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Winning the Race to Unity
Is racial reconciliation really working?
By Clarence F. Shuler
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2003 Clarence F. Shuler
All rights reserved.
Missing the Mark
We Must Refocus Our Aim if We Are to Win the Race Game
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
God graciously endowed me with the ability to play basketball and gave me the opportunity to play both in college and overseas with missions basketball teams. My sports involvement has been a vehicle He has used to teach me lessons about race relationships. It was (and is) a natural open door for building cross-cultural friendships. I was the first black person many of my new white friends had ever known.
Without question, God used sports to give me a vision for unity in the body of Christ at large. I am convinced that whether we're on the court or in the pew, certain commitments and qualities—such as determination, diligence, and devotion—help to build an unbeatable combination of harmony and integrity. But victory is never easy. Sometimes it requires a flexibility that takes us beyond the familiar and the comfortable.
God continues to use sports in my life as an analogy for racial partnerships. For instance, as I've grown older, my ability to play basketball at a certain level has begun to diminish quite rapidly (amazing what happens with age!). As a result, I've decided to turn to tennis. The word spread that I wanted to learn this sport. The head coach of the University of Tulsa women's tennis team was referred to me. As this patient woman began to teach me how to play tennis, much of her instruction did not make sense. In fact, some of it seemed downright stupid. But I had a vested interest in her instruction because I was paying twenty-five dollars an hour to receive it (three lessons; she gave me the fourth for free), so I didn't give up.
To my surprise, when I followed her directions, the ball went where she said it would! Slowly I began to learn the game of tennis by faith as I did what I was told to do. With the instruction of the tennis coach and of Rudy Perkins (a former Southern Cal tennis player and one of my best friends) and Bill Funderburk, I experienced the joy of winning tennis tournaments. But before any tournaments were won, there were many more losses. Fortunately, I was able to learn from them.
The same is true in race relations. Step-by-step we learn by faith what we must do to bring about unity. My prayer is that each chapter of this book would be a step in the right direction for those of you who are serious about improving race relations, or a confirmation for those of you who are already active that you are moving in the right direction. Some of what I am saying may not ring true for you initially. This will not negate the truth of what has been written. This may simply be the first time you have heard some of these truths, or it may be the first time you have had the opportunity to view truth from a Christian African-American perspective. Please don't let yourself become defensive. Instead, ask God to help you to work through the tough issues. This is how spiritual growth takes place as we work through the tough issues by the power of the Holy Spirit—as opposed to running away from our difficulties.
I hope you will be motivated to read this book from cover to cover because of your vested interest. For me, the vested interest in tennis was the twenty-five dollars an hour I had paid for instruction. For you as a Christian, hopefully, the motivation will come from such Scriptures as John 10:16, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd," and John 17:21, "[I pray] that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
There are other similar passages, such as 1 Corinthians 12:12–26 and 1 John 4:19–21, just to list a few. Our ability to glorify God and the integrity of the Gospel we preach is at stake.
One of my goals in writing this book is to deepen your relationship with our Lord and Savior and the hope that, as a result, your relationship with others will bring you spiritual joy and a better understanding of Christians from other cultures. Many of the truths in this book will make some people uncomfortable, but for those who persevere, the results will be worth the effort. We just need to keep in mind that what we are learning has eternal ramifications.
My wife, Brenda, and I conduct marriage seminars around the country. We have found that as we explain to husbands and wives how and why they are different, it gives them understanding and security. We have discovered that a basic understanding of differences reduces competition, alleviates fear, and produces patience. My hope is that this book will birth in you some of these same results in cross-cultural relationships. It is critical that we who are Christians learn to complement one another in the body of Christ. We need each other. The key is interdependency.
THE WRONG QUESTION
The starting place to learn about anything is to ask questions. I asked my tennis coach how to serve the ball or hit a backhand in order to improve my game. The same is true when we begin to address the racial issue.
God is opening the door for me to consult with individuals, Christian colleges, churches, mission organizations, parachurch ministries, and general managers of Christian radio stations. All of the above who have hired me to consult with them have asked me the same question initially. It is intriguing to me that all these people from all these organizations ask the very same question. What is alarming is that they are all asking the wrong question. They are missing the mark.
Whenever I am asked this particular wrong question, a warning bell goes off in my head. This bell comes from the experience of thirty years of racial dialogue. It tells me that the individual (or organization) asking the question is probably not genuinely serious in his or her attempt to secure and practice information regarding Christian African Americans.
The authors of this question are usually looking for a way out. They are like those Christians who say to me, "I'm color-blind," or "I don't see color in my relationships." My response to such a statement is to tell them that's not true. Ask an individual the color of his car or his eyes and he will tell you they're blue or brown. So how come the color of someone's skin can't be assessed?
I usually engage the owner of this statement in a conversation that quickly reveals that he (or she) is not as "color-blind" as originally thought. The real issue is not the color of someone's skin, but how you treat him because of the color of his skin.
What is the wrong question? It reminds me of the question the rich young ruler asked Jesus about how to obtain eternal life. Jesus responded in Matthew 19:17–26 (NASB):
[Jesus] said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." Then he said to Him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
It seems the rich young ruler was asking the wrong question. He was asking, "Am I on the right track to get into heaven?" But Jesus, being Jesus, was and is in the stretching business. He was not about convenience but about a faith that requires risk and sacrifice. It is interesting that the rich young ruler knew that what he was doing was not good enough for him to gain entrance into heaven. What is frightening is that he was not willing to do what was necessary to spend eternity with Jesus. He was more than willing to rule but not willing to give up what he had and believe that Jesus could possibly give him even more.
