Equity

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

If you spend any time in the public education system you will hear the word “equity.“ According to the American Library Association,

equity recognizes that some are at a larger disadvantage than others and aims at compensating for these peoples misfortunes and disabilities in order to make sure that everyone is capable of attaining the same type of healthy lifestyle. Examples of this are: “When libraries offer literacy programs, when schools offer courses in English as a second language, and when foundations target scholarships to students from poor families, they operationalize a belief in equity of access as fairness and as justice.”[1]

EquityIt sounds good – even benign. But it is actually an accusation. The assumption is that the dominant culture of America does not make room for those of non-dominant cultures (where the definition of non-dominant culture is along primarily ethnic lines). Another buzz phrase in academia is “white privilege,” which is seen as the racial advantage that keeps non-whites in a perpetual state of disadvantage. Given the success of many non-whites in America, it is a cloud without rain. It drives a wedge between people who would otherwise be friends. It is an unfortunate pejorative that will only further divide those who could otherwise lock arms and work on our societal challenges together for the common good. The very notion of such thinking is racially divisive. We don’t seem to see that we are inextricably bound together.

In his post “Baltimore and Beyond: Cities that Wait for the Storm Cloud to Blow Over May Blow Up,” Dr. Paul Luis Metzger says…

“… how are churches led by white pastors in the suburbs and cities partnering with their minority counterparts to address not simply the symptoms of the problem but the structures that create the inequities?”

While I appreciate Dr. Metzger’s vision that a multiethnic America will address the issue of the city, I cannot agree that the problems are primarily structural.  The responsibility of the cities to address inequities is the same as that in the suburbs. It is interesting to me that the whites would be expected to fund solutions when whether or not they actually live in the community. Why is this equitable? The very suggestion of white privilege means that one demographic is not welcome at the table discussing solutions. The shame is that it has little to do with addressing the problems we collectively have as a society.

That this language has become acceptable in Christian circles is regrettable. Kingdom language is different. We are assumed to be a single race – the human race – who would collectively work on solutions based upon God’s Word. It has not been tried and found difficult, but simply untried.

The suburbs have challenges as well. My own suburb of Beaverton has been absorbing scores of refugees fleeing from world conflicts.  Often uneducated and illiterate, it stretches our foundations to be able to provide education, resources and opportunity. The churches are carrying a significant load in addressing this by welcoming the “stranger in the land (Lev 19:34).” We partner with other churches without regard for ethnicity… we are simply looking for Kingdom partners.

The language of equity, white privilege and other perjoratives will do nothing to address the issues we must face together. Only a Kingdom mindset can address the challenges of our society from a biblical perspective, wherever they exist, and such solutions operates best when they are locally led.

[1] Equality and Equity of Access: What’s the Difference?”. Ala.org. Retrieved November 19, 2014.

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Oppressor!

This is a repost of an article by Russell Miller posted on Washed in Tears under the title The Trouble with Social Justice. It encapsulates something that has bothered me about the way that people explain social justice.

justice

Something has always bothered me about the idea of social justice.  In fact, when I hear people talk about it, I cringe inside.

This has been hard to pin down, because the fact is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with social justice.  Social justice is, in its most basic form, understanding the systemic prejudices and inequalities in a society and working to rectify them.  That’s not, in itself, wrong.  Because of that, it’s very difficult to pin down why it seems to be such a great idea, and yet somehow creates such a visceral negative reaction.

But the fracas lately in Indiana lately has helped me to understand what the problem is, and why social justice – for all the good has done – is so insidious and dangerous.

Social justice requires two things:  an oppressor, and an oppressed.  Here are the unwritten rules of social justice:

  • There is an oppressor.  This is never an individual person, but a group of people.
  • There is an oppressed.  This is also never an individual person, but a group of people.
  • Both the oppressor and the oppressed are indicated by traits that they have somehow inherited.
  • Both the oppressor and the oppressed can never, ever stop being the oppressor, or the oppressed.

And now the problem comes into light.

