Pastor’s Column: Talk of Racism in the Land of Niceness

The Head Nod

As an African American urbanite, I participate in the ritual of the head nod. That is to say, when passing a fellow African American on the street, subway, bus, or elsewhere, I nod my head, offering a tacit sign of solidarity. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the head nod defined by the father on the ABC sitcom Blackish, as the “internationally accepted yet unspoken sign of acknowledgment of Black folks around the world.” So, one might imagine my disappointment when, while waiting for the #5 bus in my North Minneapolis neighborhood, I gave the head nod to a young African American man and he turned away. This was not an isolated case.

As I began to settle into my new life in Minneapolis, I wondered if coldness wasn’t confined to only the weather…
In addition to that, I was similarly surprised when I held open doors for people–White, Black, or otherwise–and received rare acknowledgements of my presence, much less a “thanks.” My stereotypical view of Midwestern friendliness was melting away like ice in June. Other transplants to Minnesota informed me that there is a facade of niceness here; we know it as “Minnesota Nice.” I certainly don’t mean to come off like a snowstorm, dumping heaps of negative views onto Minnesotans. But as I began to settle into my new life in Minneapolis, I wondered if coldness wasn’t confined to only the weather.

Frank Talk

Having grown up in New York City, later planting a church in Brooklyn, and then ministering for nearly 18 years in Washington, DC, I had gained much insight into racism and Christianity. I wondered how Christians dealt with deep issues such as racism here in the land of what felt like reluctant acknowledgement and superficial friendliness. Does frank talk about racism, classism, and patriarchy happen in the land of niceness? Of course the answer to that question is neither simple nor one-dimensional. My experience here in Minnesota has shown that on the one hand, racism, classism, and patriarchy are hardly addressed at all by Christians. While there are amazing churches as well as awesome Christian educational institutions here, from which we receive strong affirmations of foundational aspects of the Gospel (e.g., the virgin conception of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, as well as hope for his bodily return, along with forgiveness of sin through the blood of Jesus and other key topics), discussion about racial and other issues of justice, are heard among a small segment of the Christian community.

Does frank talk about racism, classism, and patriarchy happen in the land of niceness?
I have witnessed a greater volume of analysis and talk from Christians on the topics of human sexuality and the right to carry guns than I have heard about racism, classism, sexism, and injustice in general. Yet, recent protests after the shooting of Jamal Clark in my neighborhood forced some conversations. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, has pushed more Christians to talk or at least think about race in Minnesota.

New Humanity in Christ

Consequently, on the other hand, my heart has been strangely warmed by the voices and actions of some Christians, largely young people—many of them in my own congregation, The Sanctuary Covenant Church.

Race is an artificial, human-developed system concocted to secure the superior position of White people. …
These young people boldly articulate a message that goes beyond proximity, where people of different backgrounds worship together or live near each other, giving the appearance of unity. Rather, their message and accompanying behavior reflects that of justice, where wrong is acknowledged, repentance happens, and energy is put into building a new humanity in Christ (see Eph 2:14-18).
In Col 3:11 the apostle Paul writes of this new humanity in Christ saying, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Barbarians were so-called because they did not speak Greek. Scythians had been demonized as “savages” by Greco-Roman society, which largely viewed itself as refined. Those in relative power created terms to marginalize those who were different. Such is the case with racism in America.
Christians should be as vehement in dismantling racism..
Race is an artificial, human-developed system concocted to secure the superior position of White people. Paul says that the Gospel of Jesus will not allow for such differentiation. There can be no power hierarchy, certainly not one based upon artificial distinctions determined by those in the majority. Christians should be as vehement in dismantling racism as Paul was in Col 3.11.

Let Justice Roll

I’m happy to say that I’ve experienced a few more head-nods as well as “thank-yous” as I interact with people from day to day. The reaction isn’t always cold! But my sincere hope is that more Christians will work for justice and in so doing the love of Jesus will become increasingly evident in our city.

Let justice roll through Minnesota, like the waters of the mighty Mississippi…
As the love of Jesus permeates, we might see not only more head nods, but also more people released from bondage–of all sorts–and witness the transformation of lives, families, and even communities. More churches will work together and the enemy of our souls will increasingly lose power and influence. So, to paraphrase the prophet Amos: let justice roll through Minnesota, like the waters of the mighty Mississippi.


Dennis EdwardsDr. Rev. Dennis Edwards, Ph. D. is the senior pastor at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis.

Dr. Rev. Dennis Edward’s book recomendations:
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christians Smith (this has been around for a while, but so very helpful for evangelicals).
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (a memoir, of sorts. Not a Christian treatise, but nevertheless a powerful work).
The Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart (Forthcoming. I’ve read an advanced copy and found the book to be well-written and helpful).
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (Outstanding book full of powerful stories that may help the open-minded understand more about the legacy of racism in America).

  1. “Minnesota nice” is a facade. I grew up in Chicago & people were more real there. Here so many people are related & don’t need to expand their clique, & tend to be surface friendly. I have lived here 50 years & most of my close friends are non-Minnesotans. When you grow up in an integrated community, you more naturally accept people for themselves, & go from there. We learn what we live with & have to unlearn things that aren’t God honoring. Thankfully God loves us all!

  2. This was a great read, thanks for your insight.

  3. Thank you for this powerful piece of truth. IMO Every white person should be required to read Wilkerson’s book 🙂 And the best part is that, while lengthy, it is so readable. I have loaned it and/or recommended it to friends since reading it myself several years ago.

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