The Passion of White America

Many of you I expect have been closely following the stories and images coming out of Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown's death. I want to draw your attention to this image:

This is a photo, as you can tell, of some young men in Ferguson lighting a Molotov cocktail. I bring your attention to this image as images like this one have been used as moral counterweight to the images of peaceful protesters, hands aloft, facing lines of militarized police officers wielding automatic weapons. 

I've been pondering images like this as I believe our reactions to them are extraordinarily important in efforts at racial reconciliation.

Psychologically, many of us consume media narratives associated with tragedies like the death of Michael Brown by sifting the events until we find evidence of wickedness amongst Them in order to absolve Us of any guilt or moral reckoning. In the case of Ferguson a picture like the one above is used as evidence that Black rage is inappropriate, illegal and immoral and that the police actions in recent days were thus justified and warranted.

The problem with this sort of reasoning is that images and stories such as these are not prompting reflection, confession, repentance, change or conversion. They are, rather, being used as moral ballast to prevent any reflection, confession, repentance, change or conversion from taking place. Evidence of wickedness--looting, Molotov cocktails, etc.--on "their side" appears to restore some sort of moral balance, bringing us back to a status quo where nothing changes.

We selectively pick and choose among the wickedness until we find what need to absolve us of guilt allowing us to emotionally and politically disengage.

In the language of the gospels, instead of looking at the speck in our brother's eye--and that speck might look like a Molotov cocktail--we fail to look at the beam in our own eye.

When we see pictures like the one above before anything we must morally reckon with the backdrop of oppression and injustice that produced the violence. Even Rand Paul, who may be the next GOP Presidential nominee, admits this much. Yesterday Senator Paul wrote this:
...Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.
Given the legacy of oppression and injustice that Senator Paul describes I believe White America is called to the spiritual labor to look upon Black rage with understanding if not compassion.

To be candid, it is unreasonable to expect an entire race or class of people to bear injustice, down to a person, stoically, non-violently and peaceably. In the face of oppression and state-sanctioned violence violent responses are inevitable. Sociologically and psychologically, the pressure cooker of oppression is going to blow from time to time. You just can't oppress people for generations and expect docility and good manners each night on local television. There will be ugly and violent episodes. That there aren't more of these episodes is a testament to Black patience, resiliency and civility.

But people can be pushed too far. Breaking points will be inevitably reached. And when that happens our first impulse should not be to mistake the symptoms (Black rage) for the underlying disease (systemic and generational oppression).

To be very clear, I'm not suggesting that violence is justified and should go unpunished. What I am suggesting is that if we are to make deep and lasting progress with racial reconciliation Black rage and violence must be suffered.

If anyone should understand this, Christians should. We, more than anyone, should understand that reconciliation isn't painless. Sin has it wages. Reconciliation will involve taking up our cross.

And this is the passion of the cross, the non-violent bearing of the sins of the world, especially our own, to bring about reconciliation. This is the only poultice that can draw the poison out.

Black rage is the cross White America must suffer for White sins, the passion we must endure, if our peoples are to be fully and deeply reconciled.


Some clarifications to add to the initial post.

I expect, and this is my fault for which I take full responsibility, that some readers will see in this post the suggestion that innocent Whites are Christ-figures bearing the sins of guilty blacks in the same sort of way that an innocent Christ bore the sins of a guilty humanity.

To clarify, that substitutionary innocent-for-guilty logic isn't what I'm trying to invoke. I'm using the metaphor of "taking up your cross" in its common usage, repentance and penance and bearing the consequences of your sins. When we make a mess of our lives the only way forward if reconciliation is the aim is to accept the consequences of our sins, to assume the guilt of our sins--to carry our cross--in putting the pieces of life back together.

My reference to the passion is that sins will have consequences, an associated suffering or reckoning that will be a part of the cross we have to carry. And a part of that burden, among other things, will be the rage of those we have abused. That rage, produced by our sin, will be a burden that we must carry when we take up our crosses in the journey toward reconciliation. As I said above, when Whites face Black rage they must suffer it. Not ignore it or use it as grist to justify the status quo or to turn the channel. Sins have consequences, a burden, a passion, a pain that must be faced and endured.

