DIY Faith Opinion

How can one person take us closer to racial justice? These three bywords will help

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — Burdened by the brutality of racism in America, Martin Luther King Jr. stepped to the microphone near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. That was August 28, 1963. More than 50 years later, how far has the American church come in terms of race relations?

If the 21st century is to be different from the previous four centuries, then the American church must exercise even more creativity and effort to break down racial barriers than it took to erect them in the first place.

The most frequent question I get when presenting about racial justice is, What do we do? After years of listing random action items, I have now grouped them into three broad categories.

The ARC (Awareness, Relationships, Commitment) of racial justice helps distinguish different types of antiracist actions. Though not the final word on antiracism, the ARC of racial justice provides a useful framework for taking decisive action against discrimination.

To increase your capacity to fight your own complicity in racism, you can start by increasing your awareness of the issues and the people involved. One particularly fruitful place to start is by reading and learning more about the racial history of the United States. History is about context, so studying history remains vital. It teaches us how to place people, events, and movements within the broader scope of God’s work in the world.

Context is something Bible-believing Christians should understand better than anyone. In our passionate pursuit of biblical interpretation, we know that we must always look at the context. It’s no different with racial justice. We have to develop an awareness of the context to properly exegete the times and apply biblical solutions.

“The Color of Compromise” and author Jemar Tisby. Book photo courtesy of Zondervan. Portrait courtesy of Acorn Studio

Some action steps to increase your awareness include the following:
• Watch documentaries about the racial history of the United States.
• Diversify your social media feed by following racial and ethnic minorities and those with different political outlooks than yours.
• Access websites and podcasts created by racial and ethnic minorities.
• Do an internet search about a particular topic instead of always asking your black friend to explain an issue to you.

Awareness isn’t enough. No matter how aware you are, your knowledge will remain abstract and theoretical until you care about the people who face the negative consequences of racism.

The problem is that it is hard to make friends with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. A Public Religion Research Institute study revealed that in a 100-friend scenario, white people had just one black friend, one Latinx, and one Asian friend. In that same scenario, black people had eight white friends, two Latinx friends, and zero Asian friends. The long history of racial segregation in this country coupled with the tendency to associate with those most like ourselves has left all of us in mostly homogenous social networks.

Some action steps to develop interracial relationships include:
• Start with the people you know. Most of us know someone of a different race or ethnicity. Have you talked with them specifically about their experiences and perspectives of race and justice? These individuals cannot merely be projects or sources of information. They are real people with whom to pursue a meaningful friendship. Still, it takes intentionality to diversify our social networks, and we should start with those nearest us.
• Find new places to hang out. We are creatures of habit and convenience. We go to particular places simply because they are familiar. A purposeful effort to develop relationships with people from diverse backgrounds will carry you to different restaurants, grocery stores, and hangouts. If you strategically organize your spatial habits, the mundane places where you enact your regular routines can become the richest sites to encounter those who are different from you.
• Join a sport, club, or activity with people who are different. In my experience, other than people who have been involved with the military, those who have the most diverse networks of friends have participated in some sort of activity that brought them into frequent contact with people of other races and ethnicities. You may have to engineer these opportunities, but they can lead to organic friendships that cross traditional lines of social division.

Committing to concrete action may be the hardest part of pursuing racial justice. Commitment to the ARC model requires a total shift in disposition so that antiracist activity is a way of life, not simply a topic to which you give occasional and superficial attention. Developing awareness and relationships may create a burden for the struggles of others, but does that burden move you to act? Are you willing to address the systemic and institutional aspects of racism rather than solely work on an interpersonal level?

Action steps for developing a lifelong commitment to racial justice include:
• Create something. Write a blog post. Write a book. Write a sermon. Do a Sunday School class. Host a forum. Write a song or a poem. Create something that speaks to racial justice.
As you do it, though, remember it always helps to get feedback from person from a different racial or ethnic background who is willing to help.
• Join an organization that advocates for racial and social justice.
• Donate money to organizations that advocate for racial and social justice.
• Speak with candidates for elected office in your area and ask them about their views of racial justice and the policies they advocate.
• Vote.

