Updated March 10, 2021 with second letter
lack Americans have made the greatest gains over some of the highest hurdles, in the shortest period of time, than any racial group in the history of mankind.” This quote is from Suffer No Fools, a documentary about the life of Dr. Walter Williams, a former Black follower of Malcolm-X and later conservative academic, economist, author and syndicated columnist until his death last December.
I want to thank the CL staff and contributors for addressing the question of racism and the church in the Jan/Feb issue. You have taken a noble and much-needed step by focusing on this problem that has been with us for millennia. The analysis and argumentation by each contributor in search of practical and biblical solutions for our generation have proceeded from a sincere heart and deep mourning over this social ill.
I trust my thoughts will be perceived in like manner as I encourage the CL readership to consider some “Black minority voices of the American Black minority” regarding hot-topic questions such as white privilege, implicit bias, systemic racism, etc. While each voice, along with this writer, agrees that racism and prejudice exists in America, they would also say, in the words of John McWhorter, a Black professor at Columbia University, that “America has never been less racist.”
One of the greatest fears in my adult life has been being perceived as a racist, especially towards African Americans. Ironically, I cannot ever remember being called a racist. A “n r lover,” yes, a racist, no. But that doesn’t necessarily mean others of different races with whom I have rubbed shoulders over the decades haven’t thought of me as one.
So I still wonder: “Did Raquel, an African Peruvian who lived with us in Spain for three years decades ago detect deep down in her soul a racist spirit in us? How about the members of the two Spanish-language MB congregations we have pastored since returning to California? Or the members of the La Roca MB Church, made up also primarily of first-generation Mexican immigrants, and where we have congregated for the past two-plus years?”
“Does my present chaplain supervisor, a woman and a Black, and my Black chaplain colleagues and patients, perceive some racial overtones in my life? Really, am I a racist?”
And so the fear of being pegged a racist has followed me for most of my adulthood. But this all changed last year thanks to a video done by Dr. Shelby Steele, a Black senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute and conservative thinker and writer. In it he describes the moral dangers of white guilt, a destructive social phenomenon that hurts Blacks and whites alike.
Simply stated, I have been conditioned for most of my life, oftentimes subconsciously by white and Black thinkers and journalists on the political left to perpetually feel guilty for the treatment of Blacks both past and present. Perhaps the best contemporary illustration of this is found in Reverend Al Sharpton’s words spoken at George Floyd’s funeral last year: “The reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is that you kept your knee on our neck.” Pretty straightforward. But my thinking is changing, and today I can gloriously shout, “Being freed at last! Being freed at last! Thank God almighty I am being freed at last of white guilt!”
In my path to freedom I have also learned there are others challenging many contemporary victim-based and emotion-inspired solutions purported by those to the left politically, intellectually, journalistically and religiously speaking. With a more objective view of Black history in America, a realization that well-intentioned welfare and social programs are in fact holding Black Americans back, and hard data to support their arguments, they focus on human responsibility and not on governmental intervention, on the human potential and not on human dependency when seeking viable common-sense solutions.
Some of these conservative Black leaders and commentators along with Williams, McWhorter and Steele are Dr. Thomas Sowell, a retired professor of economics, social theorist, and author of 40 books and innumerable columns; Jason L. Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed; Larry Elder, Coleman Hughes, etc. For many of these Black voices, the greatest threat to Blacks today is not racism, but rather the slow deterioration of the Black family from its celebrated past.
I would also point you to Black commentators David Webb and Joe R. Hicks who several years ago argued at the Oxford (University) Union Society debates that the United States is not institutionally racist. Just last month Dr. Steele was a guest on the Focus on the Family Broadcast titled a “Fascinating Perspective on Racial Issues.” I believe it is worth “a-listen-to.”
For sure the present debate on racism will continue, even among CL readers. Regardless of the arguments, I know my first priority is to “love others as myself” regardless of their skin color and race. In a very practical way this is what it looks like: 1) Practice golden-rule thinking and acting with my “neighbor” who is precious before God and worthy of my pursuit to seek his/her well being. 2) Follow golden-rule thinking and acting when my “neighbor” is not in my presence. 3) Exhibit golden-rule speaking and acting when with people sharing my skin color and race and we are referring to our “neighbors.” Being liberated from white guilt is helping me to accomplish this.
I think this is a great plan for all of us. Indeed we will live better by doing so. But for now, I will first focus on myself!
Letter to the editor: Part 2
When I first saw the title “Racism and the Church” on the cover of the Jan/Feb issue of the CL I immediately thought about how churches are dealing with racism in their local context. As I began reading the articles I soon realized that the approach was more testimonial and personal. Each contributor shared out of their personal experiences of pain with racism and then provided counsel as to how to deal with racism. Many of the letters to the editor followed this same format. I was able to take something from each contribution calling me to pause, rethink my own understanding and practices regarding racism and then consider making the necessary adjustments for my life. The experience has been invigorating. Thanks again CL!
As to racism and the church, there are congregations in America that are facing racism and cultural differentiation with much success. I have been encouraged by New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York. This church, with 75 different countries represented in its fellowship, has been one of the most multiracial, multinational and multicultural churches in North America for the past 30 years. Pete Scazzero, the founding pastor and now pastor-at-large at New Life, addressed the theme of racism and the church head-on in a series of teachings on the Emotionally Healthy Leader Podcast last year following the George Floyd death.
The same could be said of Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland, lead by black pastor Dr. Dave Anderson. Bridgeway’s membership represents 60 different countries. He is also the author of Gracism: the Art of Inclusion.
Butler Church of our MB family and located in Fresno, California, has made a valiant attempt in the last 20 years, oftentimes in a three steps forward two steps backward fashion, to address racism in a congregational context given the racially diverse neighborhood their meeting place is located in. When serving there as the pastor of the Spanish language congregation, I thrived on being part of the multi-cultural, ethnic, racial and lingual composition of this church family.
To the north of our border is the Willingdon Church (MB) in Burnaby, BC. This church, which began in 1961, has 10 different language fellowships in its body and it is one of the largest Protestant congregations in Canada.
I would imagine there are hundreds of congregations across our land that are racially and culturally diverse. I wouldn’t be surprised to find many MB congregations on this list. Oh, how I would love to hear some stories!
This article has been posted by Christian Leader staff. The Christian Leader is the magazine of U.S. Mennonite Brethren.