As Black voices tell us, reconciliation comes with a price, a cost, a burden. A cross if you will. This cross, this burden, is one that Whites habitually refuse to pick up. And my argument in this post is that a part of that cost and burden will be sympathy for Black rage and violence. But that's a price that many Whites simply will not pay. Sympathy for Black rage. And if you cannot suffer that--Black rage over the death of Michael Brown--how are we going to be able to make any progress?

Here's what I know after having spent many years as a part of these conversations. White people are more than happy to talk about racial reconciliation until 1) the rage is directed at them or 2) the burden of reconciliation becomes too costly.

In short, we want atonement and reconciliation without a cross--no passion, no assumption of guilt, no willingness to suffer as we carry the burden of our sin.
And maybe here is where, perhaps, the notion of vicarious suffering does play a part. Christ may have been innocent, but for the purposes of atonement and reconciliation he assumed guilt. Christ "became sin." And in a similar way we may have to assume the burden of sins that we have never personally committed.

Consider the case for racial reparations recently made by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It's a simple moral argument: the sins of slavery must be paid for. That is making atonement. But who is going to pay for the sins of the past?

Well, it's going to have to be White America of this or a future generation. But few in White America are willing to carry or assume these sins, to atone for these sins, to suffer in our time for sins of the past. We are not willing to carry the cross that slavery produced in America. And it's that unwillingness to undergo this passion, the refusal to carry the required cross, that I'm trying to describe.

And it's not just with something like reparations. This unwillingness to suffer and assume guilt typifies much within race relations. For example, the inability of us to endure the hot anger of Blacks of our acquaintance because, hey, I'm one of the good guys, I'm on your side. It's this inability to stand there and listen to the anger, to suffer and carry the anger, that creates the impasse.

No one wants to carry or suffer the anger. Thus Black rage bounces off Whites who are either indifferent or who want to deflect the anger onto others. No one wants to suffer.

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48 thoughts on “The Passion of White America”

  1. Thanks for this. I appreciate that you're trying to speak out as a white man; and I get what you're trying to say. But I'd like to challenge you a bit.

    First, I think that whites should stay away from Christ-figure terminology. In our racist world/church in which white supremacy reigns, I think it's actually oppressive to use any language that upholds that supremacy. White people's use of Christ-figure terminology "centers" white people in the narrative and that's exactly what white supremacy is all about: centering white people. People working for racial reconciliation should be working to subvert white supremacy, not uphold it. Besides, "White Jesus-ism" is simply too rampant and oppressive; the mere connotations occlude your nuanced theological and sociological/psychological points.

    Second, in our racist world, there's no such thing as an "innocent white person" who "suffers vicariously." All white people are guilty of benefitting from our racist system. Whites currently benefit from racism of the past (e.g., slavery) as well as racism of the present (e.g., discriminatory hiring practices that alienate blacks and accommodate whites). Whether whites consciously commit explicitly racists acts or simply implicitly benefit from the racist system, there are no innocents. Every white person has committed the sin of racism. No one suffers vicariously like Jesus did. Yes, a debt needs to be paid, And yes, true reconciliation will be costly and painful for whites, but I'm not comfortable with whites thinking that their suffering is vicarious...that they're innocent people assuming someone else's guilt (like Christ did).

    God loves white people (and everyone else) and God wants to collaborate with white people (everyone else) to heal our world. But present-day whites need to readily admit that racism is their sin and that they're guilty too.

  2. Hi Christena,
    Thanks so much for this. I was actually drafting an email to you, yes you, to get some feedback about possible missteps in my invoking the passion.

    What I was searching for was language to express how we often want reconciliation without the cross, without a price. Reconciliation "for free" as it were. I was grabbing at Christian imagery to invokesthe price and cost of reconciliation and how, by and large, no one wants to pay that price. No one wants to "take up the cross." And for me, I've always felt, being educated by Catholics, that these were my own sins. My cross was penance for my own sins. Perhaps this argument works best within a Catholic framework than a Protestant one.

