Last fall, I received an email from my alma mater Williams College, a liberal arts school of 2,000 students nestled in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains. The message informed alums of a hate incident on campus in which a racial slur and threatening message were scrawled on a dormitory bathroom. Although I was surprised that something like this could happen at a place like Williams, I wish I could say that the incident was an isolated one.
Just in the past month alone, there have been racial incidents on three well-known college campuses (e.g., Duke, Oberlin, Miami University of Ohio). Although it’s difficult to find any hard evidence of a potential trend, campus diversity experts believe there is increased activity in racially- or hate-motivated misbehaviors across the country.
I highlight these incidents not to examine the causes — an exercise that goes well beyond this article’s scope — but to support Trillia Newbell’s recent post that issues of race certainly still do matter. Moreover, racial issues are not isolated to conflicts between blacks and whites. Many of these recent incidents also involved derogatory actions and words towards Asian Americans and Asian students as well as other ethnic groups.
I know there are people who believe that racism is no longer a problem in our society. Or, if it is a problem, it’s because racism only resides in the minds of an ignorant few who live in cultural contexts that keep them either blinded to, or antagonistic towards, our country’s increasing multiculturalism. But the fact that these activities are occurring at colleges that are often considered amongst our country’s most tolerant and liberal should be a cause for concern for us all.
And yet, Christians can also view the current racial climate as an opportunity, one that we have often not taken advantage of enough in the past. Christ’s reconciling work in our lives gives us a unique power and ability to similarly extend love and grace to those who may be vastly different from us. What a witness it would be to the world if Christians could get this right. Imagine the wonderful passage in Galatians 3:28 (“Therefore, there is no Jew nor Gentile…”) with different races and ethnicities represented instead — and what the church could look like if we actually lived this out:
- It would mean that in our Christian homes and families, we are regularly inviting and breaking bread with people who are vastly different from us. Racially, socioeconomically, life stage-wise, or in any other way you can think of.
- It would mean that we are helping our kids learn at a young age that racial differences are a gift from God and not a curse, that no one race has any superiority over another, and that our words must always be seasoned with grace and love, rather than enmity or hate.
- It would mean that in our churches, we are not merely satisfied to be in a congregation that reflects ethnic or racial diversity, but that we are constantly finding ways to bring diversity into our leadership, worship styles, social gatherings, and outreach strategies. Perhaps instead of having doughnuts and coffee at every post-service fellowship hour, we take the effort to showcase all the different cultures present in our congregations and our society.
- Finally, it would mean that on our college campuses, the Christian communities are the ones at the forefront when race-motivated incidents occur, standing in solidarity with those who are hurt, fearful, or angry, and advocating for justice when racial incidents occur.
We do not live in a post-racial world, and quite honestly, I doubt we ever will. But where sin abounds, grace can abound even more. I actually doubt we’ll ever see total eradication or even a significant decrease in the kinds of racially-motivated incidents that I’ve been reading about lately. But it would be a welcome change to discover that an increasing number of Christians are truly living out our calling as God’s agents of reconciliation, both inside and outside of our nation’s ivory towers.