How Should (White) Christians Respond To Racism At Mizzou?

At the gym this morning a guy I know from church asked me if something was going on with the Mizzou football team. When he saw my facial expression he quickly added that he’d been out of town for a couple of weeks.

With the University of Missouri appearing on the front page of the New York Times, BBC, ESPN’s Mike and Mike, Good Morning America, and more, my friend at the gym might be the last person to find out that the past few weeks in Columbia have been pretty tumultuous. I am not going to try to capture where we are right now (it’s changing even as I write this) or what led up to it. The issues are too nuanced for a blog post and there are plenty of other sources where you can find that information.

Instead as a pastor at a church in the community, I want to help Christians (more specifically white Christians) think through how we should respond.

1. Seek Understanding. Whenever you see people on a hunger strike or camping out in the quad or interrupting a homecoming parade, there’s probably a backstory. They most likely didn’t decide to take these actions because they were bored. They probably feel desperate, as if they have no hope, and those radical measures are necessary to gain attention and bring about change.

So I think that the one of the best things that we can do is to ask people to share their story and experiences with us to help us understand where they are coming from. When you start asking black students those questions, you get some eye opening responses—responses that I promise will grieve you.

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Please take a minute and read Bizzie’s story by clicking here or on the thumbnail above.

2. Seek To Apply The Gospel. The Bible speaks to the racial divide providing both example and motivation to bridge it. It’s easy to miss the racial and ethnic tensions in the New Testament but they are there in the suspicion and animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans and Greeks. Racial prejudice is at the center of perceptions of unfair treatment in church (Acts 6), the disciples’ shock that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan (John 4), Jesus’ telling a parable with a Samaritan as the hero (Luke 10), the early church’s uncertainty if Samaritans could be Christians (Acts 18), the controversy over eating food and what it meant to keep the law (Galatians 2).

The clear example of Jesus is that he took the initiative to cross boundaries and reach out to the one who is different. Jesus never hides behind cultural walls or stays on his side of the tracks. He always pursues even at great cost.

For the Christian the incarnation is the end of tolerance for racial division. Jesus left his culture, he left his comfort to live with us and pursue a relationship with us. Our sin made us radically different than him but that didn’t prevent him from reaching out. Just as he was sent to us so he sends us to the world. He calls us to reach out to those who are unlike us, to listen to those with different experiences, to love those who we don’t understand, to serve those that disagree with us.

Where do we get the power and spiritual resources for that task? From Jesus of course. We get the power to pursue and listen and empathize and learn and love and serve those who are different than us by remembering that Jesus did all that for us when we were different from him. I think that’s at least part of what it means when it says that Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2). Racial reconciliation isn’t primarily social work or political correctness. Racial reconciliation is gospel work. It’s kingdom work.

3. Seek Justice. Many of us would like the church to sit out of social justice issues because they are complicated and controversial. I’m hesitant to even mention Concerned Student 1950 or their demands. That’s because they bring a level of messiness to the issue that I’m not comfortable with. I know that I’m on sure ground when I say that the Bible calls racism sin but the Bible doesn’t take a position on the specific demands related to the Mizzou students.

But does that messiness give us permission as Christians to stay uninvolved? I’m not so sure. In Isaiah 58 God chastises the Israelites for pursuing a faith that is disconnected from social justice. Don’t miss this. God has hard words for those who define their faith in only “spiritual” terms and neglect to help the marginalized by fighting against injustice and oppression. The work of social justice that brings real help to real people means getting involved in the issues of the day. William Wilberforce and his friends in the Clapham Sect didn’t bring an end to the slave trade or other injustices in 18th and 19th century England by staying in their ivory towers. God’s call to work for social justice calls us to get involved at the street level. That means that we will get our hands dirty. It might mean that we might have to make alliances with people we don’t agree with on every issue.

In the midst of all this messiness of working on social justice we are going to have to extend each other grace. It’s possible that people of goodwill (even Christians) working toward the same end will disagree on the necessary steps to accomplish the goal. Perhaps some will believe that a hunger strike is the appropriate next step while others are sure that’s just the wrong move and a slower approach is needed. Will we extend grace to each other, seeking to understand where the other person is coming from or will we demand that people not only agree with us on the end goal but also on the means to accomplish it?

