When you pray, move your feet

030212-national-john-lewis-bloody-sunday

John Lewis marching in Selma prior to being attacked by state troopers

They say it’s an African proverb (who knows if it actually is):

When you pray, move your feet.

The reason I know this phrase is not because I grew up in South Africa, but because it is a favorite saying of John Lewis, one of the key leaders of the USA Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Lewis was responsible for helping to lead a lot of the grassroots college protests in the 60’s– the Freedom Rides, lunch-counter sit-ins, and also led the famous march in Selma for voting rights.

In other news, we just finished a small group study of the book Generous Justice with some people from our church. The book systematically goes through the Bible and shows how justice is central to God’s character, and to the way he expects his people to live. One of the most interesting things Keller brings up is the term righteousness in the Bible doesn’t mainly refer to private personal morality, but rather refers to the individual’s role in bringing social justice. Throughout scripture (but especially in the book of Job), we see the definition of an unrighteous person is one who advantages himself at the expense of the community, while the righteous man disadvantages himself for the sake of his neighbour. Whether that is clothes, food, legal counsel, or paying a fair wage–righteous people actively seek justice for their neighbours, even at cost to themselves.

I’ve been thinking about prayer, and justice, and what it means to pray while moving your feet this week, because South Africa just had possibly its largest ever prayer meeting. Thousands of people gathered to pray for our country, and for just leadership in our nation. I believe the work of justice is spiritual work, and so I was encouraged to see so many people willing to travel for hours in order to pray for just leadership. Continue reading

I get it. So now what?

so-now

Some people read my first post and were confused or hurt. I tried to address that in this post. Others of you read it and were like- “Yeah, I get this! But what can I do about it?”

I’ve tried to gather together some resources and some things I’ve learned about racial reconciliation into one post. This is especially targeted at white people. Most of these are things I’ve learned from other smarter, more seasoned people of color. Hopefully you’ll click on links and read their words yourself! 🙂 And please share ideas below of things you are doing (or wish could be done!)

Continue reading

Gracism: The art of radical inclusion

Oookay that last post ended up going to a much broader audience than I intended! I’m thankful to the people who have kept their comments civil, as this is something the internet discourages us from doing these days. That’s what we Christians do, it’s part of our witness to the watching world. We disagree, but we can have civil conversation about it , we still see people as made in God’s image, we resist the temptation to overgeneralize and defame. Thank you to those who have shown this is possible, even when emotions are running high.

To my friends who voted for Trump (and I say friends, because you are! I know and love you, and I know you are not hateful, KKK-loving crazies) – I’m sorry if my words caused you pain, if you felt like I was painting you into the corner as the bad guys. My intention was simply to point out the real pain that I’ve witnessed in the church from the things Trump himself and some of his supporters have said and done. I think many of us in the church naively thought we could vote on a platform and separate that from the person, without realizing the real hurt that would cause to the most vulnerable members of the body of Christ. And that’s what I care about- the hurt to the vulnerable members of our body. Continue reading

On referendums and supreme court rulings to bring social justice

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately (as you can tell) and the role that politics play in bringing social justice. We’ve been listening to More Perfect (a podcast about the US Supreme Court) and it’s been blowing my mind.

Recently we listened to a podcast about test-case trials. In cases where people feel the law is unjust, or needs to be challenged or reinterpreted, but there’s no way to get that through the normal political process (like the State representatives voting on it), Civil Right’s activists find a case where an individual is being treated unfairly under the law, and take the issue to court.  Continue reading

What Christian Politics looks like

Surveys show that one of the reasons millennial are leaving the evangelical church is that they perceive it to be too political. I relate to this (probably because I grew up in another country, and seeing American flags on the front stage of churches is just still very odd to me). The evangelical church has been associated with the conservative Republicans since the 80’s when some guys realized there was a huge sector of society that was uninterested in politics, but if energized, could be a significant political force.  Continue reading

“I just called for help and you came and killed him”

 

gettyimages-611038814_custom-36023d7cbf255f3925dfd36f35fec120022d1354-s800-c85.jpg

Source: npr

“I just called for help, and you came and killed him,” she said. “I told you guys he’s sick. You guys came and killed my brother.” – sister of Alfred Olango, a mentally ill, unarmed black man who was killed in California.