    Regardless I agree, any conflation of Christ and Whiteness, to take Black bodies off the cross as it were, is deeply problematic. I tried to dance around that association, speaking of Whites bearing White sins, but the imagery is too slippery to keep it that narrow.

  3. One other quick thought, in relation to my discussion about the case for racial reparations made by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    I agree that all Whites are complicit in our history with slavery. But as you and I know, in light of social psychology, there is a sort of "diffusion or responsibility" at work here, temporally as well as numerically. Few Whites experience the full and acute burden of this complicity. So we try through force of persuasion to make Whites feel that burden. But boy is that hard. Especially when, as with reparations, there are real costs involved.

    And it's here where I wonder if the notion of "the assumption of guilt" and "vicarious suffering" might be helpful, psychologically speaking. Rather than a the long and hard debate about the legacies of slavery and how any particular White of Black person was differentially advantaged or disadvantaged, a Christian case for reparations can cut to the chase far more quickly: Will you assume the guilt of slavery? You did not own slaves, but will you stand in the place of the slave-owner? As Christ stood in the place for you?

    What I'm wondering, pragmatically speaking, if this theological appeal would resonate in a more direct, visceral and impactful way for Christians, could flip the switch more easily. That's a question I have. Rather than saying "You have blood on your hands"--which will get a lot of push back--one says "It doesn't matter if you feel like you have blood or not on your hands. Will you bear this sin for others, be willing to pay this price as Christ paid the price for you?" Does this frame move us into a different motivational framework (per Daniel Batson's work on altruism), away from ego-centric to empathy-based motivations for altruism? I'd be interested in your social psychological take on this.

  4. Thanks for this, Richard. My experience w/ your writing leads me to read your Christology in a very non-white-supremacy way, and as a white male historian who struggles to help others see the myriad ways that white American/Xian oppression and exploitation continues to poison our world, much of your thoughts resonates deeply. Though as a Restorationist that ardently rejects penal substitutionary atonement, I have to mentally re-craft a few of your phrases to better suit my theological mold. ;) Also, much respect and appreciation to Christena for her always-incisive nuances and clarifications. Grace and peace-

  5. Thanks. I do think there are ways to reframe all this in non-penal subsitutioanry way. In fact, it's the penal substitionary frame that causes the theological problems Christena points out, the innocent substituting for the guilty.

    But I've always read the cross in a moral exemplar way. As I say toward the end of the post: "This is the passion of the cross, the non-violent bearing of the sins of the world to bring about reconciliation." This bearing of sins means my sins, the sins of the slavery, your sins, the sins of the police, and the sins of the one (White or Black) who might throw a Molotov cocktail at me. The cross is to bear all those sins non-violently. To absorb the evil to end the cycles of violence.

  6. Yes. And my intent was not to portray you as propagating PSA. The struggle is the product of my own innate tensions when I see certain language. But your response is appreciated.

  7. Oh this is helpful; I appreciate your patience in spelling all that out for me. I understand what you're saying about reparations now. Yes, I see the diffusion of responsibility and the difficulty in correctly assigning the right amounts of slavery's blame and benefits for whites. Hmm.

    I like what you're saying about empathy-based motivations for altruism. God knows we Christians need more approach motivation and less avoidance motivation. But I think I'd shoot for identity transformation instead of altruism. Altruism can only take us so far, I think. I'm concerned that altruism is transactional rather than relational, and that it still allows for distance, for us/them distinctions, and white saviorism. "'We're' the ones who are making the sacrifices (like Jesus) on 'their' behalf....for the sake of the Gospel," whites can say/think. White supremacy is so insidious and powerful.