The narrative is set, in the case of Indiana.  Christians are the oppressor.  LGBT are the oppressed.  Everything, absolutely everything, fits into that narrative.  When that pizza place in Indiana stated that they would not cater a gay wedding, facts did not matter, because it was not about the individual.  It was the oppressor oppressing the oppressed.  And the LGBT activists, playing the role of the victim, of the oppressed, began responding in a violent manner.  Because to them, as the oppressed, violence was absolutely justified.

Now here is where point four above comes in:  when the LGBT activists started attacking that Christian pizza place, objectively, they became the oppressor.  The oppressor became the oppressed, and the oppressed became the oppressor.  But in the language of social justice, that absolutely cannot happen.  It is impossible.  It’s just not how it’s done.  And the Christians, who having turned into the oppressed saw things for exactly what they are, came to the rescue of that pizza place, and raised a lot of money to rescue them from their oppressors.

But to the LGBT activists, that could not happen.  It wasn’t possible.  How could the oppressors possibly have people who actually came to their rescue?  They didn’t know their place.  They weren’t playing their role.  They refused to play the role of the oppressors, and that couldn’t be tolerated.  So, the collossally stupid (but under this understanding, completely understandable) notion that it was a huge scam by the oppressor was floated out, and immediately grasped onto like a lifeline.  Then everything was OK again.  The oppressors were still the oppressors.

This dynamic was evident in Ferguson.  Darren Wilson was a white police officer.  Michael Brown was a young black man.  Darren Wilson, being a white police officer, was already the oppressor.  He was guilty before he ever fired a shot.  I’m not saying whether he was right or wrong, I’m saying that he had his role to play in the eyes of the social justice people, that of the oppressor, and it didn’t matter if Michael Brown had been aiming an RPG at Darren Wilson – he was the young black man, so he was oppressed.  This was proven by a recent event, I can’t remember where, where a police officer shot someone who had actually already shot an officer point blank in the face, and bystanders were still claiming that the police had used excessive force.

It’s all about systems, it’s all about roles.  It’s about many things.  What it is not about is justice.  Because justice is the last thing on the mind of those who have bought into the oppressor/oppressed mentality.

The problem is that social justice is still necessary.  There are still people who are oppressed in the world, and they need to be advocated for.  But we’re not going to get there until people recognize that it’s not about class, it’s not about roles, it’s not about skin color or gender or any of that – it’s about how we treat each other as people, each one of us, every single day.  It’s about the fact that any single one of us can be the oppressed and the oppressor at the same time.  It’s about the fact that while groups are a useful construct for understanding what drives people culturally, any battles that need to be won will be won one person at a time, individually, through genuine love and caring.

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Shots

ShotsShots rang out again in Fergusen. The last time it was in response to a violent youth threatening a policemen. The investigation has been exhaustive and conclusive. Michael Brown resisted arrest and rushed a policeman in a menacing way. It was senseless in that it even came to a point that it happened. But there is no cause for bringing charges against the cop who was doing his job.

Those shots were aimed indiscriminately at police officers simply because they were police officers… as were the shots in Brooklyn that took the lives of two innocent minority police officers. Here are some of the tweets that followed…

“Chief Jackson steps down and two pigs get shot? Best day Ferguson has had in years” (by a guy who calls himself The Reverend)

“im glad 2 pigs wounded in Ferguson lol”

“serves those two pigs right, i hope organized public militancy continues”

” hopefully they’ll be off the street for a long time. two less pigs out harassing & kidnapping people.”

The list goes on, many too crude to publish here. Why is this happening? Who has fanned this flame? Times such as these require leadership. White and black leaders at every level of civic life should work together to bring an end to violence. Pastors should be exercising every bit of influence they have to encourage peace. Why is this not happening? Rather, a man who calls himself a reverend raises the temperature with charges that proved to be false. And our president has not stood up to those who would incite violence and honor those who promote peace. He has actually fueled continuing interracial mistrust. 

I am not surprised at secular society and postmodern power politics that pit one balkanized group against another. But where are the churches? Are they silent? No! I know where some of them are. I know African American pastors who are working courageously in their communities to see positive improvements – from education to community development. They are not standing among those who would culturally divide us. Rather, they engage in honest efforts towards reconciliation.

