“Now brother Woodley, Rev. _______ will share his apology with you and then you can apologize to him.” These are last words I needed to hear to understand the jist of “platform reconciliation” about twelve years ago. “Why in hell would I want to apologize?,” I asked myself. I then left the event and vowed never to enable this type of trite confession offering cheap reconciliation again. Over the years the movement has become more sophisticated but the core is still sick, missing key components of actual shalom reconciliation including active and ongoing relationship building (friendship), immense re-education (the real narrative), equal reciprocity and restoration of the loss to the offended party. Addressing racism and attempting reconciliation seems to be big business in Christianity these days. As it stands (usually as either cheap reconciliation or tokenism) I would argue that for the most part, it only deepens the divide. Why? In the words of Jeremiah 6:14
They offer superficial treatments
for my people’s mortal wound
They give assurances of shalom
when there is no shalom
Why is it that good Christian folk can’t get together and really do these things in a way that honors God and empowers everyone? I believe there are at least three major roadblocks in the Western worldview preventing true reconciliation:
1. The dualism which provides a so called “spiritual” escape from people dealing with real life issues. To many Westerners, the problem is primarily “spiritual.” Yet, the wrong that has been done is real to minorities. Generations of people have been affected by the trauma and losses of systemic racism. People who have for generations experienced White privilege don’t realize that they have benefited greatly from that privilege. Systemic racism in American has been a zero sum game. Whites won, others lost. It is real.
2. The individualism that causes people to neglect the systemic causes and issues. Western minded Americans see most everything through a lens of individualism. If they don’t have prejudice or racist feelings against minorities then they feel they are not part of the problem. Yet, the real problem exists because of their denial. The socio-historic policies and laws that favor White males have been in place for over 200 years. They favored one group and excluded others who could not become American citizens or they repressed voting rights when citizenship was granted. We are all in this together. Western Christians need to learn to understand community! If some of are oppressed and others are free-no one has shalom.
3. The hiding place of devaluation of experience over belief. Ever argue with an Christian who won’t listen to your argument but keeps stating their belief? In Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism and I dare to say, Americanism, belief always trumps experience. Bible doctrine , the Constitution, Requirements for Church Membership, etc., all reinforce a graphocentric culture of belief over experience. We feel our beliefs will somehow triumph over our actual experience but church history proves this wrong in every generation. No, our beliefs should be what we do, not what we think. Don’t tell me what you believe, I already know what you believe by what you do or don’t do – so just do it!
I am the first to admit, it is tough to actually address these historic wrongs and find a better future. Real love is really difficult. But love is never passive. It takes true courage to love my neighbor. And love does not just care for individuals and their needs, it stops the systems of oppression that continue to damage people. Gotta, jump in the fray – and that’s where I always find Jesus! The sidelines are not an option.
Given the choice, I prefer a racist (prejudiced person) over a racist system 7 days a week! I can eventually find commonality with a racist on a human level and maybe even cause them to like or admire something about me. A racist system though, prevents equal opportunities on a grand scale for generations to come and it leaves the historic wrongs of the past undone. A racist system makes it seem normal to dehumanize the other. Once that happens, you can think or do anything to that person or group and justify it. Hope we can stop this soon.