    Instead, I like the idea of starting with Cone's theological framework (the oppressed are on the cross, and Jesus is on the cross with them) and inviting white people into that space, as pilgrims and non-group members who are drawn to the cross and must consciously and painfully choose to identify with the oppressed Christ on the cross and the oppressed who are with him. Thus they decategorize themselves as white/privileged people/saviers who "need to help oppressed people" and recategorize as in-group members who, by standing in solidarity with others on the cross begin to bear the burdens of the oppressed. That's where we get the overlapping selves and shared identities, etc, that intrinsically motivate us to care about, participate in and even "pay the price for" each others stories, struggles, realities and pain. Herein likes the motivation to engage in the sacrificial and cross-cultural advocacy that Christ displayed on the cross. Here, I think, is where we see the shift from altruism to true love. And here is where we maybe start acting like Jesus, readily giving up our lives, resources, power, privilege, etc. (And this is where white people get set free from all of the baggage/blind spots that go along with being white.)

    Here's the thing. This is a tough sell. Most white Christians I meet don't want to make a connection between a black man being lynched and Christ being crucified. And they don't want to do the hard work of IDENTIFYING with said black man and Christ. But honestly, I don't really want to do the harrowing work of reconciliation with people who aren't ready/willing to go there and stay there. So I'm willing to go the slow way.


  8. I'd also start with Cone's work, identifying the cross with the lynching tree. In fact, I've pondered blogging through God of the Oppressed on my blog, just to get the ideas out to a wider audience.

    But here's what I was trying to do. I think a few Christians do work hard in identifying the cross with the lynching tree. That attempt is made here and there. That is, when we see Black suffering, particularly innocent suffering as with Michael Brown, images of the cross come to mind. But what I was reaching for in this post was something a bit more emotionally and theologically difficult--to find the cross in the three men lighting the Molotov cocktail.

    If locating the cross in lynching tree is difficult for whites, finding it in the Molotov cocktail is pretty much impossible. Many white Christians responded with sympathy for Michael Brown. I'm wondering about sympathy for the men in the picture above. I might have misjudged or misappropriated theological resources to create that sympathy, but that's what I was trying to do.

    I'll readily admit that invoking the passion was a theological misstep, but I believe there is something correct in saying that White America refuses to assume the burden of sin in racial reconciliation. Can we call this burden of sin and guilt "the passion of the cross"? I don't know.

  9. "But present-day whites need to readily admit that racism is their sin and that they're guilty too."

    I'm going to be an outlier here, but I feel compelled to push back a little on this statement (which I think summarizes your overarching point).

    If your claim is that whites are guilty of racism, in part, because of their benefiting from racism of the past, aren't black people of the present also guilty? Don't they, too, benefit from racism given that America (arguably) would not have become as prosperous a nation as it is without relying so heavily on slavery in its first decades of existence?

    And by that logic, could you not also claim that present-day black people (and whites) are guilty of genocide since all Americans benefit from the extermination of native peoples? And couldn't you also claim that some native peoples are guilty of genocide because they benefited from the extermination of other native peoples?

    I'm probably doing a poor job of illustrating my point, but I guess I just don't see where it ends once you enter the rabbit hole. It seems to me that assigning guilt according to whether or not one benefits from sinful acts is a poor way to move forward and solve problems.

  10. I'm grateful to you for trying to help white people assume the burden of sin in racial reconciliation. I've been reading a lot of Ida B. Wells this year. Her words are both encouraging (because she was a brilliant prophet/scholar/activist) and depressing (because the issues she fought are the same issues I fight over 100 years later). She wrote: "Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so." I think you're following in Ida's footsteps, trying to show the same thing. Thank you!

  11. I don't know if you seen the article at this link. It seems appropriate here:

  12. Thanks for the link. It was good but angering to hear some of the stories of racial profiling.

  13. The discussion here has been so intelligent and insightful, I will not even attempt to craft and place my comment on the same level. However, as a sixty four year old white man who spent my childhood and early teen years deep in the filth that is created by the mix of religion and racism, I would like to offer my own insight born from years of observation and from the reading of these comments.

