A Time for Empathy; A Time for History

African American History

Today I had the honor to contribute to “Now and Then,” a weekly online column published at the website of The Christian Century magazine.  I hope it makes some small contribution to our ongoing conversation about race in America.

Here is a taste:

On Sunday, after a tragic week of race-related killings in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge, I took a seat in my white evangelical middle-class megachurch in central Pennsylvania. I didn’t know what to expect, but as the sermon began I found myself pleasantly surprised.

My pastor used his scheduled sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) to address the issue of race in America. He urged the congregation to take seriously the racial division pervading this country. He challenged those in attendance to do more listening than talking about race.  He asked us to consider what it really means to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But what struck me the most about the sermon was my pastor’s assertion that racism is a structural problem. Though he did not go so far as to use the pulpit to issue a treatise on institutional racism in America, he did challenge his privileged congregation to consider the fact that racism is embedded, and has always been embedded, in virtually all aspects of American life.

White evangelical congregations in the Pennsylvania Bible belt do not usually hear this kind of preaching. The sermon took courage to deliver. I left church on Sunday proud to call myself an evangelical Christian.

On the ride home I had a conversation with my 18-year-old daughter about structural racism. We wondered whether the congregation really understood what our pastor meant by this phrase. There are various ways of examining institutional racism in America, but any exploration of this moral problem must begin with the study of the past.

Most white Americans know something about slavery, Jim Crow laws, or Martin Luther King Jr., but very few of them have studied African American history beyond a mandatory unit in high school or the brief coverage the topic might receive in a required college history course. Many have never been challenged to think historically about the plight of their black neighbors.

Read the rest here.

One thought on “A Time for Empathy; A Time for History

  1. On Sunday, after a tragic week of race-related killings in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge

    This premise rather begs the question, though–is every incident that involves a black person “race-related?” Many would argue the incidents in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge had absolutely nothing to do with race, and alleging so is what’s the problem here.

    APNewsBreak: Cop’s lawyer blames driver’s gun, not his race

    A Big New Study Says Police Officers Are No More Likely to Shoot Black Suspects. Should You Believe It?

    [Well, it is Slate, afterall…]

    We cannot have a “national discussion” based on false or even questionable premises.


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