Back in November 2019, a reporter gathered a group of white and African-American evangelical Christians at the Aaron Lake Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina to have a discussion. The group largely agreed on issues of theology and social issues such as abortion, but when the conversation turned to race relations, the president, and politics, significant divisions were exposed.
Take the time to listen to this seven-minute conversation:
Think through these questions:
- Why do you think the two groups of Christians, who agreed on theology and social issues, had widely diverging views on the president and racial politics?
- There is a tense moment in the conversation around the use of the word “lynching”. How is this tension built by the different historical memories that these groups have? Notice the reference to Emmett Till.
- Listen to the very end. How does this group handle their disagreement? What can we learn from this encounter?
Take some time and post your responses to this conversation and the questions. We would love to keep this discussion going.
2 thoughts on “Listening Across Racial Lines”
One of the things that stood out to me about this conversation was how our experiences and culture growing up shape our understanding of race and history, for better or worse. I imagine that David Carlson (the white teenager in this conversation) had similar education and experiences to me. The more I dig into this, the more un-learning I realize I need to do.
I attended predominantly white, suburban, upper-middle class schools for elementary, middle, and high school. During the time I was in elementary and middle school the county I grew up in (Hamilton County, Indiana) was registered as the most conservative county in the country. I learned later that the KKK had a significant presence there from the 1920s – 1960s, which I’m sure continued on and is still alive today.
Growing up in this culture, whenever I asked questions about faith that no one wanted to answer, I was told, “We don’t question it. We just believe.” The same attitude held true when I questioned authority, or wanted to understand more about historical injustices or just wanted to know why things happened the way they did. The response was usually met with some variation of, “That was just a different time. That’s just the way things were done back then.” No digging deeper. No discussion about systemic injustice. No talk about redlining. No hearing from other points of view. No rocking the boat. When I try to remember learning about Emmet Till in school, I can’t. His death may have been mentioned in a paragraph in a history book. We learned about Rosa Parks and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, but only as part of a timeline or during Black History Month. We memorized people and dates but little was done to truly understand the driving forces behind these events.
I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I went through the Emmet Till exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC and saw his face in the casket that I finally began to understand the horror of his murder. I left feeling sick. Sick that someone did this. Sick that it was celebrated by the white community. Sick that I wasn’t told the truth about it in school. Sick that we’ve looked the other way.
Marcus Belt pointed out to Carlson that “Every Black man in this room knows who Emmet Till is.” To me that not only shows how our education system has been white-washed to gloss over the injustices of our country, but how little dialogue and understanding there is between those who experience different realities from one another. The lack of understanding is heartbreaking.
I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until I lived in a minority-majority city that I really began to form relationships with people who didn’t look like me. As I got to know other parents my kids’ school, I learned about “The Talk” my Black friends had to have with their children. “The Talk” included information about how to act around police officers or to not put their hands in their pockets when they walked through the store because someone would think they were shoplifting, or worse — hiding a gun. These are conversations I never had with my kids because being racially profiled is not a reality for my family. Continuing to learn what my friends of color experience has certainly challenged the way I see how both the church and the government have failed in the areas of racial justice. While re-examining these things with a wider lens can be challenging and painful, I would rather come to know my own unconscious biases so I can repent of them and move forward than to continue to be blinded by my own comfort and privilege and continue the cycle of racial injustice.
I think the fact that they ended this conversation in prayer together – acknowledging the hurt, yet seeing one another as brothers and sisters and committing to move forward in love models the way forward. The thing I keep coming back to is one pastor’s comment of running towards the tension, not away from it. The only way to move forward to racial justice is to engage the tension—to sit in it and reflect on how each of us can take tangible steps towards listening and restoration.
Thank you for sharing your experiences growing up in Indiana. I’m afraid that a white-washed version of history that was taught in your school is not limited to suburban Indiana. I did not know, until recently, who Emmitt Till was either and I grew up in the racially diverse and liberal leaning public education system in New York City.
I think an important way forward for us is simply acknowledging that there is so much we don’t know. Without a knowledge of the truth we will not build bridges in the church. The problem is that we live in separate communities, worship in separate churches, watch different news channels, and shop at different stores, that unless we are intentional and stepping out listening to experiences that are alien to our own, then Sunday morning will continue to be the most segregated hour of the week in America.