    The progress in Civil Rights in this country is notable, though we now find ourselves in a battle to protect, in particular, voting rights. However, I am of the conviction that until the photos of a young Black man hanging on a lynching tree creates more shame in our minds than there is anger toward Black outrage and protest, White American Christianity will only serve as a shallow weekend retreat. For Christians, the actual "New Birth" will come when our minds and hearts, whenever we witness a life treated and taken so cheaply, cry to us, "Christ has died".

  14. Clearly, this article by Richard Beck is virulent racism in print. It is unchristian as well. He wrote, "Black rage is the cross White America must suffer for White sins, the passion we must endure, if our peoples are to be fully and deeply reconciled." White people are obligated to be crucified, I guess, before there can be reconciliation. Applying such race-based distinctions to the reality of sin and to the cross completely turns the purpose of the cross on its head..

  15. I like this very much Bethany. Thank you. I like the idea of viewing "the cross" as a richer narrative full of diverse characters among whom we can identify ourselves, often with many of them at different points.

  16. No one is obligated to be crucified. Christians choose it, to be sure, but no one is obligated.

    And the "carrying of the cross" in the post is carrying the burden of understanding if not sympathy for Black rage. Will that burden, and it is a burden, be carried?

    To give a different sort of example, a part of "carrying my cross" is for me to love you. Even when you say this post is "virulent racism" and "unchristian." To love you is to understand where those accusations--expressions of anger if not rage--are coming from and how I might have provoked them.

  17. For those of us who see beyond the gridlock of race and ethnic labeling and believe that Christ holds us accountable to love each and every human being with self-sacrificial love, being that they are an image bearer of the Divine, I feel motivated to love my neighbor as myself be they White, Black, Brown or 10 billion combinations thereof. Psychologically enmeshing oneself in the Satanic conflicts of the past is to bear unnecessary guilt and shame. How many burdens can one carry? That's not to say we should't do everything humanly and spiritually possible to promote love, peace and equality - it's our job as Kingdom people! This takes a sustained effort powered by the Holy Spirit and you might have to take a few punches to the face, telling offs and or much deeper physical and economic wounds to live this way - but in the end, it will be worth it all when we stand harmoniously together resurrected before our Victorious Savior and Lord.

    What arouses some curiosity about the photo selected is that there's obviously a "white" woman in the center who seems nonchalantly uninvolved in the chaos. Was she there participating in the protests? Trying to bring reconciliation? Or just spectating?

  18. I respect Jackie Robinson whose anger was righteous to the core and yet he achieved greatness by controlling that anger and translating it into playing great baseball. Why couldn't Richard Beck make that point? Legacies of hate exists on every spectrum for black to white. They will only end when people like Robinson take the field. But Richard Beck is not calling for that kind of dignity. Instead he is saying "White America must suffer for White sins." He is speaking in terms of "White sins" and "Black rage" and this is divisive and evil. I'm sorry but I don't belong to white America. I belong to America. Jackie Robinson belonged to America. America is proud of him. Stop balkanizing, Dr. Beck. Stop stirring racial hatred!

  19. Well that's sort of the point of the post, isn't it?

    We can't sympathize with Black anger until every single Black person becomes like Jackie Robinson. Until then, while Blacks work on their anger management problems, White America can just twiddle their thumbs...

  20. Let me add another thing. I'm not spreading racial hatred. I'm saying that, given the history of race relations in our nation, people of reconciliation, if they step into the gap, are going to have to tolerate some hate being directed at them. Non-defensively, even if they think that hate is ill-directed, immoral and unjustified. It's the cross of being a peace-maker. Not a peace-demander. A peace-maker.

  21. So good. I just read the 2nd paragraph of this reply 4x in a row.
    Thank you for writing so wisely on this difficult topic, Richard.

