I’ve never experienced racism. My wife is brown. She has. Growing up she had her skin compared to poo. My wife remembers putting her palms up and saying to the girl, “see, I’m white too!” She experienced racism and it was hurtful, but she would say it was also isolated. She didn’t live with it day after day, week after week, month after month or year after year like many black people. She didn’t experience it ingrained into structures of opposition.
I have no idea what any of that is like. I am a white man. Privilege upon privilege. Our world is set up so I can win. So, I have been trying to listen and learn from black voices and other minorities, while recognizing that my ability to learn and listen about racism, rather than experience it myself, is just another example of privilege.
For many of us who feel like toddlers just learning to walk and talk about this issue, it can feel confusing to know how to best support and love others, especially with all the contradictory advice on social media. But, for me, the deeper struggle has been listening to the conversation without being defensive and learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Writing of white people, Robin Diangelo, in her bestselling book, White Fragility, claims that, “Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina. Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldview as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as an unsettling and unfair moral offence. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable – the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation.”
It is this response that she labels as “white fragility.” I recognize it very well. Such fragility leads us to say strange things. In response to “Black lives matter” we insist, “All lives matter.” And, of course, that is true. All lives do matter. That is theologically true and philosophically true. The problem highlighted by Black Lives Matter is that it is not sociologically true. It is not systemically true. That is why we must shine the spotlight on the value and dignity of black lives until things change.
White fragility also leads us to talk about racism against white people in a moment such as this. A statement that strikes those who have lived in a country where they have been viewed as less than human, had their ancestors enslaved and lynched, experienced injustice after injustice battling a system set-up to hinder their success by white people – evidence of which is overwhelming and across the board – as horrifically self-absorbed. Self-absorption being a very kind a gracious way of putting it. White fragility leads us to respond to Black History month with comments like, “why isn’t there a white history month?” The retort being, “white history month has been every month for hundreds of years.” Yet as soon as these things start being said, even by a white man, the response from other white people is one of frustration, anger and defensiveness – more white fragility, according to Diangelo. Other examples include:
- Lack of understanding about what racism is (more specifically how it is internalized and systematized)
- Seeing ourselves as individuals, exempt from the forces of racial socialization
- Assuming everyone is having or can have our experience
- Lack of racial humility, and unwillingness to listen
- Wanting to jump over the hard, personal work and get to “solutions” (68)
I see a lot of this in my own heart, so again, I’m trying to listen. And I’m recognizing that feeling bad about my privilege is not the answer. Wallowing in guilt about things I can’t control won’t help anyone. Repentance and change are more important than momentary sadness. Repentance in the Christian tradition is a change of thinking that leads to a change of living. Repentance only makes sense when there is not the presumption of innocence. And it is likely that white people today assume innocence when it comes to racism. Racism is bad. We are not bad. Therefore, we are not racist. The syllogism is valid and maybe the assumption is too. But maybe it isn’t. A moment like this invites us to search our own hearts. As Christians, we believe in the reality of sin – in our world and in our own hearts. We believe that we have blinders and biases as broken people.
In her book, White Fragility, Diangelo explains that the good/bad binary is what allows racism to flourish. It is one of the primary causes of inactivity on behalf of white people because it allows us to disassociate from the problem. Not only is this statement extremely plausible to me, it helps explain so much of the self-righteousness , self—justification and gas-lighting we observe in this conversation.
Brothers and sisters, surely, if anything does away with the overly simplistic good/bad binary it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all sinful. The line of good and evil runs through each of our hears. Why immediately assume the other driver is wrong. Why immediately assume that they were mean, and you were simply misunderstood. Why assume their bad behaviour is because of character and your bad behaviour is because of tiredness? And why immediately assume that there is no racial prejudice in our hearts. Why not ask the Lord to root out any prejudice in our lives? To change us. To lead us into repentance. Repentance and action.
Look, I don’t want my priorities distracted by social media. I don’t want to be told what to care about by culture. I don’t want to engage in virtue signalling or ally-ship for the sake of optics. But as a human being and as a Christian I can’t (we can’t) look the other way on this one. I know we can’t do something about everything. That is a paralyzing goal. But we can do something about something. We can allow our compassion to flow through a well-directed channel and make an actual difference in the world. My hope has always been that, as a I grow in Christ, my heart would expand and make room for more causes that are dear to the heart of God.
As a family we’ve supported organizations that work for justice globally and that liberate women from trafficking. We’ve supported clean water initiatives and micro-financing loans. We have sent money and prayers all around the world, while neglecting an issue in our backyard.
Maybe because I’m Canadian (though our history is dark and tarnished – it is, after all, part of human history). Maybe because I’m callous and don’t want to be bothered. Maybe because I’m just overwhelmed by the suffering of the world. Whatever the reason, the reality remains that I have said few prayers and given no money to address racial inequality. So, for us, as a family it is time to enlarge our tent and spend more effort praying for and giving towards organizations that support racial equality in North America (including looking into issues like Indigenous rights). Our efforts are so small, I know. But it is a start. Because black lives do matter. To me. To our church. To God.
We need new laws if current laws are found to be unjust. An unjust law being any law that is incongruent with the law of God, expressed most fully by Jesus. But to obey new laws we also need new hearts. New laws may deal with injustice. But only new hearts can uproot racism.
