Why Reconciliation Isn’t Working: Ramblings on the Church’s Unwillingness to Leave the Jim Crow Era

22 07 2015

 

Black Live Matter

Amuse my wonderings.

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We are in a dangerous place if one of the first questions in our theological process isn’t: What is this for? Variations of this question are acceptable: Who is this for? What am I doing this for? Towards what am I believing?

These questions are important to consider because oftentimes theory and praxis in the church are more distant than many of us want to admit. Our churches are behind – not necessarily the progress of the world (I’ll try to locate the article I read some time ago naming how churches were decades behind “the world.”), but the progress of communities in particular time periods.

The church is not behind the world. Today, the world is quite murderous and muting towards minorities, people of color, and women (class is interwoven here too). The church isn’t too far off from this. Thus, my concerns for the church’s anachronistic existence. The church of today seems more like a newly postcolonial entity (not in terms of progressivism, but in terms of existing directly after the “end” of colonialism). A colonial mentality is quite affirming, once we think about it:

“I’m here to show you how to do Christianity like me!” –  Read: I can bring my entire self into your religious world, and fully exist there, something I will not allow you to do if you choose to enter into my own.

“Of course you are allowed to keep your traditions! They are so culturally rich and beautiful!” – Read: Your traditions, your cultural and literal languages will be tolerated for how I perceive how beautiful and unique they are. Never mind that your first language will have to be English and mainline or evangelical churchisms. Your music, your church language, your church mannerisms will be tolerated but cannot be your primary language in my religious space, my religious space that you are laying down a lot to be a part of in order to fully be present in my space that refuses such silliness.

But what happens when a church does not reject an oppressive postcolonial existence is…nothing. Or rather, progressive nothing. Majority churches today are too afraid to name that they might still be Jim Crow-ish. Integration was never minority initiated. Many minority churches are its offspring. Many majority churches are its mother.

For a (hoping to be) postcolonial and non-racist society and its church, this is terrifying. No one wants their church to be of the Jim Crow era. But this is precisely what syphoning how much attention, if any, to attend to the scary reality of being black or a person of color today means consistently and constantly (Shout out to those who will also get physically ill when they see a police cruiser!).

I guess the question for me is, which is stronger? Being more scared of being labeled as currently living into a racist legacy or being terrified that your Christianity tiptoes the line of progressivist idolatry? Are you scared that your faith might get a bad rap or that it might not be faith at all?

For me reconciliation asks and wonders communally: What does it mean to bring your full self to church, to be your full self in church? How is that facilitated? Who should facilitate such a lofty miracle? To be scared of these questions of the persons asking these questions is to worship the terror of being wrong. Jesus wanted liberation. For all. Who gets to determine what our liberations look like?

Bradley Wright’s study on church welcomeness based on race was eye-opening for me. His work brought up questions for me around a question that I am not sure churches doing racial reconciliation are willing to ask or even aware to ask: Is our church interested in being fully integrated?

This is a difficult question to hold because it seems terribly antiquated: it is a question of the Civil Rights era, and no church today wants their purpose, mission and practice to ask fifty year old questions. But they should be, because they are tending to a problem that has lived much longer than that. The church is stuck in a pre-Civil Rights era; this is a problematic ontology, because it illumines how non-church the church is, how the church is in fact not being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is racial reconciliation then? And further, if Christ has done the reconciling work, what are churches actually doing? I wrote a paper last year that argued that from an evangelical standpoint racial reconciliation is more a spiritual mandate than tangible desire (Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith was helpful). It is practiced for spiritual well-being instead of true love-work. In this then, minorities become the platform on which the majority can perform their fantasies and secure their salvation.

I wonder what the anti-integration character of churches aiming to do reconciliation means today. In many ways our faith is for us, for our salvation, monuments to support our good beliefs, this is the complex truth. But if faith does not explore how much it should be for us, it remains about us. Can something that we enter into with our well-being in mind turn our hearts, eyes, ears, minds, words and actions towards others? Only time will tell. Until then, I challenge you (yes, you who is reading) to ask if your church has left the Jim Crow era. Is it fully integrated? If not, why? If you are in a church of the majority and this is the case, wonder aloud and often, is this the Gospel? (Please, let me know if you have a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote for this line of questioning…)

If churches trying to do reconciling work of the racial sort are afraid of their vocal minorities and the heart-wrenching questions and challenges that the Gospel they (minorities) know encourages and brings to the forefront, I’m not sure if they know the Gospel. If churches not doing it but interested in it are afraid of Latin@ prophets and American native truth-tellers, black accountability, and Asian calls to repentance – do it anyway. Do it afraid, do it terrified, do it hurt, pained, pushed, and ultimately allow yourself to be changed. Do the Gospel anyway.

The Gospel is revolutionary, radical, and averse to power. Lay down your obsession with power, your loyalty to comfort, your fear of addressing white fragility, your tears that shut down minority questioning and opposition, your “but” arguments, your “I’m tired of this” mentality and join in. The weary work of wellness is upon you. In fear, exhaustion and pain – embrace it.








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