It can always be a little bit of a minefield for a lily-white Iowa guy like me (not enough sun to even maintain a decent tan!) to talk about racial issues.
Years ago, my church and my association in Cedar Rapids were making specific efforts to reach out and fellowship with a predominantly black church in town. We had a wonderful joint service. A representative of our state convention was there and stood to make remarks about the meeting. In the process, he made a statement that made me cringe and evidently gave great offense to the choir from the black church. He was simply trying to say how glad he was to have black churches and white churches fellowshiping and he stepped on a Claymore in the process.
(Note: even the terminology can be difficult here. Should I say “African American” or “black?” I’m going to stick with the more common designation “black” in this blogpost, hoping to give offense to no one.)
I tell that story for a simple reason – it is uncomfortable to talk about race and so easy to inadvertently and unintentionally give offense when we do. I can tell you that I do not consider myself a racist. I can tell you that my children (my oldest just turned 30) have never heard me use the “n-word” except perhaps in explaining to them how offensive it is. I served a church that had entrenched racism and I stood against it (even got ambushed at a business meeting and lost some money in my financial package as a “message” from those racists that they did not appreciate my comments and actions about race). To my knowledge, I have never intentionally hurt, oppressed, discriminated against or denigrated someone because they were black.
But, it is possible that I have given offense without knowing it. And there are certainly times when I could have done more and did not. I have realized in recent years that I still have a lot to learn about the process of racial reconciliation.
I met Dwight McKissic at the Convention in Orlando. He was talking to Tim Guthrie and I walked up to say hi to Tim. Dwight and I introduced ourselves. I knew Dwight by name and had heard him preach at a North Central States rally in Indy years before (dude can preach!). He knew of my writings at sbcIMPACT where I blogged at the time. Later that day, Dwight offered a motion (resolution?) on racial reconciliation, which was referred. Dwight’s attempt to bring it for a vote failed before the convention. I went down and found him on the convention floor and told him that the fight was not over and that I would use whatever influence I have as a blogger to help him keep his cause alive.
Since that day in Orlando, I have come to consider Dwight McKissic a good friend and my respect for him has grown. He is a man of passion and integrity. I have also learned from him. I’ve read his posts (which he often shares with us here, then vigorously defends in debate). He has an amazing capacity to deal graciously with those who disagree. He will also call people on the carpet when he thinks they are wrong. He does not get offended by people who disagree with him.
What I would like to do today is reflect a little on what I have learned from him about racial issues.
1) As a white man in a white world, I really don’t see the world like a black man does.
The day I met Dwight in Orlando, he pointed something out to me, something that had been right in front of me but I had never noticed. He told me that during the Convention, there had not been a single black man on the podium. It was a lily-white convention. I never noticed that. I know that none of the leaders of that convention said, or even intended to say, “Let’s keep the stage white!” These were honorable men who would never do such a thing. But the stage was still white and I never noticed. Dwight did.
We who are white like to talk about being color-blind and want racial issues to simply go away. We have repented of the sins of the past and have expressed our intent to include black Baptists in our convention life. We have no intent to be discriminatory or oppressive. We want the issue to be over. That is a luxury we have as white people – to declare ourselves color-blind.
But Dwight has helped me see that I do not see the world like a black man would. He has told me stories about being a black pastor in a white convention. He has shared stories that make my hair curl about offenses that still go on. As I have talked to him and listened to him, I just came to realize that I see the world differently.
I have never in my life been pulled over for DWB. Recently, a godly and gracious black man in our church passed away. I sat and talked with him a few weeks before his death about life in Sioux City as a black man, and what he said shocked me. This was about as gentle a man as you could ever meet, but he was pulled over often for no other reason than being a black man in the wrong neighborhood. There were restaurants he did not go to because he would be seated and then ignored. They simply wouldn’t wait on him, because he was black.
Dwight lives in a different world than I do. White people can advocate a color-blind world, but to those who are not white, that is simply not a reality.
2) Racial Reconciliation is more than just the cessation of discrimination.
Of course, there are still people under the SBC umbrella who are racist idiots. They pop up from time to time. The vast majority of us now reject them and their ways. The general reaction to the recent brouhaha over the church that refused to do the wedding for the black couple is evidence that most of us want nothing to do with discrimination anymore.
But, simply ending active discrimination is not the end of the process. It is the start of the process.
We need to make sure that black Baptists feel like equal partners in the work. Electing Fred Luter as our president was an important step in the process, but not a final step.
Do you know of a black man who is pastor of a predominantly white church? I don’t. We will have reached a place of reconciliation when white churches consider candidates for their pulpit who are not white.
When will there be a head of one of our entities who is not white? We can probably never know this, since the inner workings of search committees is confidential, but has there even been a black man given serious consideration as a seminary president or the head of an SBC entity? Are there any entity VPs who are black? (I’m asking – I don’t know of any).
Listening to Dwight has helped me to understand that there is more to this process than just simply the cessation of racism and discrimination. We must do more than just open the doors of fellowship, but must seek to make blacks, Asians, Hispanics and others know that they are full partners in our denominational endeavor!
3) My convictions and priorities on social and political issues are affected by my race.
Anyone who is a reader of SBC Voices knows that Dwight has had a unique perspective on this political contest. He refused to vote for Barack Obama (whom he respects) because of his views on homosexual marriage. He refused to endorse Mitt Romney because he would not clearly denounce the racist past of the Mormon church.
I like to think that my political conviction are biblically-based. But for me, abortion is the watershed of politics. If someone believes that it is okay to kill a baby in its mother’s womb, he or she does not get my vote. I learned from Dwight (assuming that his thinking represents others) that blacks often do not see politics as we do.
A lot of our commenters here expressed surprise that Dwight would hold Mitt Romney responsible for the racist past of the Mormon church. Dwight never claimed that Romney himself supported the racism of the Mormon church. He only held him accountable for refusing to take a stand against it.
Many thought that was unfair and extreme. But I realized as I observed the discussion that our political priorities are often shaped by our background and experiences. Dwight is an opponent of abortion, but that is not the only issue that matters to him. As I see the world through the lens of my own experience, he sees it through his own lens.
We (whites) tend to view immigration as a law and order issue. Those who break our laws to come to America should be treated as law-breakers (because they are). But many see the issue differently – as an issue of justice and how we treat other human beings. Those who have suffered exclusion and discrimination tend to view the world differently.
How important is social justice in the work of the church? Blacks and whites from the same theological perspective often view these issues very differently.
I believe abortion is a great evil and I do not intend to change my views. I think that our borders should be secure and I am not likely to change on that issue. But I realize that how I view those issues is affected by more than just my biblical convictions. It is also affected by my experiences, and people with different experiences (and an equal love for Christ and the Word) can give different priorities to different issues.
4) We don’t have to agree, but we do need to converse.
There is nothing distinctively more righteous about being black or white or Asian or Hispanic. And, of course, our primary identity is our relationship with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. But on this earth, racial issues will always be an obstacle to overcome. The Body of Christ includes people of different races and different backgrounds and coming together as one is always going to be a challenge.
We tend to live in isolation, attracted to others who are like us. It is an impulse we must fight. We need to be intentional about conversing and interacting with people who are different – racially, socio-economically, and experientially.
We do not have to agree with one another to benefit from our interactions. I am better off for having met Dwight in Orlando and hearing his perspective on things. I have learned a lot about racial issues that I would not have learned in isolation with my white brothers and sisters.
It is worth it to converse, to discuss, and to interact – even if the process gets difficult along the way.