A Little Farther Down the Path: Between the World and Me

I first learned of Ta-Nehisi Coates through his writing in The Atlantic magazine. His article titled “The Case for Reparations” in the June 2014 issue is one of the finest examples of long-form journalism I have ever read. The article’s subhead effectively summarizes his point: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York City, 2012

By the time I read that article, a similar thesis had been percolating in my brain forseveral years. My thinking did not address the question of reparations, and I don’t think Coates really believes that will ever really materialize. His larger point, I believe, was that, while some kind of monetary reparation would be fair and helpful, if a strong majority of white Americans would simply come to believe in the justice of the idea, that would go a long way toward healing the gaping wounds left by the historical realities summarized in his article’s subhead. Continue reading

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October Journal: Racism’s Last Gasp?

I am not a medical person, so I don’t know if this analogy works, but I’m going to try it anyway. Imagine a disease or condition which comes on slowly with symptday-4oms easy to overlook. Eventually, however, the symptoms are so gross and the patient’s condition so degraded as to require extreme and/or radical treatment.

The treatment appears successful, and symptoms abate, only to reappear, and sometimes maliciously so. Each recurrence, however, surrenders to treatment and the benefits of overall improving health. Continue reading

Please Change That Horrible Name

If I am totally honest, I will admit that the impetus behind my movement in a more progressive direction over the past few years has been more ethical than theological. I can illustrate what I mean with the following question. Why are so few people, especially conservative Christians, offended, embarrassed, or possibly enraged over the name of the NFL franchise in Washington, DC? Continue reading

Unemployment, Poverty, and Politics: A Personal Testimony

I grew up conservative in every way—theologically, socially, and politically. But things change. Circumstances change. Perspectives change. People change. I changed. And here, as succinctly as I can make it, is an example of how and why.

As a faculty member in my eleventh year of teaching at a small, conservative, Bible college in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition, I taught a course called Peace, Justice, and Simplicity. Prior to that, I had preached several series of sermons on the text of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). When I taught that course, however, in the spring of 2005, I read that passage as I had never seen it before, and I heard Jesus saying things I had not previously understood. Continue reading

To Black Church Leaders: Please Don’t Give Us An Out

Over the past few weeks, like many of you, I have read scores of articles purporting to offer analysis of the issues arising from and relating to the situation coming to be known colloquially as simply “Ferguson.” Many have been unusually insightful and helpful. I have learned much from them.

For me personally, however, the least helpful have been those written by church leaders—some prominent black pastors among them—who want to remind us that the pain and suffering experienced by the black community every time another Ferguson breaks upon our corporate consciousness derives, at least in part, from wounds that have been self-inflicted. Continue reading

Lest I Be Misunderstood

Two days ago (on August 18), I posted a status update to my Facebook page which I described as an observation, not a comment. Here is an edited (for clarity) version of what I said there:

When it appeared the Islamic State was targeting Christians in Iraq, my newsfeed was full of condemnatory posts. When it became clear that the major target was Yazidis, the indignant and accusatory posts all but ceased. And I have read virtually nothing (from my white, evangelical, FB friends) expressing dismay at the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by the police in Ferguson, MO. When that local community subsequently erupted in an emotional demonstration of anger and frustration, the response of the mainly-white police force looked more like a military invasion than the reasonable reaction of “peace officers” whose motto is supposed to be “to protect, and to serve.”

Continue reading