Race in America – Not The Way It Was Supposed To Be

| January 9, 2015

Black and White Hands2014 – this was not the way it was supposed to be.  Not 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race and ended racial segregation in schools, in the workplace, and in public accommodations.  Not six years after America elected an African-American President.  Not as we get ready to mark 150th year anniversary of  Appomattox, and of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  2014 was not the way it was supposed to be.

In February 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released figures showing that the annual number of claims for racial discrimination in the workplace hovered close to its all time high, and was 24% higher than when President Obama took office in 2009.

In April, Donald Sterling, an extremely successful businessman and NBA owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was recorded making private racist remarks so “appalling” and “incredibility offensive” that he was banned for life from any league event.

In August, Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking national protests, both peaceful and violent.  In November, the decision of the grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson sparked protests in 170 American cities, with rioting and looting in Ferguson itself.

In December, Eric Garner, an African-American man, died after a chokehold by New York police, leading to angry demonstrations in New York and elsewhere.  Two New York City policemen were killed, in supposed retaliation.

Race relations seemed to be moving backwards in America.  Christianity Today reports of  “an increasing number of Christian writers arguing that a significant gap exists between black and white Christians.”

An important study, released in 2013 by the Association of Religion Data Archives (researched by Michael Emerson of Rice University and David Sikkink of Notre Dame) surveyed the changing attitudes about race among white and black evangelicals, and compared them to findings of an earlier study in 2006.  The reported results are that (i) there is a growing gap in how black and white Christians now think about race; and (ii) there is growing polarization on the issue.

The survey asked if you agreed with the statement: It is okay for the races to be separate, as long as they have equal opportunity.  In 2006, the responses were essentially identical from both groups – 19% African-American Christians agreed, as did 16% of White Christians.

But when the same question was asked in 2012, there was a dramatic difference – 20% affirmative from African-American Christians; but now 34% from White Christians.

The survey asked if you agreed with the statement: One of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race.  In 2006, 24% of African-American Christians agreed; but by 2012 that had increased to 34%.  Among White Christians, 51% agreed in 2006; and the number had grown to 69% in 2012.

When asked in 2006 whether the government “should do more to help minorities increase their standard of living,” 42% White Christians agreed, as well as 68% of African-American Christians.  By 2012, those numbers had popularized to 21% and 84%.

Perhaps most importantly, more Americans now say they have been “treated unfairly” because of their race. The increase from 2006 to 2012 was statistically significant for all groups: African-Americans (36% to 46%); Hispanics (17% to 36%); Asians (16% to 31%); Whites (8% to 14%); as well as all Americans (13% to 21%).

What should we make of all of this?  More importantly for this article, what should Christians in business and ministry be doing about it?

Some believe that this is a symptom of the growing polarization of political attitudes in the United States, with each political party not just disagreeing with those on the other side, but demonizing them.  Since African-Americans the most loyal demographic of the Democratic Party, and White Evangelicals the most loyal demographic of the Republican Party, they are the ones who hear it the most, as parties try to rally their base, and all the demagoguery manifests itself in polarized race relations.

Others contend that the real issue is economic.  As stagnating wages hollows out the American middle class, the struggle for economic stability becomes ever more difficult, which leads to greater resentment.  At the same time, the greater difference in class divide looks like a larger racial divide.

These positions may have merit, but they do not allow us to excuse ourselves from an honest and Biblical consideration of the questions, and an open dialogue about them.  Personally, I emphatically disagree that “to stop talking about race” will improve anything.  Where else does the Church believe that the best way to combat sin is to stop talking about it?

Rather, I offer the following points for consideration, encouragement, and action by Christians in ministry and in business.

First, we should always affirm that as Christians, we are a new people, made one in Jesus Christ.  He has “redeemed us to God by Your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5: 9).  We are “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7: 9).  Christ has “abolished in His flesh the enmity … so as to create in Himself one new man.” (Ephesians 2: 15).  We are something never before seen on the earth – a people identified not by race or nation or language or generation or even religion – we are a new people called by His Name.  We should say this often and always, as a fundamental truth of our faith.

Second, we should maintain an attitude of humility looking inward to ourselves, and one of favor looking outward to others.  We should be “kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”  (Romans 12: 10).  As we look upon the traditions, the history, the triumphs, and the failures of different groups within America and within the Church, we should be mindful of the exhortation in Philippians 4, to find in one another the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.  It is too easy to think about the failures of other Christians and other Americans.  We should instead meditate on “anything of virtue and anything praiseworthy” – and the God of peace will be with us.

Third, we should remember that it has been the Church of Jesus Christ that has historically taken the lead in reaching for peace, justice, and equality among different groups in America.  The great abolitionist struggle of the 19th Century, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century were both birthed in the Church.  More recently, many churches have publicly expressed their regret and institutional repentance for racism in their history.  The Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church have all issued such public statements.

Fourth, we should remember that people “hear what they see.”  It is important for our voices to be heard, but it is not enough.  We have to give visible and unmistakable evidence of our commitment to Jesus Christ and to one another.  This means that we need to intentionally find times and places to show our unity.  The early Christians overcame division between Hebrews and Hellenists, and between Jews and Greeks not by avoiding the issue, but by responding with practical demonstrations of their oneness in Christ (such as the support sent by a Greek church in Antioch to their Jewish “brethren” in Jerusalem in Acts 11).  When the Lord wanted Peter to preach the Gospel to Cornelius, He did not just tell Peter – He showed him, and showed him three times (Acts 10: 9 – 16).

Finally, there are many who the decry fact that there still exists “white churches” and “black churches.”  Respectfully, I am not convinced that this is of itself a great weakness.  Different church traditions have emerged from the history and struggles of different demographic groups, and the celebration of each one’s triumphs are a source of strength, not of weakness.  People worship in spirit and in truth when they particularly connect with the order of the service and the particular priorities of the teaching.  I would not want to see churches all try to achieve some perfect balance and all come to look like one another.  I respectfully submit that more would be lost than would be gained.

I suggest instead that churches of different traditions (and of different ethnic demographics) become more active in finding ways to work together on common projects.  This generates respect for the effort and commitments of one another, and provides opportunities to learn and appreciate their particular means of worshiping God and honoring Christ Jesus – in different musical traditions, different preaching styles, whether in the reverence of the high church liturgy, or the single-mindedness of Puritan simplicity.

I am exhorted and convicted by the example of Acts 20: 4 (a favorite verse of mine): And Sopater of Berea accompanied him [Paul]  to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.  This verse records that as Paul went on his journey, there were traveling with him men of different churches – from Thessalonica, from Derbe, and from the churches in Asia.   These churches joined together and went forward in a common testimony and with a common purpose.

Churches today should look for opportunity to do the same: to seek out common ministry and common events where the oneness of our faith is on display.  The annual Christian Professional Network Business Conference strives to be one such event.

This much we should all do, and certainly there is more.  2014 was a hard reminder that there remains a long road ahead, but (as the Scriptures tells us) none of us has yet attained what God would us be.  And as there is more to do “God will reveal even this to you”. (Philippians 3: 15).


Category: Faith

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Email | Website | Thomas Schetelich is a founding principal in the law firm of Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar. He heads both the firm’s corporate/ business law practice and its personal legal services department. He is an AV rated attorney awarded for highest standards of professional skill and ethical practice. Mr. Schetelich devotes much of his practice to assisting charitable and religious organizations, and is the President of The Christian Professional Network. He is a frequent speaker on Biblical and legal matters throughout the United States.