Sunday, July 10, 2016

Admitting America’s — and the church's — race problem

About 20 years ago Steelers linebacker Gregg Lloyd wore a T-shirt in training camp with the slogan "Real Men Are Black." In that day it was a takeoff on the Oakland Raiders' saying "Real Men Wear Black."

But Lloyd's T-shirt caused consternation because others interpreted the saying as racist, which didn’t make sense to me. And only recently did I understand why.

A number of people of late have denounced the “Black Lives Matter” slogan and the group behind it that protests police abuse of African-American citizens. They seem to believe that it means “Only Black Lives Matter” when it’s really saying “Black Lives Also Matter.”

And the reality is that black lives often don’t matter, which is their point. (I’m not endorsing the movement, by the way.) That was also Lloyd's point.

I’m writing primarily to a Christian audience, and it pains me to say that we do have a race problem even in the church that, if we don’t address it, will compromise our witness for Christ (and in fact has already done so at times). Trouble is, most of us won’t see it because doing so might make people uncomfortable.

But isn’t that what we do when we tell people about coming to Jesus? Indeed, too often we complain that non-believers persecute us because we make them uncomfortable.

I have experience in such. In the early 1980s I was asked to leave an otherwise all-white campus fellowship and attend a black one that the umbrella ministry offered; I told the staff person making the request that I wouldn’t do that. Fifteen years ago I broke off a relationship with a woman who wanted to marry me in part because her church, which she didn’t want to leave, had literature that I learned later came from what used to be the White Citizens Council, still listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and I refused to go there.

That being said, we Christians need to confront ourselves and our own attitudes. Too many of us have this idea that mere “conversion” would suffice; if that were the case I wouldn’t be writing this. Indeed, far from being divisive, I'm only exposing the divisiveness that already exists and for which we share the blame.

Keep in mind that Billy Graham, committed to an anti-racist viewpoint, was threatened with the pulling of financial support for putting an African-American man on staff. And Martin Luther King Jr. was denounced as an outside agitator during the 1963 campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Ala.

More to the point, we who follow Christ need a dose of humility and recognize that perhaps our views aren’t the only ones that matter. For this reason we need to build relationships across racial, economic and cultural lines and be willing to confess our own myopia.

I know — I’ve been doing just that since the 1970s.

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