We had a great evening opening to the conference reflecting the 10 year anniversary of Michael Emerson and Christian Smith's Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America.
There are any number of great insights in this discussion. For example, most of us who are "white" do not realize how much more complicated things are for "others." We walk into stores. We go up to bank tellers. We rent cars. No problem. "Others" face questions, suspicious looks, watchful eyes. It's not that we ask for these privileges. Indeed, we don't even realize we are privileged. This is a great thing to be aware of.
Language of "Repent of the sin of racism" or "Acknowledge that the structure of things is sinful" has a tendency to alienate. While no doubt there is plenty of latent racism and injustice in the systems of things, a much more helpful approach is simply for "whites" of middle and upper class to acknowledge the privileges they have and that "others" face challenges we do not. Then we can begin to talk about changing the way things are as a society rather than focusing on myself as an individual.
It is simply unacceptable from a Christian standpoint for "whites" to earn on average 20 times what African-Americans do (it has progressively become worse over the last 30 years). Don't try to explain it away... "It's because..." Whatever you might think the cause is, it is an unacceptable situation and all Christians should want to see it changed. We can agree to work toward solutions.
A great insight is to realize that the category of "white" isn't even real. It is real because of social construction but has no intrinsic reality. "White" is simply not "other." So when the Irish first came here, they weren't white, but now they are. Where do whites come from? Are they English? French? Scandinavian? Spanish? Did we all come from the country Whitey? You might have noticed that Hispanic was not considered a distinct race on the most recent census but a subcategory of Caucasian. Race is ultimately a matter of social construction.
The current hives many are feeling over illegal Mexican immigrants is really an old worn out page from American history whenever there is an influx of "others," and those all bent out of shape over it don't know their history. Historically they will end up looking just as foolish as those who got all bent out of shape over those drunken Irish Catholics or those stupid Polacks or those Chinsey slant eyed Chinese or Indian givers. Better hide your wallet. Here comes a Jew. And so the masses continue to be tossed around by forces of which they are not aware.
The question of multiracial churches arose. The intentional integration of our churches is one step Christians can take to try to overcome the inherent inequalities of American society. Not easy, not comfortable, but a move in the kingdom direction. As long as we live in different neighborhoods, as long as we worship in separate churches, as long as we do not interact with each other--whatever disperate groups we might have in mind--then the structure of society will have a tendency to perpetuate islands of miscommunication and inadvertant inequities. Obviously this goes both ways, since it is more comfortable for everyone--white and black--to stay with "our own kind." But it is only if we see and hear each other that we can really see things from each other's perspective.
Desegregation was clearly painful. But who would deny that Birmingham today is a far more Christian city than it was sixty years ago? And how much of the current rhetoric over "strict constructionism" of the Constitution is residual resentment of being forced to integrate, of being forced to give women equal opportunity in the work place? Isn't that where those feelings toward Supreme Court justices really started? I personally wouldn't want to be on that side of history.