Not to go out on a limb or anything. . . but can I suggest that the most important book a white Christian can read or re-read this summer is Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith?
Watching the whole episodes surrounding Barack Obama and his pastor and his speech, and then following the commentary about it, I remember just how isolated from the black community, its concerns, its burdens and its perspective are most of my white friends, families and the wider evangelical community.
I have gotten to the point where I can predict white answers to black questions and vice versa and watch for the predictable facial expression across the table. I see this on CNN, Fox and in the community. Here is an example: Several months ago I was listening to Moody Radio as a well known black leader was being interviewed by a well known white christian talk radio host. The white interviewer clearly had very high affirmation for his guest and was talking about how dymanically God was working through his black brother in a poor community. Then the minister referred to Dr. King in passing.
Then the interviewer asked this question: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you say we are doing in improving race relations in America since Dr. King's life. I knew in that split second that the interviewer was looking for a much higher number than he was going to get. He was eagerly anticipating it. Was it 9? Maybe 8?
"5. Maybe 6 on the whole." came the answer. Radio silence is always awkward.
The reason for the silence? The reason for the different expectation is simple. White Christians are on the whole isolated by unrecognized privilege from the ongoing struggles of black America. It is strictly optional for whites to enter the discussion and since it quickly (usually) becomes uncomfortable -- we don't. Or we do and then leave as soon as we get our toes stepped on.
My experience has been that my white friends feel unappreciated very quickly. . . .and my black friends feel used and cheated. That black minister could easily have interpreted the white guys lack of responsiveness about the plight of black America as indication that he didn't actually care and that the point of the radio show was just that -- its just a show (and his black "friend" will make for a great show).
The reality is that in that example the white guy asked the question not knowing what answer he was going to get and (I would guess) the black minister provided the answer knowing full well the discomfort that the answer would recieve.
Why am I saying all of this? With Obama running for president -- and let's assume he gets the Democratic nod -- the insensitive comments, the unresponsiveness to Obama's explicit Christianity (over against Bush's) will leave our Black brother and sisters even more frustrated with the white church than before -- even if they have no intention of voting for him.
This will be a record year for the following (offensive) words in the white churches across America which foment division between Black and White Christians:
"I'm not a racist but. . . "
"It's not because he is black. . . "
"I have a black friend . . . and he/she isn't voting for Obama"
"I don't see a race problem in America. . . it's only because they keep talking about it. . ."
"He says he's a Christian but how can any Christian be unapologetically black? If we had an unapologetically white church they would call us racist!"
If you are a white Christian and have any sense that racial reconciliation is important, please read Divided by Faith. Read it slowly and thoughtfully. . .
(I have added a summary of this book to my other blog. Click here).