Unity or Destruction: Advance the Kingdom of God or Conserve Your Society?

This article has a target audience-

it is for you if:

  • Your ancestors, at some time, came to the Americas from Europe800px-Welcome_to_the_land_of_freedom
  • You call yourself a Christian
  • You believe white people are often the target of racial discrimination
  • You believe race is becoming a more divisive issue in the USA
  • IF YOU DO NOT FIT THE ABOVE PROFILE; feel free to read and share with others who do.

I have lived a life, which in many ways, is centered around racial unity and harmony. While it has been a journey of challenges and unexpected turns, it has, in DSCN1787some ways been easy. I hear your disbelief, “… how can you say easy?” It has been an easy journey in the sense of following the compass settings, not in the sense of the path’s challenges.

My basic compass setting were:

  1. Learn to listen to and respect views different than my own.
  2. Learn to put this very simple scripture into action.

Philippians 2: 2-5
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Hear me well, I mess up often, I do not even attempt to say I am perfect, or close to it. But I have learned from the best, I have had to challenge my presupposed ideas, and I have become a much better man because of the black and brown people have taught and challenged this white man. These people hold me accountable, yet because I have humbled my self to learn from them, they give me access to their lives as a voice that can help them see beyond their presuppositions.

We are a body, a community, diverse and yet united, connected and yet respected with our own strengths and weaknesses.

Years ago when I started working with student diversity services at a local Christian college, my supervisor asked my how I view and work towards racial and cultural diversity with in the church. I explained to him that after 10 years of living and working in North Minneapolis, I really did not think it was all that hard, we just need to be willing to listen to each other and sacrifice our own self-interest for the good of others. I still believe that is true, but now, 20 years later how naive I was to think most Christians would actually be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others.

At that time, I was hopeful, for all the struggles and setbacks, I believed we were moving to an inclusive future of America, we knew that by 2020 there would be more children of color than white in America, and by about 2050 there would be no one majority group in America. European Americans would be the largest group, yet no racial or cultural group would comprise more than 50% of the population.

This transition could come peacefully. There would be no need to fear a deadly race war, there would be no reason to fear forced reparations. We would listen to facts and logic, we would seek to understand the others around us. We, (white people as a whole) would make changes and begin to accept that since colonization until today the figurative cards of opportunity and chance and stacked for the white man, and against people of color. I believed we could create communities based on self-sacrifice for the mutual benefit; I believed in the Beloved Community.

MY EDUCATION

In the early 1990’s I had my first experiences as one of the only white men in my fam 1989community; in both the school where I taught and in the church where I was a co-Pastor. I believed a few basic tenets:

  1. Racism was real, but it was individual (the acts of a few bad people) and almost extinguished.
  2. America provides equal opportunity to all, if you just do right and work hard.
  3. I had something to offer people that were down and out. I could help them become better people by sharing what I knew.

Those tenets were rooted in the standard American (mis-) education, which was my basic schooling in middle America. These tenets are still in the core curriculum of white American awareness.

However, for me, these tenants began to implode as I walked the Halls of North High, as I drove the streets of my neighborhood, and as I sat and listened to the experiences of people who grew up in an America nothing like the one I was raised to love.

In particular I recall hearing men and women of color, but mainly black men, report to me events of the past week or days in which, the police stopped them, followed them, pulled a gun on them, for seemingly doing nothing.

Yet with every story, my knee-jerk reaction was to say NO!!!

I had NEVER had such an experience, the cops never stopped me for a cracked windshield, and then proceeded to search the car. The police NEVER impounded my car when my tabs were 5 days expired or my insurance card was not up to date.

I KNEW, “the policeman is my friend” I knew America was fair to all who tried.

But inspite of the discomforting feeling, I tried to understand. I didn’t cut people off, I shared my skepticism, but yet I listened. The people telling me these stories were people who had never lied to me, they were people who welcomed and defended me. How could I NOT believe them?

MY AWAKENING

Gradually I began to see the reality I had never know before, I even saw it acted out in front of me again and again. It was difficult to believe such encounters with police were common place for my brothers and sisters of color, when for me they were not existent.

Yet the reason it was most difficult for me to believe this alternative reality in encounters with the police, was because it threatened the tenets from which I viewed my place in the world. My first two tenets began to crumble, I saw first hand that racism was not just individual, there were systems that kept these abuses happening. Additionally, America clearly did NOT provide equal opportunities to all.