  22. Lay out your argument. In what way do Black people "benefit" from racism? By your logic Black people are both the victims AND benefactors of racism ergo making them guilty of their own oppression? Again, in what way? Make your case because as noted in Richard's post, there is no way shape or form that Black people benefit from a system of racism. In fact, the only reason racism exists is because the people who CREATED it and BENEFIT from it refuse to repent and reconcile with it as outlined in the post. Continually justifications to explicate one's self from the sins of white supremacy and racism are the exacts things that maintain it and your response is directly reflective of that.

  23. If you had read my comment carefully, you'd know that (1) the logic that says black people both are victims of and benefit from racism is what i was challenging, (2) ibwas speaking specifically of racism of the past, (3) i was not challenging anything richard said (i agree with all of it), and (4) your response is more or less a straw man.

    I think white people bear responsibility to challenge racism and do everything they can to fix a broken system. But i believe that responsibility comes not from some absurd notion of guilt, but because it is the moral and christian thing to do. In other words, as a Christian i should not just seek justice for victims of historic and present-day racism and oppression, but for all fellow human beings who suffer. THAT should be the message.

  24. I feel like your argument boils down to: "But at least they get to live in America. That's reward enough."

  25. I read it 3 times before I posted, and that's still the message I'm getting.

    You're supposing that there's no reasonable debt to be paid, because once you start paying, you'll keep paying and black people already get (from the genocide of the Native American) the benefit of living in America.

    It seems to be a long-winded way of simply reading the post and saying: "No, because the Natives had it worse."

    To me, that isn't true.

    The Native Americans were slaughtered in a genocide, but the living kept something more precious than the lives of their people. They kept their culture and the heritage. Yes, that's been parodied to the nines at this point, but it's not without merit. It brought them unity, and certain privileges they enjoy today, because it made them a people. It kept them together. Even the ones who don't know anything about it or could care less, benefited from knowing a tradition and order existed. Having a shared history and heroes and pride is monumental for a people.

    The American black on the other hand...they're not actually African Americans anymore. Every African with knowledge or memory of the language, culture, tradition or heritage of their people died in the first century of American slavery. They were killed or maimed if any of them could read or write for 200 years. They were given new Anglo names, bred, separated, dehumanized and destroyed on every level human beings can destroy one another.

    Then slavery was outlawed, but like new taxes on very rich, ways were found around that for the most part. And it basically became the slow trudge of the good, unburdened whites trying to wrest humanity out of the bigoted shameful ones, for the next 100 years.

    This didn't happen for the Native Americans. Reservations were created, because the burden was undeniable. A debt of some sort was paid with the casinos. But they were still having public lynchings of blacks 80 years after the Civil War. And every decade since Civil Rights, America's been reminded of the damage that's been done. The Watts Riot, Boston busing, Tompkins Square Park, Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and now...Ferguson. And those were just the big ones.

    The burden isn't that a wrong was done against a people, and it must be righted with reparations of one form or another. This issue is that there is a massive populace of America with no sincere cultural footprint, and that's the fault of white Americans. And it can be ignored or sublimated or blamed on whoever else, but then pointing a finger whenever it bubbles to the surface hasn't worked for100 years.

    American blacks can never really be African again. No African would consider them African. They are uniquely American. They're at the heart of American culture, but the fringes of American decency and just treatment. The reparations the American black needs is the rebuilding of the black community and family. The lifting up of black neighborhoods that doesn't immediately end in gentrification and pushing the issue onto the next town.

    And the burden to bear in this process is that there are a tremendous amount of black people who have internalized anger, mistrust of authority, self-hate, a white-centered mentality and resignation to the situation they've found themselves in. And that is white Americans' fault.

    Or nothing can be done and everything will stay the same way it's always been.

  26. "If locating the cross in lynching tree is difficult for whites, finding
    it in the Molotov cocktail is pretty much impossible. Many white
    Christians responded with sympathy for Michael Brown. I'm wondering
    about sympathy for the men in the picture above. I might have misjudged
    or misappropriated theological resources to create that sympathy, but
    that's what I was trying to do."

