Reflection by Pastor Shawn:
Edward Glibreath has written an excellent book, “Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity” (InterVarsity Press, 2006). In it he talks about being a person of color in predominantly white Christian churches and institutions. I think we need to pay very close attention to voices like his and to the lived experience of which they speak. While so much of his book is very good, there’s a section I found particularly striking. On pages 84-86 he writes:
“Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon echoed the opinion of many African Americans when, in a column about golfer Tiger Woods, he wrote, ‘There’s a social responsibility that comes with being black in America, regardless of the profession, and that obligation increases exponentially with stature. There are rules adopted out of necessity, even desperation, by the subculture we as black folks inhabit. . . . One of the rules is you speak up, even if it means taking some lumps.’
I did my best to speak up [while working at Christianity Today] when it seemed necessary, and at times I caught grief for it. Other times I decided it would be best to act like Jesus before Herod and simply say nothing. It gets old, you know—this taking-your-lumps business.
I like the way Jackie Robinson framed it as he boldly began the mission of integrating baseball: ‘I know that I have a certain responsibility to my race, but I’ve got to try not to feel that way about it because it would be too much of a strain.’ He added, ‘I also know that I’ve got to hit.’
Robinson understood that no amount of racial protest or rhetoric would make any difference unless he backed up the symbolism of a black player integrating the majors with tangible results. At the end of the day, he still had to hit the ball.
I want to hit the ball. I want to let my talent, sweat and integrity do the talking. Often that’s the only way to get your message across to a majority culture that, after ages of doing things their way, sometimes has difficulty seeing or hearing you, even though you’re standing right in front of them.
‘People sometimes ignore you,’ says Bruce Fields, a professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. ‘Or, if there is attention directed towards you, it is subtly communicated that you are not to be taken as seriously as a while person of similar status, experience and credentials.’
Fields was the first full-time African American professor on Trinity’s staff, and in July 2005, he became the first to be tenured. Yet being one of the few blacks in the institution, he continues to harbor doubts about his presence there. ‘I think about being a minority here all the time,’ he confesses. ‘There is rarely a time when I am not thinking about it. I am thankful for who God has made me, and I am grateful for his call on my life—but not all the time. I find myself being distant, untrusting and often angry that I have internalized a certain sense that I am not good enough. I know this is wrong, and I’ve been working with a support network to overcome it. But it’s difficult.”