Some time ago I began reading the book The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change by Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson.
The book intrigued me for two reasons: Brenda Salter McNeil spoke at my workplace, and I was amazed by her grace and wisdom. And, after adopting two children of a different race than my own, I thought I could use some advice from an African American woman who is speaking out about racial justice.
McNeil doesn’t just speak out about it, she has lived it. Her colleague and coauthor, Richardson is a Caucasian man. Here is a brief statement from their introduction.
“We have both experienced the power of reconciled relationships. Our lives would be quite different if we stayed within our own ethnic circles . . . We have also experienced the pain of racial division and too many superficial and unsatisfying attempts to bridge the racial divide. Well-meaning people, including the two of us at points, have hurt others unintentionally. We have learned that it is no easy thing to be reconciled and to work together for peace with justice.” (15)
I recently picked up this book again because as you’ve probably guessed, it is not an “easy read.” It requires time to process and understand. It requires time to be open to the message and to allow the message to change your thoughts, words, actions, and most of all, your heart.
I would like to share with you as I study this book and would welcome your thoughts as you read my summaries and my thoughts or questions. I hope to summarize and share every few weeks or so. But, as all parents know, it is not wise to promise things within a specific timeframe. However, I can promise that I will do my best to study and share with you.
Chapter 1 – Is There Still a Race Problem?
**For consistency, I will use the terms people of color and whites. I apologize if these are not the terms you prefer.**
This chapter begins by describing several racial incidents which occurred in Illinois in 1999. A white supremacist shot and killed a basketball coach, wounded several ethnic Jews, fired shots at Asian people, and killed a Korean doctoral student. Incidents like these continue on because there is still a race problem in the United States. The authors state that suspicion, hostility, and violence have increased between different racial and religious groups, especially after the attacks of September 11.
Whites are often threatened by the successes of other ethnic groups, which results in speaking out against the immigration of any more people, usually people of color (statistics show that in the next twenty years, whites will become a minority in the U.S.), and the repealing of government programs such as affirmative action.
“All of this is evidence of a spirit of fear that is endemic to our society and can be changed only by the Spirit of God.” (19)
The authors suggest that the Christian church has failed to be proactive and “demonstrate the truth and power of the gospel to create unity across cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities.” (19) Why is this?
“ . . . most evangelicals view their faith, conversion, and transformation as an individual matter that affects society one life at a time. Unfortunately, this theological individualism has rendered most evangelical Christians completely ill-equipped to deal with major social structures or grapple with corporate and institutional evil.” (20)
Most whites believe there is no longer a race problem, while people of color see clearly that racism still exists. The Church needs to address this injustice and build a new model based on racial reconciliation, social justice, and spiritual healing.
So, what caught your attention here?
I was embarrassed to realize that not that long ago, I would have agreed with most whites. There’s not a race problem, there are not slaves, everyone can vote, everyone has the opportunity to work hard and make something of themselves. Why don’t people of color just work a little harder and whine a little less? But, God began to work on my heart. He was preparing me to be a part of an interracial family. He showed me examples of racism, not just violent racism, but the more subversive racism that is still so prevalent. He continues to show me when I have thoughts or opinions based on racial stereotypes. I am far from perfect in my understanding, but I take comfort in the fact that God is still working on me.
I agree with the authors in regards to the Church’s role. Our society is so individualistic and that seeps into our churches. We are so concerned about ourselves that we forget that God has called us to lead and serve, be in the world, not of it. How do we build a new model based on racial reconciliation, social justice, and spiritual healing? I’m not sure that I know, but the authors will provide some direction here.
Questions from the Study Guide (182)
- Do you believe a race problem still exists? Why or why not?
- What in your personal experience has informed you on your answer?
- Why do you believe there is a disparity in the way people of color and white people perceive the existence of a race problem?
McNeil, Brenda Salter, and Rick Richardson. The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.