    What about sympathy for those of us who were raised in a society that held whites as supreme and in a religious system that created us. We are screwed up too, maybe more than the young men in the picture. I am as much a product of my environment as they are. Yet without one bit of sympathy. As Jesus spent time with the downtrodden He wept over their oppressors. Not one is without sin, no not one.

  27. Richard I want to up-vote you SO HARD for this comment that you don't touch the ground until next Thursday =o)

    "People of reconciliation, if they step into the gap, are going to have to tolerate some hate being directed at them ... even if they think that hate is ill-directed."

    That, dear boy, is the finest tl;dr I ever did see.

  28. My first thought is that you need to brush up on your history of Native Americans (all indigenous peoples, really) and their suffering in the present day. I think you'd be surprised.

    Second, you really are missing my point, but it's probably my fault for not articulating it very well (hard to make a clear and pithy argument in a comment section on a blog).

    I'm challenging Ms. Cleveland's argument that every white person is guilty of racism because every white person benefits from racism of the past and present. One way to evaluate this idea is to take it to its logical end. In my original comment, I was basically saying that if "A" (Ms. Cleveland's argument) is true, then "B", "C", and "D" must also be true, but since "B", "C", and "D" are absurd (as you just illustrated), then "A" probably isn't a very good idea. See what I mean? You're arguing as if I believe "B", "C", and "D" to be true, but really I'm saying those things are absurd.

    Now, even though I do NOT believe all white people are guilty of racism, I DO believe all people (not just whites) are responsible to confront and resolve it and to repair the damage it has done. I'm not trying here to absolve whites of responsibility, I'm suggesting they're responsible for different reasons.

    It may appear that I'm splitting hairs, but I think the distinction I'm making is important. In my view, as a Christian the suffering of any group of people should concern me regardless of the reasons they're suffering, their race, religion, or whatever, and regardless of my own race or privilege.

  29. Isn't the divide of black-white limiting and simplistic? What about families in which one parent is black and the other white? What definition is given to their kids I am a white male. I spent time with a kid last summer who lives in a predominantly black, inner city community. I am sure he would self-define as black. One of his parents is white.

    I have adopted two black children. I don't think the action my wife and I took solves racial tensions. But what will my kids be as they grown up? They are dark in skin tone but raised in a world that is culturally middle class, very educated, and populated by mostly white people. Culturally, what are they?

    And how do children raised by parents of another race or children who are mixed race play into the categories of black and white? How do kids who are neither black or white (Arabs, Asian, Native Americans, Hispanics) whose population is rapidly growing in America relate to strictly black-white categories?

    Is the conversation as simple as all whites are guilty of generations of racism that has destroyed black culture? Or is it more complex than that?

  30. The refusal to "pick up their cross" demonstrates extent that the heresy Bonhoeffer called "Cheap Grace" is accepted by the American Churches.

  31. I still have no idea what happened in Ferguson. But as might have been expected, recent revelations that have some claim to the label of "relevant facts" have somewhat undercut the narrative that was immediately, publicly, and rather vigorously adopted by a wide swath of Americans right after the event.

    And so I wonder how this post might be re-written, if at all, as a more accurate account of the event comes into view. Perhaps it won't be re-written at all. I guess I doubt it will. But certain aspects of the post appear to be emerging as (a) projections and extrapolations and hastily drawn conclusions, or as (b) observations based on implicitly accepted projections, extrapolations, and hastily drawn conclusions.

    The truth, as they say, will set us free. May it be so.

  32. My first thought is that you need to brush up on your history of Native Americans (all indigenous peoples, really) and their suffering in the present day. I think you'd be surprised.They got something. And it was more than just symbolic. It changed the narrative for Natives in America for good and stood as emblems of atonement. And honestly, the fact that there are so few and they're concentrated only in certain parts of America is not without merit.

    I'm challenging Ms. Cleveland's argument that every white person is guilty of racism because every white person benefits from racism of the past and present.Alright...that is splitting hairs. It seems to be a matter of perspective. She was very specifically talking to one audience and your response was..."hey now, it's everyone's fault and responsibility, and it's not such a straight line of blame."