She called the police herself, because her brother was acting erratically and walking into traffic. “He’s mentally ill,” she told the police. “He’s unarmed, but he’s mentally ill, and I’m worried about him because he’s blocking traffic.”  Continue reading

On Corporate Confession: A Prayer for Black History Month

Over Christmas break, I was drinking coffee with two of my favorite people in the world (who actually had never met each other). We only had an hour, so there was zero small talk and we went straight to the good stuff like the role of women in the church and diversity and reconciliation and these pressing issues that keep us up at night. At one point we were talking about reconciliation in the church, and black lives matter, and why our white churches can’t/aren’t doing anything on this issue. And at one point I said something like,

“The white church’s problem is we see everything as individualistic, and so we think if we’re individually nice to the black people we know then we’re loving our neighbours and everything is fine. (Like this study pointed out). But if the problems are bigger than that—if they’re structural, if racism is more about a system—it’s harder for people to grasp that.”

Continue reading

Ok, so I’m racist. Now what?

One of my favorite books, specifically aimed at a Christian audience, that takes social science research on groups and identity, and applies it to churches. Go buy it here! http://www.amazon.com/dp/0830844031/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=46875713345&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=11074892684612560981&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_5s1q88zmna_b

One of my favorite books, specifically aimed at a Christian audience, that takes social science research on groups and identity, and applies it to churches. Go buy it here! http://amzn.to/1P4euHl

There’s an article going round on the Huffington Post right now, talking about how racism isn’t just having prejudiced feelings towards people, or saying nasty things about people of another race. It has to do with a bigger system that shapes the way the world works, and who has access to privilege and power, and who does not. If we think racism is only about saying mean things or personally hating people of another race, then we don’t ever stop and question a bigger system— and we can actually feed into that system. For white people who read that and were like, “Yes! Agreed… okay, so…and now what?” Here are a few ideas of ways to concretely tackle some of these issues. I have not come up with these ideas myself. Most of them come from other smarter people than I am. Also, I realize that I often talk in black/white language, but racism affects many groups in the US and SA in different ways- Asians, Latinos, Indians…it’s not just a black/white thing.

First, don’t be the boss. When it comes to fighting against racial injustice, there’s a massive need for white people to get involved—racism is our problem, it’s everyone’s problem—but we really don’t need to run the show. This happens in the States, and I’ve seen this happen All. The. Time. in South Africa. Us white guys are used to being the boss. If we think we’re doing a great job of including black people in decisions we’re making about making black lives better…uh, that’s already a problem. If we find ourselves thinking things like, “I’ve hired a black assistant pastor, so now our church is diverse!” that’s probably a problem. We can’t be running the show and co-opting people onto our team to make it more colourful. Whether it’s churches or work places or anything. Listen. Go join someone else’s team. Submit to black leadership. Find a mentor.

Listen & Learn about race and racial injustice.  I feel like I’m a stuck tape recorder on this one. I love what Christina Cleveland has to say on this topic to leaders, “Within the family of God, members of oppressed groups should not have to mount a social justice campaign to be heard.” Of any group, Christians have some of the strongest and best motivations for listening to the ‘outsider’ and oppressed. Let’s reshape our structures in our churches and workplaces so that members of oppressed groups can be heard loud and clear. Let’s educate ourselves on the issue as well.

Become a white ally. The term that people use in America for white people who want to help end racism is “white ally”. You don’t experience racism first hand, but you ally yourself with people who do, and join their cause. Janee Woods has a great article listing 12 very practical things you can do to be a good white ally, from learning how modern racism is rooted in a history of racism, to getting active in your community around policing issues, to advocating for change in the criminal justice system. Read it! Several ideas of hers I will be expanding on, but she has lots of wisdom here.

