How Should White Conservative Christians Serve Our Urban Communities? The Diagnosis

volume 19, number 20, May 7, 2020

… a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.” -Colossians 3:11

I grew up in Birmingham but was living in Chicago, Illinois in 1963 when the Civil Rights movement really heated up in Birmingham. However I still remember the “Whites Only” bathrooms and water fountains in my city. On a trip back to Birmingham I remember we were sitting somewhere in Tennessee at a drive-in hamburger place listening to “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley when a black man showed up to buy a hamburger. He had to go around the back to be served. That seemed odd to me but I was only eleven years old so I did not think too much about it. Wini nor I have ever considered ourselves racists. I guess I learned about racial equality from my parents. My mom had many black friends, even in the 1960’s when I guess that was not cool. I remember, in the late sixties, black men with whom my father worked, sitting at our kitchen table on Saturday mornings drinking coffee and eating my mom’s breakfast and then going out in the backyard with my dad to pick vegetables out of his garden. Wini remembers her dad in 1963 going to a meeting at their church when the issue on the table was whether or not to seat black people if they came to worship God. Her father and three other men were the only ones of around fifty who voted, “Yes, anyone is welcome to worship in this church.” Wini still talks about that moment and how she grew to admire her father’s stand.

In light of the present movement toward Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality I am concerned that the Reformed and Evangelical Church is moving in a direction which is taking us away from the simplicity and purity of the gospel. I want to weigh in on the topic. I hear some white Christians say, in light of our racial division, “They just need to get over it. This is not the 1960’s.” I get it but if you have ever counseled a woman who was sexually assaulted by her brother, father, or grandfather and who now, many years later, though a Christian, is still plagued with suicidal tendencies and other forms of destructive behavior, then surely you realize that knowledge of their past is helpful in directing them to Christ today. Context is important.

So, may I suggest you try for a moment to get inside the mind and heart of black people, especially those who are my age or a little younger, who have suffered from racial bigotry. After all, Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 

At 10:15 a.m. on Sunday, September 15, 1963, just prior to the morning worship service at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, fourteen year old Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Cynthia Wesley, along with eleven year old Denise McNair were in the women’s lounge located in the basement on the northeast corner of the church. They were “primping”, preparing to serve as ushers on “Youth Day” at the church. At 10:22 a.m. a massive explosion just outside the church, next to women’s lounge, caused by a bomb of an estimated fifteen sticks of dynamite went off, blowing a seven feet by seven feet hole in the wall at the women’s lounge and making a crater two and a quarter feet deep in the concrete floor. Deacon M. W. Pippen, the grandfather of Denise McNair, was one of the first to make his way to the pile of rubble. He began gingerly removing debris and soon found four bodies, stacked like cordwood against the opposite wall. He first thought the bodies were forty to forty-five years old because of their disfigurement. He found one body with a severed head. And then he found his granddaughter’s little white patent leather shoe and he knew immediately that it was Denise. I have three granddaughters and I cannot possibly imagine the pain, sorrow, and horror of finding any of them in a pile of rubble, dead from an explosion.[1]  

During World War II the San Francisco Bay Area became one of our nation’s most prolific shipbuilding centers along with other vital components of the war machine. Richmond, across the bay from San Francisco, grew from 24,000 to 100,000 people from 1941 to 1945. At first, only white workers were hired to work there but when fewer and fewer white men were available the government had no choice but to hire white women, then black men, and finally black women. The federal government, under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, made sure explicitly and officially that housing would be segregated. Recreational facilities were built for the citizens of Richmond but special hours were set aside for use by black people.[2]

