Week 1: How Then Shall We Live?

This is a summary of an adult education class at First Alliance Church in Lexington, KY. It will run for 6 total weeks discussing issues of race and the church in American society. If you’re local, come see us! This space will be used to expound upon some of the questions brought up by the class.

Not this Race

Why have a class about race? Why do people say that it’s still a relevant topic?

It has been years since Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton gained reputations has race hustlers and their mere presence brought derision from outsiders. Barack Obama’s first term cemented, for many, that we had finally vanquished the ghosts of our past and were ready face our post-racial future. The second term raised the question in new ways, and the new cycle regularly showed black men killed repeatedly by officers and culminating in the election of a man who launched his presidential efforts by disputing the citizenship of the first black President.

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. — Numbers 14:18

Against the scope of history, equality under the law is still in its infancy. Those 60 and older attended schools when segregation was legal. It has only been 40 years since it was nationally legal to marry someone from another race. The impact of centuries of legal decisions and cultural impact of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights struggle is still unfolding. We are still new to this, and evil changes form as necessary. It will always occupy the space you allow it. When given free reign, it is ubiquitous. As you close in around it, it morphs until it becomes palatable and we are seeing that now. It did not leave us. Racism hides within voter restriction efforts. It runs rampant in city zoning ordinances. It finds its home in our hearts, and in our gut reactions to strangers and current events. Then, when a man sets aside his dog whistle, and subtext becomes text, we are better able to see it as more and more people stand and proclaim previously private thoughts in public from schools to libraries to public transportation. Like a dying fire finding oxygen, racism finds new life in world that did not see it coming and now must deal with the immediate fallout.

For many minorities, it was easy spot, but for many white people, it was shocking. If you are white, it is possible to go your whole life with minimal minority interaction. 75% do not have any non-white friends. But, once aware, how then shall we live? How do we approach this as responsible Christians, citizens and neighbors? It is also important to note that there is not a short term fix to these issues. Anyone proclaiming anything close to “All [some group] has to do is [some simple sounding, but extremely complex thing],” is peddling snake oil. We are diving into complicated issues and they should be dealt with the appropriate approach with a view for the long term.

Is race still an issue for me?

The change for each person must begin from within. Be self-critical. Bias is a natural state for all of us. Our brains massively complex pattern recognition machines and make mental shortcuts before we form a conscious thought. In the beginning, take the long way around the issue and work your way through each logical step. If anything pops up as questionable, that’s a great spot to do some reading on the issue and gain some context. You cannot have enough context. Innocent statements can become insidious in the proper context. Egregious ones can become understandable if framed correctly. Once context is established, insert your thoughts and see if they make sense. At times they will, but other times it will require change, which is hard. We’re wired to believe ourselves correct. No one aside from you can know for sure what biases you carry, so self-critique is key to making any progress. Be a tougher judge of yourself and your own motives than others.

What biases have you uncovered recently? What is one concrete step you do to address them?