The ARC of racial justice provides an entry point for anyone who may be new to the journey for racial equity. After a survey of the American church’s complicity in racism, though, Christians must undertake courageous and urgent action to correct historic wrongs and their ongoing ramifications.

(Jemar Tisby is president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, where he writes about race, religion, politics, and culture and cohost of the Pass The Mic podcast. This essay is taken from his new book “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” Copyright © 2019 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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  • It will take a long long long long long long time before Asians and blacks become friends but as an Asian I hope blacks as a community own land and property since most do not.

  • In general, I like this article. It’s well written, practical, and keeps everything simple, which is helpful these days.
    Having said that, I have a couple of small suggestions myself.

    (1) Start your “racial equality”, simply by checking out the Bible for 20 seconds. That’s all. Just click on a short list of 10 Bible verses and read them for 20 seconds. Accept those Bible verses as being historically accurate and true. That’s a valid “racial equality” activity, all by itself. Here they are:

    (2) Secondly, Do Not Trust The Media.. Not NBC, CBS, etc, not even RNS. Anytime you see a big news story about a big racial incident, do not immediately trust the dramatic headlines, photos & videos.

    Remember how the late Michael Brown, of Ferguson fame, was originally sold by NBC as a “Gentle Giant” who was “Shot in the Back for No Reason” by a “Racist Cop”? The narrative was eventually disproved (even by Obama’s own Justice Department), but not before the fires were burning and attitudes hardened. The officer involved, is still in hiding for his life, after all these years.

    So I’m preaching to myself too. See that viral RNS story about the March For Life teenagers in the MAGA hats, supposedly bullying and mocking the Native American people? I accepted, based on the video and the Catholic School’s apology, that the story was true, and may still be to some extent. But now a SECOND video is reported on CNN, with far different news.

    Sure, there is still something wrong with that one white teen’s smirk. But now it seems that some Trump-Hating “Black Israelites” were involved — and THEY apparently were the real bullies of the day, the top candidates for exorcism. So I’m going to be more careful in my posts, a la Prov. 18:17.

  • I get the feeling when you say “Do Not Trust The Media,” you really mean the media you disagree with. Where did your new video on the March for Life incident come from if not the media?

  • Happily, I know Asian-Americans and African-Americans who are already friends. When people approach one another as individuals instead of members of groups, it takes less time to break down barriers.

  • How about the media that writes a story; blasts it out to the universe with its own skewed perspective; and then when additional facts come about to disprove its original story was incorrect; there is no correction or apology anywhere to be seen.
    How about THAT media.

  • I agree there’s plenty of that kind of media. I just don’t accept the premise that it’s all found on only one side of the ideological spectrum.

  • Actually, Fox News is my favorite (of course), and I totally despise CNN. (If I were President, that dirty Jim Acosta would be doing all of his stories from ADX Federal Supermax Prison! And that no-good Don Lemon too!!).

    But having said that, my daily quickie routine is simply to click Fox News on my cellphone, read it all, then immediately click on CNN news and read it all. Check out one slant, then check out the other slant, in case I miss something.

    Here’s the real deal: The Bible is infallible and inerrant. But ALL other media, we gotta check everything out first. 1Thess. 5:21 really IS true for today’s media.

    And by the way, Chuck Todd of NBC could use a little ADX time too !!

  • Because facts have a clear liberal bias. As does entertainment. Conservatives are neither the most honest sort nor overly cognizant as to decent story telling.

    The independent (UK), a foreign news agency known for veracity, disproved the manufacturered narrative they the students were in the right. As does the lack of support for your story by adults present as witnesses.

