I was watching coverage of the trade yesterday between the Broncos and the Jets. A nearly unknown quarterback (Tim something) was traded to the Jersey Jets for draft picks, in a move reminiscent of the Romans sending innocent Christians to the Coliseum to battle wild beasts. Tebow has been the subject of more debate than any other player I can remember. Supporters have accused John Elway and John Fox of conspiring against Tebow, possibly for reasons of faith. Tim is an outspoken Christian (an understatement), which endeared him to some and annoyed others (even some Christians).
But what shocked me in this discussion was the introduction of race into the Tebow controversy. A couple of former black players claimed that one of the reasons that many in the NFL do not like Tebow is because of suspicions that his popularity is based on the fact that he is a white man. Stephen A. Smith (not one of my favorite commentators) addressed this and said something that started me thinking. I didn’t write down the quote, but it went something like this.
You cannot ask us to forget our history. We’ve lived in a culture in which we were ostracized and abused on the basis of race. You cannot tell us to simply forget that and embrace a colorblind approach. When we see a quarterback like Tebow celebrated as enthusiastically as he was, it naturally raises racial issues in our minds. Would people be that excited about him if he were black?
(Again, this is more of an impression I gained from what Smith was saying. It is nothing near to a quote.)
This morning there was a show that reviewed the spectacle of the OJ Simpson murder trial. Racial divisions could hardly have been more apparent than at the announcement of the verdict. White people had looks of horror on their faces that asked, “How could they let a murderer go free?” Los Angeles’ black community rejoiced that a black man had gotten “justice” through the system.
Yesterday, it was announced that VCU men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart would not accept the same position at Illinois. ESPN reported an interesting fact. Illinois has never had a minority head coach in either football or basketball. They wanted to hire Smart to end that record. He turned then down. But in the aftermath, the AD at Illinois made the requisite statement that ADs, GMs and owners have made.
We are looking for the best coach, regardless of race or anything else.
We all love the ideal of a colorblind culture in which one will be judged on the basis of the “content of his character” not the color of his skin.
The Southern Baptist Convention is opening a new era of race relations this summer. New Orleans Pastor Fred Luter will be nominated. It would surprise me if another serious candidate is even nominated. Who is going to stand in the path of this historic event? Southern Baptists are not united on many things, but there is overwhelming opinion that it is time that the SBC elect a black president and that Fred Luter is the man to fill that role.
When we discussed the nomination here a month or so ago, one of the commenters raised the colorblind issue. He was not opposed to Fred Luter’s election, but said it should be done on the basis of Luter’s qualifications, not the color of his skin. Again, that is a noble goal, and maybe one day color will have no impact on anyone’s mind. But in this day, I wonder if truly colorblind interaction is possible.
Answer this question. When you think of Bryant Wright, what is the first thing you think about? “He’s a white guy.” I doubt that is it. But when you think about Fred Luter, what goes through your mind? “Black Southern Baptist pastor Fred Luter?” Am I wrong? Fred Luter is a prominent pastor who is, from everything I’ve seen, eminently qualified to be the president of the SBC. But isn’t it a little bit of a fantasy to pretend that his race isn’t at least part of the reason we are voting for him?
I plan to vote for Fred Luter as president in New Orleans because I want to see our convention reverse years of history and negative perceptions by electing a black man as our president. I am not going to New Orleans colorblind. Luter’s race is a part of the calculation.
There are some facts that I do not believe most will argue with.
1) The SBC has a racist history.
2) The SBC has repented of its racist history.
3) The SBC has taken signigicant steps to include blacks and other minorities into SBC life.
4) The SBC has not completely removed all traces of racism or discrimination from its ranks.
5) The vast majority of white SBC pastors and even perhaps church members today reject racism, find it offensive, and consider themselves to be supportive of racial reconciliation.
Do I need to argue these points?
I’m a white guy. In Iowa, we are indoors all winter with little exposure to the sun – we take whiteness to a whole new level. I was raised in Iowa where whites are an overwhelming majority in population. I am used to white culture and white company. Both of the Iowa churches I’ve served in the last 20 years have had their doors wide open to minorities, but have reflected the Caucasian makeup of our neighborhoods. My oldest son will turn 30 this summer, and I can say that not a one of my children has ever heard me use the “n-word”, except perhaps in instructing them about the word and why we should not use it. I do not consider myself a racist, and I would argue with anyone who tried to paint me as one. But I do not see race the same way a black person does – my experience is so different as to make that impossible.
In my first pastorate (in rural Virginia) there was a strong strain of racism among the people. According to the Bylaws, anyone was welcome, but I’m pretty sure many of our members would not have rolled out the welcome mat for any black people who decided to visit. I had a good friend in Cedar Rapids who pastored a black church there. I shared with him one day some of the things that happened to me at that church. He especially loved to hear me repeat some of the horrifying things people had said to prove they weren’t racist. I had a copy of a history of the county we lived in, which trumpeted the good race relations there and credited the fact that the blacks knew their place and stayed in it. It is my understanding that even in that hotbed of racism, things have improved dramatically in the last two decades.
And I stood against those things at that church. I remember saying, once, “Some of you aren’t going to like heaven very much. There will be black people there.” Strangely, it got very cold in the sanctuary that summer day. I was horrified when I heard one of our best men tell me that he wasn’t racist, because when he went hunting, their “maid” would clean the game he killed and he would give her some of the meat.
I was deeply offended by that nonsense. But my reaction was not the same as a black man’s might have been – even one who loves Christ and wants to walk in unity. I have never had to worry about the cops pulling me over for no reason other than the color of my skin. I’ve never experienced being judged as “less than” simply because I was white. My reaction to these things was anger and dismay. How could Christians think that way? But a black man might have a much more visceral and personal reaction.
I can say all day long that the SBC has repented of its racism (we have) and that we have taken steps to correct the past (we have). But I can never understand race from Dwight McKissic’s view. He has walked a different path than have I. I will never know the injuries and hurts inflicted on black people by whites, or the insensitivities shown to them. I can hate racism, but it may be hard for me to ever really understand what it is like to live under it.
- I think we would all love a colorblind society, but right now, I think that is impossible.
- While we have made great strides as a denomination, we need to continue to take the steps necessary.
- It is not up to us to determine when we’ve done enough. Perception is reality here. When have we done enough to repair our racist history? When people of other cultures and other skin colors no longer feel as if they are guests at the table.
- We need to listen to minorities among us and pay attention not just to our actions, but to the perception of our actions. I have never done anything in my life to hurt a black person because they were black. But has a black person ever felt I disdained them? I don’t know. But I have to factor in not only my intent but the perception of my intent from others. We need to listen to the Fred Luters and Dwight McKissics of the SBC and try to hear how they perceive our actions.