Stay informed. Change your media. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help for people in South Africa, except BrettFish’s blog (awesome stuff related to race here), but I know a few more in the US. Many of these are specifically from a Christian perspective. Here is a link listing some of the top blogs written by Christian people of color in the US, and many of them focus on racial justice issues–and even if they don’t do that constantly, you can be sure when something happens in the news related to race, they will “pause their normal programming” to weigh in on it. (This link is, yet again, thanks to Christina Cleveland. If you haven’t read her book, do that, too!) Because I’m lazy, and don’t want to subscribe to hundreds of people, I generally look for people who are good content curators, and retweet/post links to other people. Two of the best I have found for that is the blog “By their strange fruit” (@BTSFblog) and @CarisAdel.

Share your voice.  The sad thing is that sometimes a white voice will be heard before a black voice will. This is wrong, we need to work to change that, but it’s reality. So use your voice to make space for black voices. Don’t be afraid to share about racial justice issues in your sphere of influence. Talk with your friends and family, your pastor, your school board. Speak in places where a black voice just won’t reach yet, and introduce people to new black voices.

Be willing to look at how economic & racial privilege are linked, and then make choices about your stuff. You don’t have to just go with the flow. Since the system is giving white people economic privilege, you can share that privilege, rather than horde it. For example, we were given a car to use for the next two years because our family is awesome and generous with their stuff, but also is able to be generous because of a history of privilege. So I can just take that gift and say “Score! More room in my budget for holidays!” or, I can figure out a way to give my money/time towards making it possible for people who don’t have that kind of privilege to get access to material possessions. Mine your social privilege for others. Make connections for people getting jobs. Tithe on major purchases (like a house) into organizations or groups that are working on getting people access to affordable housing*.

In South Africa, learn the majority language of your area. In the US, racism is really tied into slavery, but in South Africa, racism and colonialism are still very linked. Part of that means that if you’re an English first-language speaker, the system is built to privilege you. You can read more about that on a blog I wrote here. Also, based on feedback from that post, I want it to be clear that learning isiZulu is not some kind of magic “get out of jail free card.” There are plenty of racist people in South Africa who know isiZulu. But anyone who is committed to racial justice in KZN and hasn’t seriously made an attempt at learning isiZulu is missing something vital. In the US, you could learn Spanish, or the language of the most recent immigrant community in your area.

In the US, advocate for reform in the criminal justice system. Read a book like “The New Jim Crow”, which explains how our criminal justice system is whacked. It explores major inequalities (like how most drug dealers are white, but most people in prison on drug related charges are black, or how when a black and a white teenager are caught with the same amount of drugs, the white teen will get off with a warning and the black teen will serve time. It also talks about how possession of drugs as a felony means that people are never able to rebuild their lives after serving time on a drug charge, because of “the box” asking people to check if they have ever been convicted of a felony on job applications….) Obama is the first US president to ever visit a federal prison and speak out about this issue (see it here), and if you’re looking for a way to advocate around these issues, here’s a link to some organizations.

Advocate for better education for everyone, everywhere. As one guy has argued, we could be totally pragmatic about all this and forget trying to help white people come to terms with understanding racism. Instead, we could just focus on changing things “on the ground”- like improving education, ending the war on drugs, providing contraceptives etc. I don’t see this as an either/or, but a both/and. Especially because as a Christian, I see justice as holistic: oppressed and oppressors experiencing wholeness that comes from working together to make our world better for everyone.

Some more resources for understanding privilege:

Ok, your turn– what are some other good resources you know of to help white people join the cause of racial justice in both South Africa and the USA?

*Note: There are a lot of structural, big picture economic reforms that many people are advocating for in South Africa that could help the vast majority of people who are stuck in material poverty due to our racist history of apartheid. I think as a white person, a lot of our gut instinct is fear, panic, and immediately rejecting the very notion. Instead of that, we should educate ourselves about these proposals. Even if you end up being against large-scale change instigated by the government, you’ll need to offer a thoughtful alternative. You’ll also have a much better leg to stand on if in your personal life you are willing to live generously, sacrificially, and in a way that empowers others.