So why is the media ignoring the level-headed black ministers who are engaged in redemptive efforts but rather are focused on the rabble rousers? If news is entertainment, then the question is rhetorical. If news is for informing people regarding what is happening on the ground – the real story – they have a long, long way to go. So do we all.

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Hammer

“When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

hammerAl Sharpton, the perennial flame-fanner, showed up in Ferguson to rile people up about injustice after a white policeman shot and killed an eighteen-year-old black man. He did not know the facts. He did not come in peace. He came as an opportunist to take the public stage and denounce a law officer for racism without even knowing if racism played a role in the shooting. There are hugely conflicting narratives. Which calls for listening and sober thinking. He elevated the tension. He calls himself a reverend? He would be well advised to read the Book.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

A friend of mine defended Al Sharpton saying that he sometimes stands on the right side of the issues. Well even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. He has a long history of ignoring facts in order to stir up dissent. The last thing we need when dealing with the weighty issues of black/white inequality is a man who is given to emotional fanaticism.

The more I talk with African American friends, the more I become aware of the deep black/white rift in our American culture. Ferguson was a powder keg. Why? What has happened that a significant and important part of our citizenry would resort to rioting and looting? Those are not “black kids,” as though their blackness makes them somehow foreign. Those are our kids! They are American boys and girls who grew up here, for whom the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies.

We are going to have to learn how to deal with the division that is growing between the races. We have to have the courage to call agitators what they are and not let them hijack the airwaves when tragedy demands greater understanding and cooperation. It is our problem because we, black and white, are co-laborers in this experiment called America. I believe that the solution is going to take some very strong black leaders to get white and black to work on this, together. People like Al Sharpton are simply not friends of our common culture. I read a Sharpton quote that surprised me in its hypocrisy…

“If you play the theatrics too much, you get in the way of your own cause.”

It would do well for he and his compatriots to follow their own advice. I hope that Christians can be the vanguard of such a movement – as when Drs. Martin Luther King and John Perkins led the Civil Rights Movement half a century ago. We need men like them, today. We don’t need hammers.

 

 

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Knot

The term Gordian Knot is used today to describe a difficult, intractable and unsolvable problem. Legend has it that Midas, the king of Phrygia, dedicated his ox-cart to Zeus in the city of Gordium and it was tied to Zeus’ shrine by a complex knot that had no exposed ends. An oracle foretold that whoever could untie the Gordian Knot would rule Asia. Though many men tried, its puzzle evaded even the wisest of men.

KnotIn his recent post, The Rabbit Hole Revisited, Paul Louis Metzger talks about the rabbit hole of race relations. Like Alice plunging into the hole unaware of what she was getting herself into, those who would work to address the racial inequities in America will find themselves overwhelmed by its course. There will seemingly be no end in sight. Race relations is the Gordian Knot that our secular society cannot untie. The church has not fared much better.

Given that in our cohort we are discussing unity within the body of Christ, I have to ask, “Why is race relations a rabbit hole?” Paul says he feels overwhelmed with the complexity of it, particularly with respect to “power dynamics of majority and minority cultures” and “the privileged status of white men in the United States.” Put in those secular sociological terms, I understand why it seems intractable. These are not relational words and I continue to see them as pejorative. They do violence to the history of so many white people in America, themselves the progeny of people who fled persecution and prejudice.

I think I am out of step with my doctoral cohort when I respond that I am deeply troubled by the problem being presented in terms of white privilege and white power. No one can deny that there are significant racial inequities in America. No one can deny that they are the result of the national sin of slavery and the historical abuse of power by a white majority. The damage it has done to our nation is being felt today – in fact is is being exacerbated in the polarized multi-cultural standoff that is secular black-white relations.

