Tuesday, November 28, 2006

RACISM, CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY & THE CHURCH

SEEKING A REMEDY FOR RACISM. I heard on the news that Michael Richards is seeking professional counseling to help him understand what happened to him--in him, through him--that night at the comedy club when he hurled racial epithets at two black hecklers. Good move. Maybe what he discovers will not only help him, but many more. In terms of Christian spirituality, we attribute such explosions to sin. Healing begins in seeking and finding forgiveness, a changed heart and renewed mind through faith in Jesus Christ. We believe this analysis and faith response is critical to healing personal bigotry and social disharmony.

ADVENT SOUL WORK. Richards’ and Gibson’s outbursts, along with reemerging neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant sentiment, should trigger a season of thoughtful reflection and responsible action for race reconciliation and community justice. Perhaps this should be our primary soul work in this penitential season of Advent. Take the time during the next several weeks to ask "why?" Kindle a fire of holy concern through personal awareness raising, relationship building, and whatever steps these call forth in your spirit. Resistance to diversity, awareness, self-examination, and institutional questioning is a critical spiritual issue. Challenge resistance early and often; let it become, instead, a threshold we walk through, however painfully, into new awarenesses, new relationships, new perspectives.

DEAFENING SILENCE OF THE CHURCH. The silence of the church in regard to racism is as deafening now as it was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to peacefully organize communities for racial justice in the 1960s. With notable few exceptions, his appeals to the churches largely fell on deaf ears. The continuing silence of the evangelical and holiness churches, in particular, is an indictment on its leadership. Every Christian Bible school, home school, elementary and high school, college, university, seminary, and graduate school that does not equip its students to understand and articulate the Christian call to community justice and to stand with suffering neighbors abrogates whatever claims to moral leadership it banally asserts. The lingering question is: Why does the evangelical church NOT speak and act boldly--even lead the nation--in relationship to race reconciliation and community justice?

UNHEALED WOUNDS, UNEXPLORED ISSUES. A generation after the civil rights movement won landmark court decisions and Congress passed civil rights legislation, the "dream" of reconciled races, equal opportunity and justice, and community harmony amid diversity is unrealized. For the most part, most whites recognized the fairness of the court decisions and complied with these laws and directives. But, in many cases, race-related tension, regrets, accusations, hard feelings, unhealed wounds, and unexplored issues still lie just beneath the surface of a veneer of superficial civility. That verneer will not last another generation; we already see its raw exposure in the increase of hate crimes among young people.

SIGNS OF HOPE. On the other hand, signs of hope and actions of positive engagement continue to be the salt, light, and leaven that penetrate fear, apathy, and ignorance. One local sign of hope is the Indianapolis Faith Leadership Series initiated by the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The leadership development series brings together a diverse group of emerging leaders of faith-based organizations in order to strengthen leadership skills, build inter-faith and inter-racial relationships, and explore community solutions. Thanks to CICF former director Ken Gladdish for initiating this series. It is but one of his excellent legacies to the region.

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