Systemic evil is not rooted in a single source, so it is hard to pinpoint and root out. It feels overwhelmingly complex, but I still believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to renewing our hearts and minds. “Gospel” means good news that is public and for everyone. The Gospel is the good news of God’s kingdom breaking into history – God’s liberating reign and rule that doesn’t oppress us but sets us free to become the people He created us to be. Good news that centers on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through his birth, life, death and resurrection we are given new beginnings. Through His Spirit we can be transformed from the inside out- individuals, systems, structures and, one day, the entirety of the cosmos.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
When we hate the haters it just leads to more hate. When I respond to evil with evil, evil doesn’t disappear it just works its way deeper into my own heart. I become an echo of hostility rather than a mirror of God’s grace. But when I respond in love it lessens the amount of hate in the world and opens up the possibility for change.
“Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that!”
“Do not repay evil for evil. Instead overcome evil with good.” – The Apostle Paul
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Jesus
King made that oft quoted statement because he understood how the Gospel goes to work on the human heart. New laws are necessary. But so are new hearts that can overcome the trap of tit for tat. On the cross God overcomes hate with love. Jesus forgives those who are killing him. Jesus nowhere validates victimization, he condemns it, but he also responds to repentant sinners with grace. He absorbs the sin and evil and drags it with him into the grave where it is meant to stay – dead, buried – no longer living and breathing in those who will go on to bear the name of Jesus. Three days later God raised Jesus from the dead as the first great act of renewal and new creation. All of which means that:
Hate doesn’t have the last word.
Racism doesn’t have the last word
Sin and injustice don’t have the last word
God’s just wrath doesn’t have the last word
Not even death has the last word.
Life does. Love does. Grace does. God does.
If we believe that, it changes everything.
This one scripture has been on my mind of late: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Ephesians 2:14-18
We all have access to God through Jesus. We are all part of the same household – brothers and sisters – through Jesus. The dividing wall of hostility has been abolished in Jesus. Through repentance and faith, we are all a part of God’s temple in which the Spirit of God dwells through Jesus. To dismiss the Gospel as wishful thinking or as a religious projection, or as another socially constructed narrative – or whatever else – dilutes and diminishes the one story that connects the exploited and the exploiter by bringing them to their knees and exposing their need for repentance, grace and mercy – allowing the all-inclusive nature of God’s reign to gain a purchase in hearts and minds. This message of good news has been entrusted to the church and we haven’t always faithfully represented it. The church has failed in the past. But in a moment such as this, we must not dismiss the one message that has the power to bring about change, reconciliation and new life – endorsed by the Creator of all things through the resurrection of His Son – because it sometimes comes in a tainted package. Don’t judge the philosophy by the abuse. Put the Gospel to proper use.
No Racism in Heaven
Everyone is made in the image of God. Everyone is broken. Everyone is loved. Jesus died for everyone. In Jesus, God’s kingdom is available for everyone through repentance and trust, now and forever. In the book of Revelation we are given this picture: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne….They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9,10,15-17
Every tribe, every tongue, every nation. There is no racism in God’s heaven and the end of God’s story must shape the middle of ours. What matters to God at the end, must matter to us in the middle. So, it is our prayer that God’s kingdom would come, and His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. And may it start with us. We want the church to reflect God’s kingdom (God’s dream for creation!), which is filled with every tribe, tongue and ethnicity. Pray with us toward that end.
 Some people reject the idea of white privilege. I think it exists. I know male privilege exists. I’ve worked in churches and talked to women in ministry. It is not a stretch, given history, for me to believe that white privilege exists as well- even if not all white males experience it to the same degree, or endorse all the claims made by those who critique white privilege.
 One critic asked me if I agree with the claims of White Fragility? The appropriate response would have been, “which claims?” She makes a lot of them. Referencing her book is not a wholesale endorsement of critical race theory, or any other such ideology that can be construed as unbiblical. The statements I quote from her work are both revealing, interesting and, I think, basically accurate. These quotes are not an endorsement of the whole book and/or everything she has ever written, or stood for, or whatever. It’s certainly not to embrace a false Gospel as one person unwisely suggested to me.
 It is important to make a distinction between the statement black lives matter, which I believe is appropriate in such a time as this, and the organization Black Lives Matter. The organization expresses many goals that are profoundly unbiblical. They are, for example, aggressively pro-choice – a strangely inconsistent position given the disproportionate amount of black babies that are aborted and the racist underpinnings of an organization like Planned Parenthood. Surely if black lives matter, they matter both inside and outside of the womb – inside of the womb being when they are most vulnerable and defenceless.
 I know people debate this as well, but I am highlighting the underlying reason why people are making the claim Black Lives Matter. One could change the statement to, “Black Lives Matter to God” to disassociate with the organization and still make the above point. Also, it is not a very strong rejoinder to point out this is debated when everything I just wrote is debated culturally, including that the statement “All Lives Matter” is theologically and philosophically true.
 It is of course, true that racism towards Caucasian people and Asian people and Hispanic people exists as well. But again, such a complaint is likely inappropriate in a time such as this.
Chris has been a pastor for over 15 years and currently pastors in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of ‘Radical Hope: Resurrection Hope in a Hurting World’ and ‘Suffering With God’.