The past month, we’ve been diving into the topic of the Christian response to racial injustice with BridgeBuilders Director CW Allen. You can read Part I here.
Holly: CW, thanks so much for continuing this important conversation. When we left off, we started to discuss the role and response of the church/Christians to racial injustice in our country. I know you have taught on this topic through our BridgeBuilders program. Do you have any biblical examples that you could share?
CW: One example comes from Mark 8:24-26. In this portion of the Bible a blind man is brought to Jesus in hopes that he will heal him. Jesus takes the man by the hand and leads him outside of the village and then he heals him. The first time Jesus touches him, the man says he sees people but they look like trees. There are a couple of things to pay attention to here to gain the proper context:
Jesus is the dominant idea of the text! He is a healer, Son of God, and does what others can’t and won’t do. There are other sub applications that we can draw from the various observations of this text. As I look at it, I’m struck by how Jesus adjusted this man’s sight. It’s not until he touches the man a second time that he sees properly. I believe that is a powerful, timeless truth that we can adopt ourselves and with others. We need a second touch from the Master!
In a non-literal way, I often see people like trees as well. Even though I have been touched by the God of the universe I am prone to stereotypes, gossip, and have my own presuppositions of others. I see others like trees instead of people created in the image of God. I need another touch from the Master! But this reality isn’t a CW issue, it’s a humanity issue.
For example, people often come to neighborhoods like ours because they see people like trees that they want to fix or make Christian.
Holly: Yes, I see that we all have a propensity to view others “as trees”. Going back to the earlier part of the passage, do you think people assume black people are oppressed due to personal sin?
CW: Yes, I do. I think people often see poverty or oppression as a result of personal choices and not systemic oppression. It’s difficult for people to think in terms of systems.
“There is no such thing as systemic racism.”
“We had a black president.”
“Look at -(names successful black person like Ben Carson)- they did it.”
The more I’m learning and processing my faith in this season, I am more convinced that we need to realign our views on individuality vs. collectivism. We really hold our individuality in an idolatrous way. I have been in a few recent conversations where folks have been visibly upset when I, or Piper Kirkpatrick (BB assistant), say we need to prioritize collectivism. We aren’t saying individuality is all bad, we are just saying it’s over prioritized in our American minds and that has seeped into the church.
Someone may view the shooting of an unarmed black person as a one-off incident instead of a broken system. The woes of poverty in a community are easier to normalize when you believe the root cause of their strife is criminality, laziness, or little desire to improve their lives. If we acknowledge and deal with these issues as systemic it becomes overwhelming and folks begin to see their complicity in the brokenness.
Holly: This reminds me of a quote from Ida B. Wells, “Somebody must show that the African-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so.” It moves me to self-reflect on how I (we) the church are perhaps complicit in oppression and poverty?
CW: Sometimes it seems as if we are ok with people living in poverty because Jesus reminds us that the poor will always be among us. While Jesus acknowledges poverty it doesn’t mean that he is ok with it or that we shouldn’t fight to alleviate it. Poverty is a result of the fall. During our BB weeks we use Jeremiah 29:4-6 as a framework of true Shalom within creation and community. During the Babylonian captivity, God’s people were stripped of their spiritual identity, customs, holidays, and some lost their names. Family units were destroyed and they were exiled to a land they had no desire to be in. God uses the prophet Jeremiah to speak to them in Chapter 29, verses 4-6:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Imagine God telling you to have children, build homes, plant gardens, make more babies, and pray for the people and city you hate being in! There is so much in this text but for the sake of time I will just look at what God is calling his people to. He is telling them to seek the Shalom of their community because if it prospers you will prosper.
I bring this up because in our Woodlawn community only 17.5 % of the homes are owned by residents! Woodlawn is 83% African American. At least the people of Israel got to build homes and settle down. There is no way to feel a connectedness, or a sense of Shalom, in a community you cannot invest in or have the power to stay in. We are watching gentrification happen in our neighborhood which is leading to people being pushed out or simply unable to even buy! You just exist there- or as we say, you stay there. Staying somewhere is much different than living somewhere. Living somewhere in our context implies you’ll be planted for a long time.
Holly: There’s a long history behind why home ownership is so low in our community. Does systemic oppression contribute to this?
CW: A few years back some Christian businessmen came to visit our community as they learned about our work. While walking down the streets one gentleman vocalized that he had family members who stole homes from black residences during the redlining and predatory lending era. This is a small, but not isolated, reality for many Christian men and women in America. I believe this is a unique time in our history. Black Lives Matter is gaining more recognition and shedding light on so many of these injustices.
Holly: I have heard many Christians say they struggle to align/support Black Lives Matter because they don’t agree with everything the organization stands for. What would you say about that?
CW: I think it’s fair to say you don’t agree with all the clauses and ideologies of BLM, but I don’t think it’s ok to divorce yourself from the idea of black lives mattering. Simply not being willing to vocally express it without a caveat bothers me at times. People champion movements and organizations that they don’t fully agree with all the time. This is especially true when it benefits one’s bottom line or political view, such as supporting Trump even though he has several moral compromises in order to further political agendas they want. Some will even use out of context scripture passages to prove their point, which unfortunately I’ve heard dozens of times. I am not the end all be all when it comes to the Biible and theology but some things just don’t line up.
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
I empathize with what a person using this text may be trying to articulate, but I don’t agree with the application in our current context. I can’t exegete that application as to mean there shouldn’t be partnership with people who aren’t godly/Christian in 2020 America. I’m not normalizing idol worship as the Corinthians would have in their partnerships. Nor do I call Ceasar god if I align myself with a political leader for change. The application of living in a godly manner amongst the world around us contextually looks different unless we have mirroring circumstances of the Corinthians.
Believers shouldn’t be looting, but partnering for change doesn’t affirm sin. I work with people of different ideologies and they know exactly where I stand and what I don’t affirm. Despite these differences, I love them and I work with them for a better community. In fact, we do it in business all the time. I have a home loan from people that I don’t know, who could be atheist. The same could be said of the grantors I accept funding from for my ministry work.
I think it’s applicable to say that we shouldn’t affirm bad doctrine as truth. We also shouldn’t join in looting. We shouldn’t attack officials/officers in our anger. These all seem applicable. But that doesn’t extend to not partnering with people who believe differently.
The reality is that for decades people have said they agree with the idea of black lives mattering, but have done a poor job of flushing it out. There wouldn’t be a need to affirm black lives mattered if we actually saw changed societal structures, systems, and repentant hearts.
Holly: Do you think if Jesus were on earth today, he would support Black Lives Matter?
CW: When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that he was always intentionally spending time with the oppressed. We see time and time again that he was willing to put his neck on the line to confront
unjust rulers and practices. When we think about the reasons why Jesus died, we often only talk about how he died for our sins. But the reality is that while he certainly died for that, he also died because he was a threat to power and unjust systems. Had things been different politically during that time, Jesus would not have been a threat to anyone. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes he would.
Holly: For people reading this that would like to get involved with the work Sunshine is doing or would like to continue having more in-depth conversations, who should they contact?
CW: I would love for people to experience our BridgeBuilders program! We offer creative and engaging online courses that myself and my co-worker Piper facilitate. We dive into a variety of topics like what we’ve discussed in these Q&A’s. Once COVID-19 is no longer a concern, we will reopen our in person trips as well. In the meantime, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.