue that our doing so is unrelated to Thomas Jefferson’s defense of Baptists in Virginia in the 18th century. In other words, evangelicals are quick to point out that what makes this country great is the fact that our founding fathers made a commitment to such freedom and wove it into our national fabric and foundation. But what is puzzling to me is the rejection, on the other hand, that the dehumanization and objectivation of black Americans is woven in a similar way into our national fabric. We accept that the freedoms we value have historical and cultural and even spiritual origins but reject that the sin of racism has such origins or even exists anymore. I have often said that it is difficult for most evangelicals to identify structural or systemic sins because we understand salvation and sin as a personal thing, and something that can be identified in personal relationships. If I take care of my personal sins and my grudges, bitterness and hatred in personal relationships, then I’ve taken care of all the sin that I am responsible for. Thus we reject and react personally to conversations about sins that are outside of the realm of the personal or relational.
This episode concludes this series, a series that tries to do more than one can on a Sunday morning and a series that reflects much of what I have been teaching, preaching, and writing over the past 25 years. Mine is only one voice, and it is that of a 56 year old male who represents some of the very problems I discuss in this series. But I have tried to listen and learn from my students of color and my colleagues of color in ministry. Whatever I have learned has been from them, and I'm certain that I have only heard and retained a fraction of what they have shared with me. Undoubtedly my remarks misrepresent them as well in places and so I take responsibility for my failures and what I share here. But I am grateful for their trust and so grateful for students of color who have trusted me with their stories. My hope is that my own limited perspective and voice will do something to cause someone to consider the truth of what our African American brothers and sisters have been telling us for the last 300-400 years.