  • I agree that much of the current television news media is skewed to the left. On the other hand, much of talk radio is skewed to the right. It’s not the percentages so much as the fact that they’re skewed in the first place. Reporting that isn’t objective is flawed reporting. Period.

  • Fortunately, presidents don’t have the power to throw people in jail without benefit of due process. Much as the current one might wish he did.

    I agree that media should be checked out. A wise person is skeptical about any reporting, whether from the left or the right.

  • They are the exception and you are absolutely right. cultural and psychological issues stand in the way. for the decades I have lived in America I do not have one single black friend. Plenty of white friends but no blacks.

  • There’s a difference between those that day they report the news (but don’t); and those that comment on it.
    Rush Limbaugh is a commentator- every conservative that listens to him knows he is giving his opinion.
    On the other hand, the NYT says it reports the news; when on the contrary, it’s news stories are biased.

  • No, YOU have a clear liberal bias.

    The Independent “narrative” has already been taken apart.

    And so were your little friends.

  • You have rarely seen a fact you liked. We have alternate facts coming from conservatives. they had to coin new terms for lying.

  • Bob it is not hyperbole. It is an actual description of holocaust denialist anti Semite Hitler apologist Michael. Your kind of guy.

  • There is “still” something wrong with Christian School kids being put into (or permitted to wear) MAGA hats anywhere under the auspices of either Christianity or their schools. Most brown or black people in the United States know that those hats stand for white racial supremacy, white Religion supremacy, enrichment of the already rich, suppression of science, suppression of real health insurance, suppression of voting rights, suppression of civil rights, denigration of public education, opposition to affirmative action, opposition to unions, opposition to gender equality, and lesser regard for environmental issues.

    Any Christian who wants to have any real witness to anybody of any race will skip those hats. Any adult who is not a personally a complete pain in the rear will not ever allow an unemancipated child to wear one of them. When that hat is on a white person, it is an “I don’t like you” announcement in advance to any person of color. It’s not like our black and brown compatriots are idiots who can’t read the hat. They can, and they know what it is about—–which is why most of them voted against it.

  • Human beings are fragile and weak. Racial injustice based on colour, birth, and socio-eco background is often practiced by weak minds and stony hearts. Proper education in the family, at school and at other hang-out hubs can do a lot in forming healthy minds and loving hearts. Long live equality, fraternity, and liberty in thought, word and deed.

  • And not only that. Why were the boys from Covington High School not moved somewhere else, or not supervised sufficiently, so that they did not respond to the Black Israelite group? The smartest move would have been to remove those boys from that place, or to ensure that they did not respond. And that kid with the smirk ought to have been moved away from the drummer. That’s just common sense. I truly don’t understand whjy the adults did not exercise that.

  • Where you stand, depends on where you sit.
    The view that most of the news media (even when you limit it to TV) is skewed to the left, depends on how one defines left and right, ie depends on one’s starting viewpoint. Since the definition of center has moved markedly to the right, it’s easy to label many things as “left skewed”, when, they are actually quite middle of the road. 🙂

  • I know you and I are likely to disagree on this, Alexandra, but here’s what I’ve observed over the past couple of years. Many of the national TV news outlets (CNN in particular) are what I would call obsessed with Trump. I understand why. He says and does so many outrageous things that it makes good copy. But I worry about the ultimate cost of that obsession.

    When a news outlet becomes adversarial, it chips away at the integrity of the free press. And that hurts our democracy. That’s just how I see it. I truly wonder if there are any major news outlets that aren’t agenda-driven anymore. It’s a concern.

  • The right listens to what reinforces their biases and so does the left. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves.

  • Why should they? Aren’t we all free to move about as we will? Or has the facist left prohibited that too?
    Where is your condemnation of the black Hebrews and the spewing of hate? Called the kids vile names for hours. Afraid to condemn a black racist?
    How about condemning a professional protester who marched into a group of kids? Afraid to attack a bad actor just because he’s an Indian?
    Regarding the smirk – we all handle awkward hostile situations differently- some smile, others throw punches.
    How about the ADULT PROFESSIONAL PROTESTER INDIAN walk away? After all, he’s the adult – right?
    But you dislike all white people.
    You dislike trump.
    You dislike all Christians.
    Get a clue.

