White Evangelicals and Race in America

Different life experiences lead to silence, feelings of abandonment.

 In too many cases, African American Christians feel abandoned by white brothers and sisters as they struggle with a crisis that is devastating young boys and men in their communities.

Carl Nelson

Carl Nelson

Many people may not have heard of the Jordan Davis trial verdict issued in February in Florida, where a white man who shot indiscriminately into a vehicle occupied by African American youth was found not guilty of murder, even though 17 year-old Jordan died from one of these fired bullets.

But pastors ministering to African American youth and young men—especially in urban churches—were faced with the verdict head on. As they teach and disciple students to rise above behaviors that escalate violence, they have to deal with an example of a white man who escalated the violence and needlessly took a human life. And despite these reckless actions, the justice system did not find him guilty of murder.

There is a division in the Church that Christian leaders need to acknowledge and devote energy to heal.
If you are a white evangelical, you may not be aware of the mass incarceration of young Black men, and the generational impact of fatherlessness that is playing out across some African American communities.

If you are a white evangelical, you may not have listened to a Black friend describe being questioned by police for shoveling snow in front of his own house in an upper middle class neighborhood, simply because a passerby didn’t expect to see him there on account of his race.

If you are a white evangelical, you probably don’t often fear raising your Black teen-aged son in a world that will quickly suspect him as a criminal when he is driving just a little too much like a normal teenager, or is hanging out with his boisterous friends at a mall, as many teens do.

In too many cases, African American Christians feel abandoned by white brothers and sisters as they struggle with a crisis that is devastating young boys and men in their communities.

As a white evangelical leader, I acknowledge that I would be largely unaware of this crisis if I didn’t live in an urban neighborhood where this reality is more visible to me, or if I wasn’t in contact with a few Christian friends who are ministering in these exact circumstances trying to help young men overcome the odds.

There is a division in the Church that Christian leaders need to acknowledge and devote energy to heal. This internal division mirrors a divide in society, but it is especially egregious in the Church because we are to be preparing ourselves as the beautiful, united Bride of Christ.
Please understand, I am not trying to shame my white evangelical brothers and sisters. I’m simply trying to show that there is a great divide in how we experience life in America, and because of the lack of shared story or shared experience our response to justice concerns—or even the plight of families—is vastly different.

I believe the issues of race today are largely caused by segregated experience. It is a different kind of racism than what our parents’ and grandparents’ generations lived through.

Some white Americans are probably familiar with the statistics surrounding the achievement gap or incarceration rates, but a majority of us aren’t familiar with the personal story and experience and therefore can’t understand it. And so we don’t react when the killer of Jordan Davis is not convicted of murder. We don’t react the same way that the Black church does to the crisis (and systemic destruction) caused by mass incarceration. We don’t react when less than one half of Black students are ready for kindergarten, or proficient in reading by grade 3 while more than 90% of white students are ready and reading.

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for us to begin healing this division.

Our response can start by lamenting the loss of life, the destroyed futures and the destructive behaviors that affect so many people, even if we don’t understand the reasons for it. The second response is to take the time to learn the stories, have discussions and listen to the painful experiences of our brothers and sisters.

Ultimately, this is a Gospel issue. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of Heaven in the earth by fully freeing the oppressed, enabling personal, and community restoration, and calling every soul to repentance and discipleship

The pain experienced in the lives and communities of our Black Christian brothers and sisters is not the fulfillment of the kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim. If we are going to be people who proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to join our brothers and sisters by sharing in their grief and sorrow— and allowing the Word and Spirit of God to make us one.

 

Related Articles: White Evangelicals & Race in America

Silence Says Something: Let us refuse to be silenced by fear, ability, distance or guilt. Rev. Edrin Williams

Time for the Church to Talk Candidly About Race: In the law we learn that silence is acquiescence. Law professor Nekima Levy-Pounds

Church, Let’s Just Stop this Madness: Let’s give Jesus a chance to fix this. Rev. Richard Coleman.

Our Responsibility to the Ministry of Reconciliation: We must allow our citizenship as brothers and sisters in Christ to rise to the top. Rev. Terrance Rollerson.

White Evangelicals and Race in America: Different life experiences lead to silence, feelings of abandonment. Carl Nelson

 

 

 

 

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