Originally posted 9-22-06
Perhaps one of my favorite films of the last few years (if not my whole viewing history) has been last year's Best Picture winner Crash. The film, which stars a variety of mid-level stars, as well as some former huge stars, relies on its ensemble cast to put across a message without coming across preachy. The glue that holds this film together is racism. It follows several different story lines, all of which somehow focus on racism from every different angle imaginable.
Racism is still a touchy subject in our world today. I recently have become more interested in the career of U2 and especially the life of Bono. As I have learned more of the band, I've learned how Bono held the civil rights activists of the 1950's & 60's in such high esteem. There are several songs in the U2 catolog that reference Martin Luther King, Jr, the most popular of which is, of course, Pride (In the Name of Love). Also, as a Christian (and yes, I think Bono is a Christian), Bono feels like the A.I.D.S. epedimic in Africa is being ignored by the rest of the world because of racism...and he can't understand how the church which was founded on love could in any way hold racism as a way of life.
I grew up in a missionary home, which most people know. In Germany, our church was different than a church here in the states would be. My dad really focused on making our church welcoming to anyone and, at one point, our church was actually about 40% African-American, which I think we all know and understand to be quite a feat, no matter where in the world you are. Blacks and whites simply do not worship together.
I grew up admiring African-American culture, and, much to my parent's dismay, I wore my pants backwards and, for a while, hung out almost solely with my black friends. I was a basketball player, and all my basketball playing friends were black, so it was natural for me to simply hang out with the people who had the same interest as me.
I wrote about my friend James, the G.I. I hung out with. Besides James (who was as white as they come), there were several other G.I.'s that I hung out with over the years, many of which were black. I loved the way that African-Americans had a common bond...I don't know how to explain it as an outsider, but, at least as I saw it growing up, a black man can meet another black man and almost instantly there is a bond. Perhaps, they see themselves as having the same struggle, or maybe the African-American culture is more warm and inviting than my culture, but it was interesting to me to see that immediate bond happen again and again.
So, with all that said, I grew up with race never being a point of contention. In the military, it seemed like it was different than the world I live in now. Perhaps the military attracts a certain kind of person, and perhaps because of the discipline that is the very nature of the military, it weeds out certain personality traits in those who make it through more than a short time in the military, but it seemed I never saw racism rear its ugly head during my childhood.
Then, I went to college. Perhaps I was naive, perhaps I was just dumb, but I couldn't understand how a Christian college could be racist, and because of that I think I ignored the fact that there was a reason the school I went to was only less than 10% black, and actually most of the black people who went to college were not African-Americans, but simply Africans.
We were fed the line that the ban on inter-racial dating was for our own good and it wasn't racist because all the races were treated the same...no one race could date a different race...I mean, it wasn't just a rule against white people dating black people! I remember the President of the college at the time going on a very high-profile television show to discuss the rule and he mentioned that it had originally started not as an affront to black people, but because the parent of an Asian student didn't want their son dating a white girl. Oh, so making a racist rule because it was from a different race than African-American makes it okay, I guess.
Now, it was great that the President lifted the rule, but there is a part of me that still wanted to hear an apology. I understand that many state colleges didn't lift their ban on allowing blacks to come to college until just a few years before Bob Jones University did. I understand that the whole world, at one point, believed a racist credo, but as we were told many times during my stay at BJU, just because the world believes a certain thing, we need to focus on the truth and truth doesn't change! Well, why then was it okay to be racist 30 years ago? If truth doesn't change?
After leaving the school, I have found different things that are disturbing to say the least. I found a message that Bob Jones, Sr. preached in the 50's where he used Scripture to prove why segregation was not only Bibilical, but the only way for God's people to be preserved. There were comments made by Senior, a typically racist Southern man (but again, is that an excuse?), about black people and their place in the world in his mind.
The University took a stand AGAINST Martin Luther King in the 60's and as recently as a couple of years ago, Bob Jones III wrote and editorial degrading the character of MLK, saying that no man who was an ungodly, philandering man should have a national holiday...paid, nonetheless!!! Proving again that The Third has no earthly idea how he comes across, nor does he seem to care. I mean, when your University is already seen as a racist institution, you're really not helping your case by taking a stand against a holiday for the man who singularly made more of difference in the civil rights movement than any other person, through his life and his death. Just let it go.
But it's not just Bob Jones University. It's the church. The church is as segregated (or more so) than the world at large. It is rare to see a church that is succesful at reaching all races. I personally do not care for Redemption World Outreach Center here in Greenville...it just isn't the type of worship I long for nor enjoy. However, that church has done something special in reaching a multi-racial congregation. Why are more churches not able to reach beyond the boundaries of race?
I don't think that the sole blame is on church leaders, if we're honest with ourselves. A lot of it is the people themselves. I have been to several services and predominantly black churches (several times I was literally the only white person in the room). While in college, I found that type of church fascinating and I wanted to know more. As I saw how these "black churches" did things I wasn't turned off and I didn't think the way they did things was stupid, I just didn't enjoy it...it didn't resonate with me. I'm sure that when many African-Americans come to Seacoast, though we are multi-racial, the music and the way we do things is foreign to them...it's different and I'm sure doesn't resonate with their souls the way their church does.
But, I think that the church should be able to reach beyond those boundaries. Many times, I have had black friends who I have never invited to church with me because I knew they wouldn't enjoy it...or I assumed they wouldn't enjoy it. I think it would be safe to say that many Christians have done the same thing. What does it hurt to invite someone? The worst they could say is no.
As far as this particular point goes: one day, preference on worship isn't going to matter anymore. We'll all be together up in heaven and we'll be worshiping. Now, I think there's going to be several electric guitarist (Phil Keaggy, Bob Dylan, the Edge) up there playing and at least 2 drummers (only 1 bass player, since more than one bass player gets a little muddy) and we'll be doing modern rock for all eternity with Bono, Michael Tait (definitely not Bob Dylan). But I also realize it may be Bob Jones-ey type worship. But, please, Lord, I hope not!
Moving on from that little rabbit trail.
Since college, it has been a different race experience than ever before. I have found myself working in jobs with African-Americans who are some of the most racist people I have ever met. I delivered pizzas for Dominos for 5 years and dealt every day with people who would isntantly change their demeanor when they realized the person delivering their pizza was white. At times, it was not easy to keep my attitude correct and allow my love for these people to be evident.
It is in our nature to be racist. It is built in to all of us to dislike anything different than us because we're fallen and we're broken. Someone who looks different than us makes it difficult to see how they are the same as us because our scope is so small. But what is in our nature is not always right. Sin is in our nature, but our goal should be to weed out the deep-seeded roots of sin and replace them with Christ. And we're all the same: red, yellow, black and white...we all have sin in our hearts, we're all hurting, we're all sick.
The reason I love Crash so much is not so much the cast or the acting, though both of those things in this film are amazingly done. It isn't how beautiful the film is, though the film is beautifully shot. The things that gets me is the message...it's a message that all of us are the same...we struggle with race just like the next guy. Black men are just as racist as white men. Asians are just as racist as black men. It's how we are, it's who we are. It's how we respond to our nature that proves the kind of person we will ultimately be.