Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rev. Wright, Malcom X, and my (non) experience with Lynching

The blogosphere and the TV and Radio are alive with comments about Rev J. Wright, Obama, race, religion and politics.  I have been reading and doing some commenting on other blogs about this but felt like the choice morsel to delve into here is one that relates to racial reconciliation.  

I have a passion to see the country led well, to see the black church better understood, and other topics related to this discussion, but the core of my personal calling is to see brothers and sister in Jesus Christ in relationship across racial (and economic) lines.  

To wit, let me comment briefly -- primarily thinking about my white brothers and sisters that are choking about Rev Wright and especially feel that (a) he should be summarily condemned and (b) that anyone, black or white, who defends him must have lost his mind or salvation. . . (I'm a calvinist so that was sort of a joke). 

Please consider this from my personal experience:  Rev Wright's comments -- especially the conspiratorial comments about the US govt -- come from a specific place.  When I started working with Sunshine in 1999 my boss at the time made the following statement:  "When my mother was growing up in the South it was legal for her to be lynched".  I almost spit up thinking to myself "there is no way that is true.  Murder has always been illegal in the US.  that simply can't be true".    Fortunately I kept my mouth shut because I knew Dana personally and admired him and figured I would straighten him out later.  

I happened at the time to be reading William Manchester's history of the US from 1932 to 1972.  As I am reading through the 1950's I get to the part where the State of Mississippi tries to pass a lynching ban -- and it fails.  repeatedly.  Most of my students still don't realize that it was NEVER passed at a national level and only in 2005 was a formal apology finally issued from the US senate for never having banned lynching in spite of its ongoing crime against humanity.

Not only did this experience with Dana, who I love and felt great admiration for, help me to see that our government has been supportive of incredible injustice and deservedly damnable offenses well beyond slavery . . . but it became personal.  That was my brother's mother.  In the body of Christ that means it is pretty much my mom.  It would have been my mom if I was black.  

Another step for me was realizing how valuable the autobiography of Malcolm X is to virtually every one of my Christian brothers who are black.  Yes, nation of Islam leading, Black radical Muslim Malcolm X.  Because I had heard from these brothers, because I love them, I read the book with a listening ear.  I was overwhelmed by what Malcolm did in the way of condemning white America (it is tough to hear) and in the way of affirming dignity of black Americans and people of African descent.  When you read it you realize that a non-Christian has much to say that we need to hear, that our government is allowed terrible things to happen (and in the case of Tuskegee syphilis experiments and other episodes, caused them).  

I share this with you to encourage you to (a) not jump to conclusions about Rev Wright and (b) much more importantly -- use this an an opportunity to hear from our black brothers and sisters.  As much as I need(ed) folks from across the racial divide to understand Malcolm, most of us need others (like Ed Gilbreath, Anthony Bradley, or Melissa Harris-Lacewell) to digest Rev Wrigth, Obama's response and the incessant commentary. 

We won't find a unified voice among the way African American's respond to Wright. . . but in general we will find insight and patience that only comes to us across the racial divide.  If we cannot tolerate this insight and patience than we have no business suggesting that we are interested in racial reconciliation conversation.    Let's not get fixated on Rev Wight but seek out a multi-racial or cross-racial Christen lens -- seeking wisdom from our brothers and sisters who have a different experience than we do.  

Emerson and Smith show in no-uncertain terms that those of us who are white that are isolated by race (the vast majority of us!) cannot see racism or prejudice.  We not only can't see the racism we think is "imagined" by people who we perceive as "playing the race card" but we can't see any.  No one interested in racial reconciliation can remain in this blind, isolated position.  

The single greatest factor for changing what we see is by being in relationship with blacks (or other minorities).  Take this whole Rev Wright flap as an opportunity to entering into relationship across racial lines.  Perhaps not with Rev Wright or Barack Obama -- but with African American brothers and sisters.  In person, through the blogs, in your community.  Someplace!  


Shlomo said...


Hi Joel,

How about you? Are you interested?

"The single greatest factor for changing what we see is by being in relationship with blacks (or other minorities). Take this whole Rev Wright flap as an opportunity to entering into relationship across racial lines. "

Stop by my site and read a bit. Then leave a comment or send me a PM or an e-mail.

I'll be waiting,


BT said...


I just wanted to let you know that even though Bridge Builders was well over a month ago, I am still thinking, still processing, still reading, and still engaging with these issues of racial reconciliation.

My eyes have been opened to numerous opportunities to engage with my brothers and sisters across racial lines, even in a place of such white majority as Taylor, and I've actually managed to take advantage of some of those opportunities.

Know that the challenge you have issued in this post (and to an even greater degree, during our week with you) has been heard, by me and by the other 20 folks from our group. Things are happening. We are learning to go slowly, but to go.

Be encouraged that your work and your teaching is bearing fruit.

Also, interesting link here. Bridge Builders also increased my intake of reading on these issues. Anyway, it's interesting because here's a guy who recognizes the racism in our country and then approaches Wright with at least a somewhat open mind. He essentially does what you did with Malcolm X, and what you're suggesting we do now. Check it out:
Rev. Wright: Pariah or Prophet?

In Christ,

Ben Taylor
Taylor University

hammerdad said...

Shlomo, thanks for stopping by. I visited your site, enjoyed it and left you post. .

Ben, thanks for the good word! Glad you are still thinking about things and reading as well. The interview you linked in was great. I was quite surprised to see Whitehead take such an even hand with him.

I agree for the most part with Whitehead and think the media has driven a frenzied attack that is rooted primarily in knowing they can stir up controversy.

Thanks for chiming in here and for continuing the journey! See you along the road!

Anonymous said...

My dear son,
I praise God for the man you are and continue to become. He that has begun a good work in you will continue it until we are with Him. Ok,a bit of a paraphrase.

Your study, committment and understanding have broadened my horizons as I read your blog and am exposed to your ministry. I admit I'd rather turn away and pretend it's all just not there. But that's a shamefull arrogance and cannot be permitted.

Love you,

Tim said...

I so appreciate your ideas and heart. I know I don't understand this issue at all - and I thank you for helping me. Keep sharing your heart.

Len said...

This is a really good post and helped me jump around the blogosphere to get a ton of information to help me think this stuff through.

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