By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
According to Mirriam-Webster, reconciliation means either “causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement,” or “finding a way to make two different ideas, facts, etc., exist or be true at the same time.” In our pluralistic democracy reconciliation is essential to resolve deeply divisive issues of race, religion and partisan politics.
Reconciliation doesn’t require agreement on contentious issues, only shared altruistic values that can lead to the resolution of those issues. The greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions, is a common word of faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims--White and Black alike.
Racism in America’s racially polarized partisan politics requires reconciliation, but one proponent of systemic racism, J. Russell Hawkins, questions the need for racial reconciliation: “The problem is that the tools used to bring about racial reconciliation are centered on ideas about interpersonal relationships and...leave in place all sorts of [racial] structural disparities.”
Racial discrimination, voting restrictions and gerrymandering have created structural disparities, and the civil rights and political remedies for them should be complemented by efforts to promote racial reconciliation. Civil rights laws have made racially discriminatory acts illegal, but racism is beyond the reach of law. It will require changing racist moral beliefs.
Slavery no longer creates racial disparities, and reparations for slavery would only exacerbate racism without addressing any existing structural forms of racism. Better race relations require not only ending structural forms of racism like gerrymandering and prohibiting racial discrimination through civil rights laws, but also promoting racial reconciliation.
Standards of political legitimacy include obligatory laws and voluntary moral standards. Civil rights and voting rights provide legal remedies to combat racism, but racist attitudes are moral matters that require changing hearts and minds based on the altruistic and universal greatest commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Racial reconciliation should begin in the church. Jesus taught that reconciliation is a moral priority of faith that even takes precedence over worship (Matthew 5:23-24); and in the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus emphasized that those of other races and religions are our neighbors. But there’s a problem: most churches are racially segregated.
Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America. Suitable venues must be found to promote interracial dialogue and develop lasting relationships. It’s only when Whites and Blacks get to know one another that they can reconcile their past racist views and see each other in a new light as neighbors.
See Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2021/06/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html; and on Musings on Slavery and Systemic Racism on Independence Day, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2021/07/musings-on-slavery-and-systemic-racism.html.
In his study of evangelicals in South Carolina, Hawkins has asserted, “...the thing that drives the theology of a lot of evangelical Christians today is this colorblind, individualistic theology. If you understand where this language comes from, you can begin to understand that we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re incredibly racially divided in the American church, in large part because these colorblind, individualistic tools that white evangelical Christians cling deeply to came from a period of segregation. We shouldn’t be surprised that it’s continuing to reap this divisive harvest. ...For the last 20 years, according to sociologists, there’s been this really significant move among white evangelical Christians to embrace racial reconciliation. This has become a big part of white evangelical Christianity, this move to become diverse and have diverse churches as a way to achieve this reconciliation. So, there’s an attentiveness over the last two decades to becoming more racially diverse within American churches, particularly among white evangelical Christians.”
I’ve seen no evidence of such racial diversity in white churches. Hawkins goes on to say, “The problem here is that the tools that get used to bring about this racial reconciliation are very much centered on ideas about just interpersonal relationships and ideas about colorblindness. White evangelical Christians say, ‘We recognize that there has been a problem in the past. The way we’re going to move forward is becoming friends. Ultimately, we’re trying to get to the point where race doesn’t matter at all. So, we’re getting to the point where we’re colorblind.’ While that might have some particular outcomes at the individual level and the interpersonal level, what that leaves in place are all sorts of structural disparities that continue to persist within American society along racial lines. And so, you get black Christians who enter into these churches, into these relationships, and say, ‘Well, okay, so there’s an interpersonal thing going on here too, but there’s also a larger reality about the experiences of people of color in this country that we need to address at the structural level or at the level of systems that operate in this country.’ And when those conversations start to happen, suddenly these white evangelical Christians pull way back and say, ‘No! That’s not what we’re talking about here. That stuff doesn’t exist. Or if it exists, it doesn’t exist to the extent that you are claiming exists.’ And the problem here is that you can’t just get over these past things and just enter into these relationships. In other words, these white evangelical Christians have been influenced by decades’ worth of this teaching that tells them don’t talk about race, try not to see race, be colorblind. And when someone tells you that structural racism or systemic racism exists, you can ignore them. In fact, it’s to the point now that any discussion of race at the level outside the individual is increasingly seen as heretical in these white evangelical circles. This is a sign of cultural Marxism. This is critical race theory, the boogeyman of the moment.
What I’m trying to show is that it’s in large part due to the history that has been going on since the civil rights movement. If you want to see that going back all the way to the nineteenth century, we’re all influenced by our histories. Until white evangelical Christians begin to grapple with the historical development of colorblindness and individualistic theology, you’re not going to make much progress in actually bringing about this reconciliation that so many of them profess to have when it comes to the issue of race.” See the interview with Professor J. Russell Hawkins in Religion & Politics at https://religionandpolitics.org/2021/06/29/how-white-southern-christians-fought-to-preserve-segregation/?
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