“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NIV).
The murders of Senator Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC and eight of his congregants brought most of us to our knees and shook us to our core. Their lives were taken after welcoming a stranger into their weekly Bible study. One whom they didn’t know held racist beliefs towards African Americans. As a result of this tragedy, the issue of racism in America has been brought to the forefront of the national conversation. Many struggle with recognizing its existence. While others feel its sting on a daily basis.
People wonder what the Church can do to work towards racial reconciliation and healing in this nation. Roland Martin of TV One’s News One Now invited a panel of white evangelical Christians to discuss the events in Charleston and how the symbolism of the confederate flag influenced the murderer. Needless to say, some panelists had a hard time accepting that racism still exists.
Even as a black woman, I understand how one could struggle accepting the reality of racism. If you’ve been sheltered or if you’ve never been a target, it is easy to miss it or see these issues through rose-colored lenses. However, if you’ve been a victim or if you’ve been enlightened on how systemic racism still impacts people of color today, you know that racism is very much alive and still affects a great number of us.
Ironically, my first encounter with racism occurred on church grounds. A Lutheran church was having a parking lot, yard sale in Maryland, and my mother pulled over to see what items were for sale. As soon as we walked onto the parking lot, someone had the police push us off the lot. I remember the police officer forcefully pushing my mother in the back to remove her from the church property while she pulled me and my sisters along with her. She kept repeating to the officer, “I’m going. I’m going. We didn’t do anything.” I remember how upset she was when we got back into our car. She was almost to the point of tears. She later told me that they pushed us off the property because we were black. I was only in middle school at the time, so I didn’t quite understand what happened. However, sadly, this wouldn’t be my only encounter with racism.
I attended an upper-class high school in Bethesda, MD. There were less than 10 black students in the entire school at the time. Most of the black students were from the neighborhood group home. We always heard our share of N-word jokes, and some of the teachers treated us as if we were inferior. Many implied we couldn’t read. I couldn’t take the hostility, so I transferred after my sophomore year. Unfortunately, I have many other experiences I could share.
So, as Christians, how can we overcome differences and come to a place of racial reconciliation? I don’t have a quick-fix answer. However, I believe the first step is to gain understanding. I believe that we must open up the lines of communication across racial and denominational lines and have the tough conversations about race in America. Instead of shutting down or discrediting someone’s experience, we should keep an open mind and try to understand each other. I believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the blood of Jesus Christ which unites us all, we can overcome that which we feel that divides us. However, the first step is starting the conversation.
“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 and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” Revelation 7:9 (NIV).
As believers, our goal should be unity and a beloved community. We have a ways to go and many great obstacles, but I believe that through Jesus Christ, we can get there.