A 1962 investigation of assessed property values in predominantly African American Roxbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, found that property there was assessed at 68% of market value while in white West Roxbury property was assessed at only 41%, meaning black people were paying a higher rate of taxation. The same discrepancy was true in Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s Bridgeport neighborhood where property was assessed at 50% of what it was in nearby and mainly black North Lawndale.[3] From 1962 to 1967 I lived with my dad, mom, brother, and sister in a suburb of Chicago which was as segregated as Birmingham ever was. I remember our Real Estate agent telling my dad that black people were not welcome to move into our town, that they were warned that if they did move there they would not receive fire department protection if their houses caught on fire.
In the summer of 1966, while we were living in suburban Chicago, I remember Martin Luther King organizing a march in nearby Cicero, seeking equal housing. King said, “Swastikas bloomed in Chicago parks like misbegotten weeds. Our marchers were met by a hailstorm of bricks, bottles, and firecrackers. . . I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I had never seen, even in Mississippi, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as in Chicago.”[4] 

I am stating the obvious. Our nation has had a long, sordid history of racial discrimination and injustice, and I hope you can see that this was by no means limited to the South. From a Christian perspective, what is the remedy? To be more specific, how should white, conservative Christians serve our urban communities? And to go further still, how should suburban black Christians also serve our urban communities? I fear we might be guilty of either neglecting the work there or worse, bringing a remedy which is no remedy at all. I am a white, conservative Christian. I doubt there are many people more politically conservative than me. I am a Ronald Reagan, pro-life, pro second amendment, small government, free market, fiscal conservative. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will one day overturn Roe versus Wade and remove what is without question the most unjust and wicked decision ever perpetrated on our nation. Since 1973 well over 61 million babies have been aborted in the United States. And at least since 2014 36% of all abortions in the United States have been performed on black women.[5]

So, what is the remedy for the blight of racism on our nation? Allow me, first of all, to tell you what it is not. The solution is not Critical Race Theory (CRT).[6] Simply put, CRT is Marxist in origin. It seeks to bring massive change by pitting “the oppressor” against the “oppressed”. It goes like this—if you are white, then you are privileged and were born a racist, are now a racist, and will always be a racist. This viewpoint is now very prevalent in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Southern Baptist Convention, and many more denominational and independent churches. A former moderator of the PCA has said to a predominantly white audience, “I am not just a recovered racist. I am a recovering racist. And just as dare I say it, you are.” First of all, the term “recovering” is right out of Alcoholics Anonymous where those in the program are to proclaim that they are indeed alcoholics, even if they have not taken a drink in ten years. This is not Biblical language. This is psychotherapeutic jargon. You may have been a racist but if you are a true Christian then you cannot possibly be one now. Why? Because you are a new creation in Christ and because those who say they love God and hate their brother are liars and the truth is not in them (2 Cor.5:17, 1 Jn.4:8,20).[7] You may be a racist now and if so then you must repent, for racism is murder[8] (Mt.5:21,22), and murderers will not inherit the kingdom of God (Revelation 21:8). There is no hope or transforming power in the statement that white people are at best recovering racists. 
So, how should both white, conservative and black, suburban believers serve our urban communities? I will take up the remedy next week. 

Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, Diane McWhorter, pages 501-507.
2  The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein, pages 5,6.
3  Ibid. page 171. 
4  “Black Chicago Teen’s Death Fueled Cicero March during 1966 protests,” Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2016.
5  “Let’s Talk About the Black Abortion Rate,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2018. Incidentally, black civil rights leaders in the 1970’s were opposed to abortion. Jesse Jackson once said that we used to look for death from the man in the blue coat coming for us but now it comes in a white coat. Jackson changed his position in order to run as a Democrat for President in 1984.
6  One of the best, most succinct treatments of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality is “Is Critical Theory Compatible with Christianity?” Breakpoint Daily, The Colson Center, April 30, 2020.
7  I am not denying the reality of indwelling sin and the tendency we all have to put on the old man, to act or speak like we did before we were recipients of regenerating grace. Nonetheless if former racist tendencies rear their ugly heads then a true believer will see it, hate it and forsake it, repent, and ask for the grace of forgiveness and sanctification. 
8  Being angry with someone, calling them “Raca”, a very derogatory name, or calling them a fool is defined by Jesus as murder. 

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