4. Seek To Examine Our Own Hearts. I know that we don’t want to think that we are racists or buy into racial stereotypes. But all the research shows that every one of us has implicit biases. More importantly the Bible tells us that all of our actions, words, and motivations are tainted by sin (Genesis 6:5). None of us have any business thinking that we are free from any sin or that any sin is beneath us.

Ask God to reveal to you any racial animosity, any laughing at racial jokes, any harmful stereotyping that might be present in your life.

The last few years have provided me a steady opportunity to recognize and repent of my own racial sins. I’ve had to repent of the sin of suspicion, which led to being afraid of a person because he was black. I’ve had to repent of an unloving spirit, which kept me from seeking to understand how black people see the world. I’ve had to repent of being unmerciful which led me to believe that black people were making up racism to gain sympathy.

I’ve had to repent of the sin of believing that black people are lazy and that’s why the black unemployment rate is higher than it is for white people. I’ve had to repent of the sin of believing that black people aren’t as capable which is why they favor affirmative action.

I have had to repent of smug self-righteousness that led me to believe that I was more successful than my black peers because I was smarter or worked harder rather than admitting that I had advantages they could only dream of.

I had to repent of the sin of seeing black people in positions of influence and wondering if they got their position because of their skin color.

I remember sitting in a Promise Keepers event years and years ago thinking their emphasis on racial reconciliation was silly and misguided. How arrogant of me to think that I knew better than everyone else. How foolish of me to have such a poor understanding of the Bible and the heart of God.

I wish that I could say that all my racial sins are behind me but that would be more foolishness on my part. Just like every other sin in my life, I expect to have to fight against the sin of racism until the day I leave this world and meet Jesus.

 

I don’t pretend that if we do these 4 things any racial problems will be solved. Hardly. But it would be a small, significant step in the right direction for (white) Christians to reach out in love toward their black neighbors.

12 Comments

  1. Tricia said:

    This is what everyone needs to hear! Thank you!

  2. Charlotte said:

    I greatly appreciate what you have said. Jesus said “Love one another and love your neighbor as yourself” If we showed love to one another – black, Mexican, Indian, white, etc….everything would turn around. But, when we take God out of school, government, homes….that makes it very difficult. Christians must take a stand and PRAY for our students that we don’t use racial comments…which goes both ways! Today we are seeing white people also being attacked by black people. PRAY, PRAY and LOVE GOD. It bothers me that whites and blacks have no trouble taking the name of my GOD in vain and that bothers me so much more than someone calling me a bad racial “name”. My God wants us to treat one another in LOVE and honor and glory HIM in all we do.. .

  3. Angela said:

    The best part of this blog in my opinion is “Racial reconciliation isn’t primarily social work or political correctness. Racial reconciliation is gospel work. It’s kingdom work.” I’m in leadership at a multiethnic church just outside of Charlotte, NC & would like to humbly recommend a book by our pastor Derwin L. Gray “The High Definition Leader: Building multiethnic churches in a multiethnic world” (http://thehdleader.com/). You’re so right. Racial reconciliation is so much more than pragmatic principles, it IS gospel work…what better way to show the power of Jesus’ love & grace to non-Christ followers than to worship together on a Sunday morning, to do life together, to serve one another? I’m praying for your church, that you’ll be a people who bridge the racial divide and help bring healing to your community.

  4. Janet said:

    My family is diverse. I pray for the day we do not need to have these “black/white” conversations in our home about racial issues in our community, state and country and we can all see each other equally, fairly, with love and grace. I want my sons to be safe and respected and not identified by color. Thank you.

  5. Tina said:

    Thank you again for displaying your heart! Compassion and Love! Being open to a dialogue is critical now more than ever we have generations depending on us.

  6. Dan Vinson said:

    Amen and Amen! Thank you for turning our eyes and hears to see and hear what our gracious Lord Jesus, our Almighty God, wants us to see and hear. My the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead cleanse us of our sins. Show me how to seek understanding, apply the gospel, and work for social justice, for we know that you are at work in us and among us.
    Dan Vinson

  7. Brad said:

    Keith, some very good thoughts – I still draw people’s attention to the article you wrote on Colby Rasmus. It is a sad situation we are facing at Mizzou (and in the US), but I think it was predictable. Keep encouraging folks to be in the Scriptures, and, like John the baptist, understanding that He must increase and we must decrease. Brad Russell

  8. We do need to be careful not to convince ourselves to bully people, just because we want to seek justice. How did Jesus treat the sinners? With kindness and respect.