But among Christians, it should be anything but a rabbit hole. It should be marked by a desire to win the visible reconciliation for which our Savior died. Reconciliation takes hard and brutal honesty in order to expose the flawed, sinful thinking that has gotten us here – on both sides of the racial divide. I relish the opportunities to have the kind of frank discussions that lead to greater understanding. Iron sharpens iron, especially when my own sinful thinking is revealed. But can we say we are really having honest discussions? Would my minority brothers ask me to walk on eggshells because politically correct rules have been established that keep us from getting real? Every white person knows the unwritten rules regarding what you can and cannot say regarding race. Would my minority brother really desire my “privileged demise?” I am not sure I can even comprehend that without seeing the sin in it. I have yet to find the verse in the Bible that addresses the sin of being born white.

Recently, I was discussing this with a young African-American friend of mine. We talk about about the challenges we face as we intentionally build bridges of understanding. He texted me a note of encouragement after our discussion that said,

A Christian culture where the Spirit of the Lord is permitted to lead men of diverse cultures to serve one another in love is an even greater minority than any ethnic group! Be encouraged.

But it should not be a minority! Christianity is all about inclusivity. The Holy Spirit is at work removing ethnic and racial barriers. The Spirit forces us out of our comfort zones and turns our hearts towards each other. There is a need for bridge-builders; cultural pioneers from all “nations” who will forge ahead into the challenge created by our polarized American culture; to enter in with a loving desire to know and be known.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:16-22)

The Gospel belongs to all; not to one culture more than another. It binds us into a common culture and yet makes room for all of our distinctions to be celebrated. As Christians, we cannot follow in the footsteps of those who would stoke the fires of racial tension.

Alexander the Great, aware of the oracle regarding the ruler of the known world, arrived in Gordium to take his turn at the knot. After attempting to untie it, he took out his sword and with a single stroke sliced the knot in half. His solution was completely outside the box. Within his lifetime, Alexander the Great became the ruler of Asia.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:17-22)

Relational problems call for relational solutions. Jesus, the great reconciler, is the sword that will slice the Gordian Knot of racial relations. He set the course we are to follow. The solution to what we see in our balkanized nation should begin in earnest in the church by intentional bridge-builders who learn about His kind of love through our serving of one another.

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Really?

180I was recently at a presentation given by a speaker who has done some excellent writing about the church. At an evening session she got into a discussion about racial issues and shared an experience she had at an elite northeast school where a white student confused two black students who looked nothing alike. Then she played a short video that showed Samuel Jackson going off on a white commentator who confused him with Laurence Fishburne. The subtext was that white people think all black people look alike. Really? That’s where you go with it? That is certainly where Samuel Jackson went with it. His rant was amusing in a mocking sort of way, but it was an unnecessary ambush on a hapless reporter who couldn’t defend himself once the charge was leveled. What was the purpose of Jackson’s rant? Why did the speaker who I admire think this was a good illustration?

Confusing two actors is not something unique to black actors. People confused Dustin Hoffman with Al Pacino. They thought AnnaSophia Robb in Terabithia was Dakota Fanning. People even confuse Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe. I have had people of every color confuse me with other people who look nothing like me. It happens.

This same speaker later joked about a website that deals with “Stuff White People Like.” I looked it up. While it strikes a few funny notes, it is built on the idea of ridiculing white people for things with which most white people wouldn’t even relate. It relies on stereotypes and bad information – precisely the thing the speaker was saying needs to stop if we are to have unity. I don’t understand why she thought it was a good illustration for a talk dealing with unity. How can this do anything for unity?

Maybe people who are buying into this need to get out more with regular white folks. The perjoratives of the “gets it” crowd are tiring. What do they “get?” At least let us in on it so we can laugh together. Most of the white people I know are pretty self-effacing. We can listen and learn from not only the past offenses of our culture, but our own insensitivities. We can sit down to listen, love and learn. I have become much more aware of the damage that can be done to people marginalized by dominant culture. But frankly, it is hard to listen to someone with an understanding ear when they are repeatedly poking their finger in your chest. It is no way for people in the church to communicate peace. We should not speak to one another in the broken language of our divided culture.

Peace. That is what unity looks like. It is worth doing everything possible to create peace. For Jesus, it meant going to the cross. For us? Paul gives us the following…

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor… Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)

If we are going to have substantive discussions that lead to unity, we are all going to have to take Romans 12 seriously.

 

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