What are we going to do about racism?
Introduction (originally posted 2015; update at the bottom)
While we have made some progress in our country, will still have racism. We need to work to reduce it. (Realistically, we probably won’t be able to eliminate it in our lifetimes any more than our ability to eliminate ___; fill in the blank; pick a vice. By ‘reduce racism’ I mean it in two ways. Reduce the number of people who are racist and reduce the amount of racism in a person. If we want to split hairs, it could be argued that a racist can not be fully converted to a non-racist. We can hope that that the level of racist feelings can be reduced to some epsilon level.) One postulate here is that we are all a work-in-progress. Very few of us have reached Mother Teresa levels when it comes to love. I don’t believe racism is a have-it or not-have-it situation. Again, we need to work to reduce the level of racism, in our country and in individuals.
It may be that messages by Jon Stewart, logic, information, or lectures by Sociology 110 professors will reduce racism, but I believe it may require more. To convert (reform/transform?) racists, I believe requires a change in the heart — that is a change in the way people feel.
To effect a change of heart requires more than information, chiding, or logic.
The Claim I Wish to Posit
Here is my claim: One way we can get the requisite change of heart is the presence of Holy Spirit which comes with belief in God through faith. (I’m certainly not claiming that all Christians are non-racist, far from it.)
Christians (believers) are a work-in-progress. Christians are growing, as Christians. My claim is that the Holy Spirit can get us the change of heart we need (to do and not do appropriately, to love our neighbors, and reduce, in fact, racist feelings). It can, and probably will, take time — a long time perhaps. (I can think of many lessons that took numerous Bible studies and sermons for me to get and mathematical concepts which took me numerous lessons to learn.)
I’m far from being able to fully support this claim. However, I do believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change people. My job here is to support that belief.
For now, I will provide a (rather random, at this point) series of lines of thought. Someday, I hope I can organize them into a better flow.
It begins with the first commandment – Love God
Here’s an interesting article: Why the First Part of the Greatest Commandment Is Even More Important Than the Second. http://bit.ly/1K59KjR A few quotes from the article:
- You Can’t Do the Right Thing Without Some Help – If you’re a Christian, you know how hard it is to do the right thing, even though you know what you ought to do….As a Christian, I often experience the “tug of war” between my own fallen nature and the God’s continuing work in my heart.
Acknowledging the existence of God is foundational.
- [people] can treat people nicely without loving God, but he can’t really do the right thing unless [th]he embraces the existence, power and source of what’s true about right and wrong. Unless God exists, moral truth is little more than opinion, and without God’s power we are unlikely to do the right thing with any consistency.
The ‘strength of love’
The killer chose a historic African American church for a reason. For centuries, black churches have been a place of refuge, a voice for social justice and a target of racist violence. The alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, drove two hours to Charleston, S.C., because he undoubtedly wanted a symbol — and he got one. Against all his intentions, it is now the symbol of a living faith. The killer set out to defile a sacred place and ended up showing why it is sacred.
At the heart of the Christian faith is an impossible demand: to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This teaching was demonstrated by its author. The Christian novelist George MacDonald wrote: “ ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,’ said the Divine, making excuse for his murderers, not after it was all over, but at the very moment when he was dying by their hands.” When we see this type of extreme grace reenacted — as in Charleston — it has a tremendous power and appeal.
The killer was welcomed by the ones he murdered, and then forgiven by the people he deeply harmed. These victims and their families have shown what it means to be followers of Christ. And many of us now feel awed and honored to share the same faith as these remarkable Christians.
The victims were the faithful among the faithful. They were the kind who do much of the praying and working in a church, and who lift the sights and standards of people around them. You can see their legacy in those who survived them, striving so hard to be worthy of their example. A pastor friend in Baltimore, Frank Reid, wrote me: “In the midst of all this talk about security, didn’t the Pastor of Emanuel and those eight people exemplify the real strength and security of the Gospel? In the words of one of Dr. King’s first books of sermons, they exemplified the ‘strength to love.’ ”
That is the right phrase to summarize what we have seen in Charleston: the strength to love. Forgiveness is not something soft or passive. It demonstrates spiritual maturity, strength of character, depth, discipline and steadiness. It is the sign of a determined faith, fighting against every natural human inclination. “I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said Bethane Middleton-Brown, the sister of one of the victims. But “she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”
A daughter of one victim told an interviewer that everyone, including the killer, deserves a “second chance.” She made her point confidently and without bitterness. Forgiveness is also a form of freedom — a refusal to be ruled by anger or resentment. It is like laying a burden down.
Public lessons will need to be drawn from the Charleston murders — though I cringe when the first response to tragedy is any pet policy project. It should, maybe, be the third response, made a few respectful days later.
The United States clearly has two problems. The first is a problem with racism. These Americans were killed because they were African Americans. How does a long history of hate jump to the next generation? Reflecting on that question should lead us to root out racism in our laws and lives, in the myths we perpetuate and the flags we fly. Second, the United States has a problem with angry young men, radicalized by the Internet. When these two problems are combined, the result is domestic terrorism. There is often no web of conspiracy to track, just signs of murderous intent, which our society must somehow be more alert to confront.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached over the coffins of the children killed in the Birmingham church bombing, he said, “History has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.” That is already true in the examples of the lost; now it needs to be reflected in the conduct of the living.
Read more from Michael Gerson’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.
My words/summary points: Gerson shows that the Christian faith offers hope on a number of fronts, including comfort for the victims, an example of how to love, moving forward, and love as a transformative power.
“Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.” ~ #CSLewis
Again, this is far from complete. I hope to add to this posting. It needs a lot of work. We have a lot of work to do to reduce racism.
In summer 2020, after the death of George Floyd there as been a huge amount of discussion about racism. I have done much reflection (which I won’t log/detail at this time) and discussed it with people. My four take-away’s/goals I am setting for myself
- Continually grow my awareness,
- Develop relationships,
- Build people up,
- Cultivate opportunities for people.