  • The line has become so blurred between reporting and editorializing that it’s practically nonexistent. My observation is that many on the right take what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity say as Gospel, just as many on the left take what Chris Cuomo and Jake Tapper say as Gospel. There are no Walter Cronkites or David Brinkleys anymore.

  • We are all homo sapiens with different color skins. Unfortunately, stereotypes have developed for each skin color. When these stereotypes disappear in our minds, writings and words, then we will have the needed evolutionary landmark.

  • I agree with you that news outlets ought not to become adversarial. However, news outlets have always been adversarial towards certain entities and persons. There was never a time when “pure news” was the actual standard. Decisions have always been made about what to publicize and what to comment on and how. News outlets have always been “agenda driven”. It’s just that their agenda was much more accepted by many, so it want not noticed as such.

    As intelligent consumers, we need to take everything with the proverbial grain of salt and have more than one source for news. But, on the other hand, writing off everything that a particular outlet puts out as fake news is not useful. And I know that you are not doing this. I am speaking in general.

    Re the attention that is given to Trump — I just don’t know. On the one hand, I wish that most of the media would just ignore him, but then that would not be good, either, because he is the president, and we do need to know what he is doing.

  • I mostly agree. But here’s one difference I’ve seen in television news in my lifetime. Back in the day, the news divisions of the three networks were considered a public service. The networks knew they would lose money on news but they accepted that as part of their obligation for having access to the public airwaves. As a result, the news divisions weren’t beholden to any special interest. They weren’t perfect but they did a pretty good job overall.

    Today, there’s tremendous pressure on network news to make money, which means ratings. That leads to both sensationalism and agenda-driven reporting. In a highly competitive marketplace, every network carves out their niche in order to survive. FOX has their market, CNN has theirs and so on.

    I don’t buy into the “fake news” hysteria but I do understand where it comes from, and the news media itself has to accept some of the responsibility by allowing the line between reporting, editorializing and entertainment to become so horribly blurred.

  • OK. You don’t see why a large group of teen-agers representing a Catholic high school should not have been responding to the taunts of the Black Israelite group?

  • Ok – You still don’t see why black adults representing black racism shouldn’t even be talking to white Catholic kids.
    You still don’t see why an adult Indian professional protester who had no business being where he was (because his permit was for a location 1/2 mile away) should not have marched into the group of kids banging on a drum.
    You approve of the adults behavior because they are people of color.
    YOU are the racist.

  • The adults of conservative religion long since lost their sense, it seems. Now, we’re noticing that most of them are planning to ride this occurrence in Washington to yet another national debate about how right they are and how wrong everyone else is, with those Covington kids pushed out to be the rope itself in the latest of their games of tug-o-rope.

  • I don’t approve of the behavior of the Black Israelites and did not say that I did. But they do have a right to stand and shout what they want, as long as they don’t present a threat.

    I don’t think that what Nathan Phillips did was the ideal thing to do, but he thought that his chanting the prayer song would help to defuse tension between the kids and the Black Israelites.

    I don’t really care what your opinion of me is.

  • So the black Israelites have a right to stand and shout; but not the kids?
    I’ll take double standard for $200 Alex.

  • I’m still wondering why the drummer headed straight towards the kids, instead of heading straight towards the angry, cursing Black Israelites who were causing the mess in the first place.

  • I wouldn’t characterize everyone who wears the hat to stand for all of those things (please no generalizations), the hat is indeed a symbol. When I see that hat my initial assumption is White Supremacist. It triggers fights, bad words and enmity. I agree it’s insensitive. However, I also believe in Free Speech. Businesses can refuse to serve Red Hats, schools can prohibit any clothing with political statements and employers can do likewise but otherwise we have to respect their First Ammendment rights.

