Most white Christians, and many middle class racial minority communities, have cut themselves off from any intimate life together with poor black communities that struggle every day with a multiplicity of oppressive obstacles. But a movement is happening all around us.
Last semester, I had students review Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. For those unfamiliar with this book, the authors make two general claims:
America is a racialized society. White evangelical Protestants are unwitting proponents of racialization.
No white person ever wants to think of themselves as racist. And that is precisely part of the problem, no white person ever thinks of themselves as racist. Each white person is the innocent exception to the rule, even when confronted with the realities that our society is thoroughly racialized.
Finally, because I don’t expect or desire the average person in our Christian communities to have to wade through waters of academic vernacular found in critical race theory or theological ethics, the entire book is written out of a pastoral voice (of which I have 10 years of pastoral ministry experience), and saturated with personal stories and experience that help communicate important themes and points. In short, Trouble I’ve Seen = antiracism theory + theological ethics + pastoral voice.
In years and decades to come, we’ll remember the last two weeks. The Emanuel A.M.E. massacre, the sudden shift away from the Confederate flag, the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of the Affordable Care Act and its extension of same-sex marriage to every state. Last Friday there was an awesome funeral service for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel and one of the victims in the shooting. And all of it while once again black churches have been burning, some under suspicious circumstances.
For all of America’s secularization, actual and expected, each event was resonant with religious significations—and each prompted a wave of public theology.
I often worship and preach in a sanctuary without windows. Renaissance Presbyterian Church is an African-American congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They built the structure, brick upon brick, so that it might withstand bombs, shooting, or burning. Stained glass gave way to safety, so when I stand in the pulpit, I always remember where I am.