Saturday, July 20, 2013

Race, conservatism and the evangelical church

After George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a number of people I know simply gloated. That was bad enough.

What I found disconcerting is that many of them were supposedly Jesus-loving Christians but clearly hard-core conservatives. It reminded me why we still have a major race problem in the church -- denial.

No, I'm not calling them racists, but they were clearly insensitive to the indignities, great or small, that some of their "brothers and sisters" have had to deal with on a consistent basis.

And I believe that their commitment to a myopic conservative worldview, which seeks comfort for itself but couldn't care less about anyone else's suffering, is the primary culprit here.

Frankly, most of my friends outside my diverse church and the local music community are white. This is especially the case among the three local Christian singles ministries that I've been involved with; I'm one of only two African-Americans who participate, and neither of us are militants who demand to be heard.

But sometimes I wish they would ask me for my perspective on things.

You see, many of them focus on Christian "morality" and "liberty" at the expense of everything else; as you can imagine, they vote Republican. They don't see how or why the conservative agenda that now controls the GOP is considered insulting and injurious, at times even willfully, to African-Americans, who vote Democratic for that reason.

How so? Well, let's consider the phrase "big government." You may not know this, but it originally had a racist connotation -- recall that it was the Federal government that took down Jim Crow laws in the South, specifically through laws and Supreme Court decisions that irritated a lot of people and led to what became known as the "new right," which started in the 1950s and gained steam in the '60s. Propagandists over the years have sought to blame the "Great Society" for the ills of the black community, never mind that it doesn't have the same access to education and employment opportunities (I realized this when I got to college) as everyone else.

Over time these folks have sought to reverse the progress that we've made, especially when it comes to important issue of voting. The Supreme Court's invalidation of a major tenet of the Voting Rights Act didn't help, and right-wing radio's quasi-racist ramblings have inflamed the discourse. Not to mention the voter-ID laws implemented in many states that are reminiscent of laws in Southern states that essentially barred blacks from voting. (Voting will always remain an issue.)

But my "siblings" don't see that we as African-Americans are often treated differently in the world. While I personally have never experienced being stopped by a policeman for no good reason -- "driving while black" -- or ignored by restaurant waitstaff, I know people who have.

And sometimes it spills over into the church. When I was in college I began attending a campus Christian fellowship that was otherwise all-white. I soon found out why it was that way; a couple weeks after coming -- and becoming chummy with one of the women -- a staff member asked me to leave; it turned out that the ministry actually operated a separate group for black students and she said that I would "fit better" there, my actual church background notwithstanding. (I didn't.) Later on another staff member tried to drive me out but failed.

At the beginning of my last committed dating relationship in the summer of 1999 -- my girlfriend was white -- I had a week off from playing at my church, so I visited hers. In the church was literature from the "Conservative Chronicle," which one of her sons would bring home on a regular basis; upon reading it I detected a spirit of racism. (Which turned out to be correct; I learned long after the relationship collapsed that it was the newsletter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, formerly known as the White Citizens Council, which formed in the South to oppose desegregation.)

I'm privileged to attend a church where some of these issues have been addressed; however, I know full well that it's an anomaly. And even there, some folks still often don't "get it."

We took this on most recently in my Christian Leadership Concepts small group -- CLC is a two-year men's leadership course that ended for me in February -- in which racial reconciliation was one of the last things to be taught. Because the other guys know that I have a passion for and considerable knowledge and experience in that, one of the co-facilitators asked me to lead the first session. As part of the curriculum we used the book "Strength to Love" by Martin Luther King Jr. However, I told them flat-out that Dr. King's opponents were conservatives. I didn't get a handle on how they reacted.

One song that's now being played in heavy rotation on smooth-jazz radio is a cover of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," whose message I heartily agree with. But I wish that my conservative friends would heed it -- that when it comes to issues of race in the church they may recognize that their attitudes may be part of the problem.

The same Bible that causes me to oppose abortion and homosexual conduct also despises racism and obliges me to identify with those of lower status. (Not just help -- identify with, for you can't do the former without the latter.) We simply won't solve this problem unless hearts are softened, and may God do so.


Roland Hunn said...

"And I believe that their commitment to a myopic conservative worldview, which seeks comfort for itself but couldn't care less about anyone else's suffering, is the primary culprit here."
While I agree with this statement, I would hasten to point out that "myopic worldview" isn't limited to conservatives. The political spectrum is broad and there are liberals and moderates that can't empathize with everything. I don't normally defend conservatives but honestly I see the problem as pervasive throughout the political spectrum or more accurately, the human race.
Good article Rick!

BlueDeacon said...

Roland -- With all due respect, that's simply not accurate if you ever read the history of the conservative movement. There's no "liberal" or "moderate" equivalent to, say, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell or Jesse Helms, to give just three examples, in large part because the conservatives have access to much more money. After all, they tend to be fear-mongers and use that to raise cash.