From my experience, I have found that many disagreements around racial issues revolve around differences between the participants’ definition of what counts as racism and what does not. Hence, I have found George Yancey’s book, Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (IVP 2006), helpful in this regard. Yancey, a Christian sociologist at the University of North Texas, describes in the first part of his book two different definitions of racism and four basic models of racial reconciliation that flows out of them. In this blog, I want to briefly outline them for you. Continue reading “Four Models of Racial Reconciliation”
Last week, on June 17, 2015, a white man joined a bible study/prayer meeting inside the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and later, shot and killed nine people, including the pastor. It was described as a hate crime.
I almost did not know what to say. As I read, watched and heard the news, I have only sadness. Yet, with the powerful witness of the grieving families, and the resultant show of solidarity in South Carolina, I also have hope.
I feel I need to write something about this, but I don’t think I have anything new to add to what many have already said and wrote on the matter. So, I choose in this post to share with you some of my favorites that I read/watched on the Charleston shooting, that you may be edified.
I have been alerted to an interesting article: Jesus Was Not Colorblind: Racial Slurs and the Syrophoenician Woman. It’s a reflection based on Mark 7:24-37. The author, David R. Henson, suggests that “Jesus uttered a racial slur” towards the Gentile woman – the “giving crumbs to the dogs” reference. Henson then re-imagines this story in the racial context of the American Deep South:
Perhaps we can put this story in better context, my current context, the Deep South. Imagine the Syrophoenician woman as an African-American woman who comes to Jesus, a white male, seeking to be healed. In response, Jesus dehumanizes her, calls her an animal, a female dog, a bitch, even! Maybe he goes further, criticizes her for seeking a medical handout and labels her a welfare queen. He asks her why the good things meant for whites only should be given to the sweet little n*****s.
If those slurs are too harsh, choose a different one: a House Negro, an Uncle Tom, an Oreo. Boy. Dominant, oppressive cultures have a long history of assuaging their own latent guilt with terms of endearment for those they are abusing.
Do these diminutive forms, even when they have been used affectionately by whites, soften the sting of raw racism in the words? Clearly not, and I don’t think Jesus’ diminutive case of “dog” in this text softens the bite of his own racism either.
So what are we to make of this exchange? … This, I think, is the great lesson of the Syrophoenician woman. It teaches us the dynamics of racism, of how even the best of humanity — the Incarnation himself — can get caught up in systems of oppression, in a culture of supremacy. As a good Jew, Jesus would have been reared to give thanks daily that he was born a Jew, not a Gentile, a man and not a woman. Jesus could not help but become entangled by such a sexist and racist snare.
Jesus, given his embedded culture, could not be colorblind. And neither can we.
This created a little stir among my Facebook friends, which was how I was alerted to the article in the first place. Was Jesus racist? My position is that, YES, Jesus was not colorblind (in the way that most people use the term in North America in relation to racism) – Jesus would acknowledge and affirm everyone’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds – God created them as such! BUT Jesus (and God) shows no partiality to any persons or groups or peoples (Deuteronomy 10:17; Luke 20:21).
This is an edited excerpt from my previously published article, “Racism, Revelation and Recipes: Towards Christian Inter-Cultural Communities” (Christian Educator’s Journal, April 2008). It lays out a biblical-theological perspective on ethnic diversity and racism. I regard this as still a work-in-progress.
A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Diversity & Racism
1. Diversity, in and of itself, is a God-created good that reflects the unity (oneness) and diversity (three-ness) of the Triune God.
This article was published in The Banner, March 2003, pp. 38-40.
Christians are not immune from racism. For example, [on the day of] his ordination ceremony, a Black pastor of a white Toronto congregation was mistaken for the janitor! A visiting elder assumed that the only black man in a white church must be the janitor. This is a subtle and even unconscious form of racism.
Even the most intelligent people fall prey to racism. The noted theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper believed that “the highest form of religion, i.e., Calvinist Christianity, and the highest kind of human being on the creaturely scale, i.e., the white race [and not the blacks] belonged naturally together” (Infected Christianity, p. 93). Kuyper actually called the “life of the colored races [in] Africa [as] a far lower form of existence” (Calvinism: Six Stone Lectures, New York: Revell, 1899, p. 34).
Racism is a sin that needs to be rooted out of the church. But so far there has been very little theological analysis of racism. Most Christians rely on sociological and psychological studies. Though helpful, such studies do not sufficiently address racism as a spiritual sin. If racism is a sin, what exactly is the source of this sin? Why does it have such a strong grip on people? Is the cure simply a matter of ‘sensitivity training’? Are affirmative-action policies adequate? Or, to ask a question directly affecting us Reformed Christians, how did Abraham Kuyper’s philosophy contribute to South Africa’s apartheid? Continue reading “The Myth of Race”