The truth is, we aren’t going to eliminate racism unless we confront it – not just in ourselves, but everywhere we find it. It is important not to underestimate how much courage that requires, but consider the alternative. Since 9-11, Americans have encountered a culture in which racism against Middle Easterners has been not only tolerated, but in some quarters even encouraged! Do we need to be reminded that Jesus was a Middle Easterner, as was every last person in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Scriptures?
Why is this important? It is crucially important because God loves everybody – even racists – and wants all people to come to fullness of life. That truth was a big part of the mission of Jesus. No matter what external reason we have for not liking someone, we all need to realize that the problem lies not in the other, but in ourselves, and we are the only people who can change us!
If you doubt that racism is an issue, check your reaction to the picture of Jesus above this text. More than a few of you will be bothered by this image, but the truth is that Jesus looked more like the picture above than all of the centuries of bad Jesus art that made him look northern European or even Scandinavian. People from the Middle East don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, but most of Western Christendom would be at least mildly upset at the notion that their “personal Savior” was not a white man.
If racism in the West only affected our image of Jesus, it wouldn’t be the huge problem that it is. The reality is that people of color earn less money than their caucasian counterparts, are discriminated against in housing and employment opportunity, and just about every other social and economic category. The Kin-dom of God cannot exist where racism exists, and justice exists for nobody if it doesn’t exist for everybody.
Relationships are the only cure for racism, and it takes more than one relationship to get the job done. Unless and until we are willing to work and live among people of all races, nothing will change.
Many have pointed to Sunday mornings and correctly identified that it is the most segregated hour in Western Culture. They point to the truth that few Churches are integrated at the parish level. In our experience, we believe that may be more of a cultural distinction than a racial distinction. However, Churches and other faith communities do need to be very intentional about doing ministry with other faith communities in a racially diverse way, and on equal footing. Very often we have seen wealthy white suburban congregations “help” their sister congregations in an urban area by writing checks. Money is wonderful, but one can throw money from a distance. The kind of ministry that would help is the white suburban congregation joining with their urban sister congregation to do neighborhood cleanup adjacent to both congregations – and doing so with racially mixed work parties. Working side by side for three or four hours picking up trash leaves plenty of time for conversation. The project should then be followed by a meal together with integrated seating. Each congregation could then plan other activities they might do together to help build relationships between their members. This would go a long way to taking a first step toward overcoming racism.
If you aren’t a religious person, you can accomplish the same thing described about through community volunteering. Don’t volunteer at the suburban hospital, volunteer at the urban hospital. Volunteer to read to grade school children at an urban school, or help at your nearest Boys and Girls Club.