    The Mizzou protesters have bullied Mizzou administrators into being defamed and disrespected. They’ve made racist demands, and done all sorts of things that we need to be careful about not supporting.

  9. Susan Early said:

    I agree that the protestors have done their fair share of bullying too. I am not in favor of big movements that scare people into “behaving” in the way theiir group wants them too Also, Heaping guilt on “white” people is old hat and has been going on forever. I guess it is “guillt” by association – so, now there in intimidation going on in all groups. Not a very healthy environment. Just get back to learning – the reason for college anyway.

  10. Grace S. said:

    Hello, I’m on campus. I’m a law student. I am white. I am a female. I am a Christian. My roommate is a person of color. My friends, and many professors and classmates are all different ages, colors, religions, and come from different political and socio economic backgrounds. I had the chance and joy to pray nightly with the protesters as they were camped directly outside my school for the full week. They were never violent, never rude, and would leave their encampment to do interviews with the media. They prayed for the administration, and what was pivotal to me was the fact that they prayed for the administration. One woman said “I know they are in a hard place, Lord, guide them lord, love them lord, I love them Lord. If our demands are not meant to be met Lord at least let them foster change.” This girl had terrible things happen to her on this campus. I’ve been on campus for over a year now. The injustices are personal, real, and prevalent. There is a lot going on here. The most hurtful thing is that people are characterizing the protestors as selfish, ugly, rude, demanding, and violent. I never saw that over this week. What I saw was a group of hurting individuals, who were so desperate for change, that they turned to staying out in the cold and starving themselves, and to giving it all over to God. A pastor at the nightly prayer session would end by saying “turn to the person next to you, tell you they’re worthy of an education without fear, tell them they are loved.”

    Update: the 1950 Concerned Student Group did not condone the bullying and first amendment violations of the professor and greek life coordinator moments before the administration announced their step down. http://www.komu.com/news/protesters-take-down-no-media-signs/

    This isn’t bullying. It is asking that action be taken when title IX and Civil rights violations occur. There was inaction on the administration’s part. That is technically illegal. The protesters peacefully and prayerfully protested, instead of bringing lawsuit. That isn’t bullying, it is graciousness and a plea for help and cooperation.

  11. Mel said:

    The test is this: will Jewish students , Christians, Asian ,Indian and other students be given the same level of concern and accommodation. If not then this is just corrupt self interest . If so then we must support and work together. Just fixing one type of discrimination and not others is no help.

  12. Miguel Ayllon said:

    Thank you for writing this bold article, Keith. I am grateful that you wrote this because if it would have been written by a Black or minority pastor, it would be easily dismissed as… “oh, here they are whining again” or “he/she is being too sensitive”.
    As a Latino immigrant my heart is very tender toward my Black brothers and sisters in Christ because I have experienced direct and subtle racism here in Columbia simply because of my ethnicity and cultural heritage. Now, as a Latino male, I am also guilty of prejudice in my life and need to daily examine my own heart. Even among racial minorities there are ways to oppress and discriminate among ourselves. We are as broken as our White brothers and sisters in Christ and in desperate need from our Savior, Jesus Christ.
    I have worked at MU for 8 years and this has been my most difficult week working there. I have seen my African American colleagues and students broken in spirit, afraid, and demoralized. What pains me the most is that I see professing Christians second guessing our Black brother and sisters in Christ and their judgment about having racist acts being inflicted upon them. Certainly, the way the protests were conducted on campus was controversial to say the least. Whether we agree or disagree with the way Concerned 1950 handled the protest, the affliction that our Black brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing in Columbia today is very real.
    Today a delightful Black Christian young man stopped by my office crying because when he walked to class this morning, the non-verbal language of White students showed their discomfort and fear of him. This young man was also yelled racial slurs earlier this week just because he attended a race forum on campus. I also had a Black colleague breakdown and cry out her fear and frustration after a social media threat called to eliminate all Black people from campus.
    My wife is White, and we are both learning to become one in Christ despite our racial and cultural differences. We are together raising a bi-racial and bi-cultural daughter. There are high chances that my daughter will experience racism as she grows up in Columbia. However, I want my daughter not to be defined by her race or ethnicity, but to ultimately find her identity in Christ, as a citizen of the Kingdom. As a father, I pray that Columbia will become a city where our racial differences and diversity are seen as an asset and not as a weakness. I pray that the Crossing can play a key role towards healing and reconciliation on our campus city.

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