It is easy to sit back and say that the rich young ruler was unspiritual. Yet many of us have the same response to cross-cultural relationships. Without a living, active faith in God, it will always be impossible to improve race relations even among Christians. Too many Christians have become comfortable and do not want to be stretched any more by God in any direction.
When I think of the wrong question being asked so frequently these days about race, it also reminds me of the question and response in Luke 10:25–37 (NASB):
And a lawyer stood up and put [Jesus] to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (vv. 25–29)
Jesus, of course, goes on to tell him the powerful parable of the Good Samaritan (vv. 30–37). The question should not have been, "Who is my neighbor?" but "How can I serve my neighbor?" Can you see the implications of this parable? The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans the Jews. Jesus was commanding the Jewish lawyer to serve everyone, even people who were not of his culture or race. And he said this at a time when Jewish tradition did not even allow Jews to walk through Samaria!
To everyone's surprise, Jesus held up the Samaritan as the model. Here the outcast of society accepted and aided his enemy. This principle is true in our society. Christian minorities are often more accepting of those in the Christian majority than those in the Christian majority are of them. In fact, like the Samaritan, Christian minorities will often go out of their way to help. They have to because they understand the pain of rejection. Not helping someone in need would make these Christian minorities just like the people they don't want to be like!
And so the wrong question many white evangelicals are asking when attempting to relate cross-culturally is this: "How can I relate to the African American?"
What is so wrong with this question? It seems harmless enough, but let's look at it closely. Why? Because the reality is that Christian African Americans see white America as controlling the economy and real estate, starting businesses and white parachurch ministries, even going overseas as missionaries—all without asking for any input from African Americans. But when these same white Christians go overseas as missionaries, they learn the language (many times from nationals) and the culture, study the history of the people they intend to serve, adapt to the food, and often wear the clothing of the country. Much of this is done before they ever step foot onto the mission field.
So when white evangelicals ask, "How can I relate to Christian African Americans?" Christian African Americans are shocked. We are shocked because even asking the question is confusing! We wonder why these same white evangelicals don't take the identical approach with African Americans here that they do with indigenous people around the world. Could it be that these same white evangelicals don't value knowing Christian African Americans as much as they do those people who have the same dark complexion but live overseas? Could it be that these same white evangelicals know that those people of a different complexion who live overseas are not coming to their America?
I know that question isn't a nice one. Nor is it easy to hear. But with no answers coming from the white evangelical community, inquiring minds want to know. Minds tend to wonder. With little explanation given by white evangelicals, their silence seems to say quite loudly that many white Christians don't really care about their Christian brothers and sisters who are of a different race and culture yet live right here in America.
A WAY OUT
When white evangelicals ask this question, it looks to African Americans as though they are looking for a way out of developing a serious relationship with African-American Christians. We African-American Christians have a question of our own: "Do white evangelicals really want to relate?"
I believe that any white evangelicals who are serious about relating to African-American Christians will read the history of African Americans (written by African-American authors, Christian and non-Christian), study the culture, and understand that African Americans are more expert on themselves than whites are (later in this book, suggested readings will be given). The fact that many white evangelicals don't study African-American history and culture continues to assist in building the wall of racism between the two races. I know that your reading this book means you are doing just what I'm recommending, and I commend you. Please keep reading. There are many insightful and helpful books written by African Americans about the African-American experience and heritage, including contributions made by blacks not just to America, but to the world. Your reading books such as this one is a step toward breaking down the wall of racism. Later in this book, I'll discuss specific examples in history that will help in our understanding.
As a history major in college, I learned that historiography teaches that the more you learn about other peoples, the more you learn about yourself. So, even from a selfish perspective, all Christians should be motivated to learn about as many cultures as possible. This point makes it even more amazing that it seems few white candidates for missions work in Africa study African Americans. What a tremendous opportunity this would give them to learn about African culture by studying African Americans before going overseas to minister.
African-American Christians know that whites who are serious about developing a relationship with African-American Christians don't sit around asking how, but start doing something. They know that you can't learn how to swim if you never get into the water!
White evangelicals who are serious about cross-racial understanding will go (the Great Commission) where the African-American Christians are, just like the missionaries do. White missionaries have never asked the people of various countries to come to them. How could white Christians ask people of different cultures here to come to them? But they do. How many times have I heard from white Christians, "We'd like to hire African Americans; we just don't know any. Besides, none have applied for the job." This is one of the major problems in bridging the race gap between white and black Christians.
SERVANT VS. PATERNALISTIC ATTITUDES
Another way many white evangelicals—and here I'm speaking especially of churches, missions organizations, and parachurch ministries—miss the mark in their attempt to relate to the Christian African-American community lies in their policy of assimilation. This is the idea of absorbing the Christian African-American culture, history, and traditions into the white Christian community without the white Christian community having to make any basic adjustments.
This is not at all what the Bible has in mind. All cultures must make adjustments for the sake of Christ.
Matthew 9:16–17 states:
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.
Al Campanis, formerly of the Dodgers, and Jimmy the Greek, a former sports announcer for CBS television, both said that they did not believe that blacks were as intelligent as whites. Therefore, whites should not allow blacks to be placed in positions of authority or any decision-making positions. (Al Campanis and Jimmy the Greek faced the red eye of the TV camera: here pretense must be maintained. Both men were fired from their jobs. Their punishment was manifestly unfair.)
I'm not sure their firing was right because they were simply expressing their own opinions and perspectives. They were fired for being honest. Yet, when you look at sports organizations in general, and blacks in decision-making positions in those organizations, you have to wonder if the administrators who fired these two men weren't hypocrites. What is sad to me is that this situation is comparable to that in the evangelical community.
Excerpted from Winning the Race to Unity by Clarence F. Shuler. Copyright © 2003 Clarence F. Shuler. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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