  • The drummer walked up to Sandmann and beat that drum right next to his ears. That was rude and disrespectful. I would have given him harsh words. But I agree the adults should have taken over and defused the situation. There was over an hour of harrasment on the part of the Black Hebrews without more than words exchanged. The Native Americans chose to intercede.

  • Their conduct on that tape was despicable – 1:46 hours of it. It is barely mentioned in the press let alone condemnation. You are correct in that it is politically incorrect to disparage minorities.

  • I did not say that the kids did not have the right to be there. I’m saying that the adults ought to have gotten them out of there. Why would someone let kids remain in a situation that could become volatile?

  • I guess I am saying that a church school would have done VERY WELL to exercise the special authority it enjoys over dress codes (for the good of students and the sake of good order) and told kids to not wear political hats on school trips.

    From the racial angle, though, for us individuals who are not students, I really can’t imagine any more offensive signage that I (an old white guy) could wear in front of black and brown people than a MAGA hat. It’s not like the people who wear this stuff don’t know. They do know, and they are enjoying being offensive on purpose. Trump knows as well. He has tapped the well of hate and it’s a gusher for him.

  • Well, I read stuff that does not reinforce what I think. I try to get my news from a variety of sources. It’s hard for me to believe that everyone else is that different from me.

  • I have no clue. Maybe the chaperone was confused and overwhelmed at what was happening; I don’t know. Maybe they just walked 10 miles and had no energy – again; I don’t know.
    I said on day one that I did not like the tomahawk chop song. I thought that was poor behavior and in my opinion is reflective of all teenagers these days who live in virtual reality and bully each other on social media.
    However, the one guy that could have diffused the whole situation was the Indian – who is a professional protester- who should not have been there.
    IF, he was helping the kids by getting between them and the black Israelites; he should have said something. The fact that he did not – proves that he was not there to help but to agitate.

  • No. Show me where I am wrong based on my post above. Which sentence is inaccurate? I’ve gone through the long video twice and the others several times objectively. Have you watched the full video?

  • Mr. Phillips, in a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press, now says the kids were harrassing the ‘old’ Black Hebrews. This totally contrary to the video evidence. I also agree there was rudeness regarding the tomahawk chop.

  • I’m in the middle and I read daily:
    Huff post
    Daily wire
    Daily Caller
    Daily Beast
    Daily mirror
    The Guardian

    (I’m retired with lots of time)

    The conservative sites will publish stories that put the liberals in a bad light that the mainstream press doesn’t cover. I have to wade through a lot of BS and find independent verification to get the facts.

  • I can only say what I observe. I see more and more polarization and less and less willingness to see things from the other perspective. And that is largely reinforced by the information sources people are willing to use.

  • I commend you for your efforts. I wish I had the time to take in that many news sources every day.

    But mostly, I commend you for your BS detector. That kind of critical thinking seems to be in short supply these days. So many people — and the number seems to be growing — are willing to take whatever they see or read at face value as long as it supports their preconceptions.

  • I watched the video several times.

    The way that I saw it, the drummer was walking toward the boys who then surrounded him, and was walking where there was room. The other boys were moving around. Suddenly, Sandman chose to stand where he was, as Phillips approached. It did not seem to me that Phillips had much room to maneuver, but Sandman could have stepped back.

    I believe that a younger person ought to make way for an older person –especially when the age difference is marked, but I realize that may be considered old-fashioned courtesy by many.
    I did not tell you that you were wrong. I suggested that you read the piece, because there are different ways that people may react to that video. I see nothing wrong in listening to the perspectives of others.

  • The kiddies must have been a safer target than a bunch of adults.

    Otherwise, the only other conclusion is that he found the cursing mob unobjectionable.

    Neither looks good for him.