To listen to, and believe my friends of color, I had to sacrifice my world view built 042715-ap-baltimore-protest-fist-air-imgaround white security and blind patriotism. I began to understand that as I was able to let go of a personal identity rooted in whiteness, and in americanism with no critique, I could begin to see myself as a fellow human connected to my brothers and sisters in the struggle. I learned that I could sit comfortably with people of color, hear them share their experiences and their critiques of America and of whiteness. I could sit comfortably and know that it was not a personal attack against me as a European American male, yet a critique of the system that had birthed us all and placed us into the gears of society in which we were slotted.

I believed the church could provide a place where, as as society, white, black, and all shades in between, could live into our calling as peacemakers. We could provide a framework where European Americans could be untangled from the tenets of whiteness and where we could sit together to listen, understand, and grow together.

I saw this as a very clear extension of the Gospel and the calling of the early church as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 12).

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. … But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Seldom have I seen the Body of Christ live out the above verses. I did not see it as riots scorched American cities after the police who beat Rodney King were acquitted. That very weekend we spent time in both black and white churches, In the Black Church sermons, prayers and testimonies, sought God’s protection. peace and power, In the white church there was not even a prayer request. One part of the body was suffering, and the other was not even feeling a hint of the pain. Over the intervening 25 years I did start to have hope the Church could awake to feel the pain and respond, I had hope that severed nerves were being reconnected.

In the past year that hope has been all but crushed.

MY FEAR

There were the three tenets, I mentioned above. I shared how the first two were crushed via my experiences in North Minneapolis and beyond. But the third is a bit more insidious, it looks innocent and even compassionate.

3. I had something to offer people that were down and out. I could help them become better people by sharing what I knew.

Yet, at it’s root this tenet it is the defense line of 500 year of colonialism. My fear is the arrogance of this tenet will be seed of our destruction. The public rationale for European expansion and domination was never vocalized as greed, or self-preservation. There was always a moralistic and patronizing myth to colonialism that claimed the European hoards were saviors, bringing light opportunity, the good news, and modernization.

Rudyard Kipling wrote of this in his 1899 poem “White Man’s Burden” which contains the lines:

Go send your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need

To wait in heavy harness On fluttered folk and wild—

Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child…

-The_White_Man's_Burden-_Judge_1899To Kipling, and the Imperialist colonizers (of western Europe and the USA,) the rest of the world was comprised of sullen-peoples, needing to be captured and trained, they were “half devil and half child” True my third tenet did not go to this brazen extent, yet the sentiment was close to the same. It was an assumed belief that somehow I KNEW that was best for African-Americans in North Minneapolis. (or refugees, or undocumented people, or Native American, or ….. ) The third tenet is rooted in the arrogance that we (white people) have the answers to the struggles of people we do not know or even understand.

For me this belief began to implode when people of color showed me truth I had never even considered existed. Truth about forgiveness and God’s nature, truth about community and family, truth about communication and conflict, truth about creation and human connection. This was not truth apart from God or Jesus the Christ, instead, it was truth that more fully expressed the reality of our Creator.

My fear is tenet three, as a foundational belief of whiteness, indoctrinates European Americans to believe that we do NOT NEED to learn with (or from) people of color and instead we can project OUR values on THEIR experiences. Some results of this arrogant inducing belief:

  1. White People telling Black People when and where their protests should be made, and what issues are deserving for protest.
  2. White People telling Latinos and intercontinental refugees when it is appropriate to flee from violence and poverty in their home countries.
  3. White People telling Native People how to care for their land and what treaty provisions still matter.
  4. White Christians believing that their understanding of the vast mysteries of the Creator and Redeemer are altogether right and final.

I am NOT saying anyone should jettison their faith or values. I am saying we (European-Americans aka white people) must be willing to learn from persons of other races and backgrounds. We must be willing to reshape our opinions rather than just expressing our judgment on anyone who views the world differently. We must let Tenet 3 go the way of legal segregation and forced boarding schools for Indian children.

MY HOPE

We must begin to learn from each other, or we will destroy one another.

I began this article speaking about how my hope for a culturally diverse world of Beloved Community has been severely tested in the last year. Our society has sunk to a new low where racial and cultural intolerance and hatred are normalized. Most troubling is how people who should reflect the Creator’s love and willingness to lay down one’s life, are often at the core of the white-pushback to a racially diverse world. Many Christians who subscribe to whiteness, have elevated the three tenets I noted above, as core issues of faith, and the result is the severing and deepening of the cultural and racial divides of our nation.

Instead, what would happen if European American Christians elevated the compass settings I began with:

  1. Learn to listen to and respect views different than your own.
  2. Learn to put this very simple scripture into action.

Philippians 2: 2-5
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We can imagine a better world. God has shown us the way.

We only need to follow, the Creator,

not in conserving our society…. but in advancing the true Kingdom of God..

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