Guest Column by Chris Lahr
Michael Emerson and Christian Smith co-authored a book called, “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America,” where they mention “four major steps to achieve racial reconciliation.” Here is my interpretation of those four steps that I think will be helpful for white folks wanting to join the journey of racial justice.
The first step is for individuals of different races to develop authentic relationships with each other.
This is all about the art of friendship. This is a slow process and calls for more than doing a book study together or sharing coffee (though these can be great starting places). Authentic relationships take time and you must be willing to enter the other person’s world, to listen, seeking to understand more than being understood. Real cultural change will never happen without developing these authentic relationships based on trust. Whoever fails to build this trust will fall short in bringing about the dialogue and action needed for real social change and their social activism will be reduced to mere slogans and monologues.
The second step demands recognizing social structures of inequality and resisting them.
It’s not enough to educate yourself through books and classes with the hope of becoming a “voice for the voiceless.” Believe it or not, the ones you think are voiceless, actually have voices that work just fine! It is through the first step of engaging authentic relationships that we begin to hear these voices and take them seriously. It is at this stage that white folks come alongside black and brown folks in opposition to inequality.
The third step is for white folks to look inward and repent of their personal, historical and social sins.
The death of George Floyd has opened a lot of white people’s eyes to the reality of racism and for many they are discovering their own role as the main creators and benefactors of a racialized society. This stage is not about feeling guilty for being white (I call that the “Oh Crap I’m White Syndrome”) but this stage grows out of our authentic friendships and as a natural next step we want to not only do justice, but be just in all that we do and in who we are.
The final step calls for forgiveness.
Too many Christians want to jump straight to this step, thinking if they say a prayer and ask for forgiveness, all the pain and racism of the past will be forgiven and forgotten. There is power in forgiveness and ultimately we cannot move on towards a better world without it, but white folks we cannot jump ahead. We need to truly know what we are asking forgiveness for, and we need to know the people with whom we are seeking forgiveness. In our fast food world too many Christians hide behind the cross looking for easy answers. Racism has its roots in our society and it can be rooted out, but we must be genuine in our building authentic relationships, joining our new found friends in their struggle for equality, and with looking inward and changing our own ways and then seeking heart-felt forgiveness. A few years ago while traveling through Africa I learned the word Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a powerful word meaning I cannot be all I need to be unless you are all you need to be, and you cannot be all you need to be unless I am all that I need to be. Racial reconciliation is about our liberation being tied together. Ubuntu.
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Chris Lahr was the General Manager for Timoteo Sports in Philadelphia for over a decade. He currently lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his wife works as a midwife, and he applies his lifelong passion for working with youth as a skills coach for the Bowen Center. He has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and did his undergrad at Eastern University.