    But this whole post seems to be a call to action or at the least, a united change in attitude and action. It sounds, to me, like you're asking, "what's the big deal, with all the blame and guilt being thrown around? If people are suffering, we should help their suffering. End of discussion."

    The big deal is the incredibly large hurdle in both accepting/understanding and reconciling for the past that needs to be done, because we're not naive to the forces and ingrained resentments that halt meaningful action, time and time again. It's not to say members of the black community won't be at fault in this back and forth, either. But it's very hard to say we care and not be willing to go through all that for a better tomorrow.

    And it isn't reasonable to conflate this issue with any other of people suffering around America or the world, because this is a uniquely American issue, older than the nation itself, yet still unresolved and clearly volatile.

  33. Sir, you have misunderstood and misstated my point. I did not say that we cannot sympathize with black or any rage rage until every single Black person becomes like Jackie Robinson. Please be honest. Jackie Robinson is not just an example for Black Americans but for ALL Americans. And no one expects everyone to get this. But his example stands as worthy.

  34. Better to call us to stop score-keeping in terms of race and racial categories. The grievance industry thrives on the sort of thinking you featured in your article and this only divides us and mitigates against reconciliation.

  35. In that sense, the cross stands as parable, and we look to find ourselves where we perceive ourselves. On some days, I might fancy myself as Nicodemus in my privilege. Truth be told, most days, I'm screaming to release Barabbas.

  36. It seems you've limited my argument down to black individuals and the defining what it means to be black? or how individuals identify their ethnicity?

    Is the conversation as simple as all whites are guilty of generations of racism that has destroyed black culture? Or is it more complex than that?

    I don't think so. I mean, it sounds like you're trying to diffuse the racial aspect of this? But I think the conversation is that whites are far and away the dominant culture in America. And nearly every attempt at any sort of reparation to blacks has been met with untold contempt, volatility, and self-denial. To an extent, I understand that. Why should one group, based on skin color, be singled out for benefits and better treatment. But the world we're living in right now is not a better alternative.

    The issue is, can anything be done to help this never-ending issue in America? Mr. Becks seems to posit what emotional, social and spiritual state whites (ie, the dominant culture and holders of nearly all the power) need to be in to effect that real change in America, if this is ever going to come to some kind of reasonable solution.

    The problem isn't that there aren't good, unprejudiced whites in America. Or that simply muting or stamping out bigotry in America is going to solve this problem. People can and will say hurtful things to one another. And someone will always have a hurtful attitude towards another group of people. But it takes a longview of holding the past and the present in mind at once.

    Because it's more than just poverty or joblessness that's happening in those inner-cities. It's more than a class issue. It's an American dream issue. Black Americans, very rightfully, do not believe they are a part of the American dream. You see immigrants come to America, penniless and not speaking English, and within a generation they have children who are doctors.

    American blacks have been disincentivized out of pursuing the American dream. Welfare is the bare minimum that's been done for them, simply to keep more Fergusons from happening. Real reparations...not merely monetary, but a sincere American identity crisis has to happen. Because as of yet, blacks have been told, if more than one family of yours moves into the neighborhood, property value will go down and whites must move out. That's never changed.

    Segments of black culture has been encouraged, popularized, appropriated and
    treated as if they are the only proper signifiers of blackness. I mean, without a doubt, at times, your children will be accused of being white. I don't know how to fix black America, but I have very strong ideas on how it got broken and who at all has the power to repair it.

    And like that article Becks linked to shows, for the last 25 years, they won't even let a congressional committee convene to analyze to cost-benefits of any possible reparations program. If it were any other type of poverty program...if it didn't cut across racial lines, it would've been attended to by now, but instead it seems as there is a gut reaction to making any major strides to deal with this, that will simply always be there. An incredibly large number of people watched The Wire, and nothing changed.

    Nothing has to happen, but the American inner-city is in the exact same position it's been in for 100 years. Simply 'not seeing color' or question why race has to be a major factor in it, is literally ignoring the problem.

  37. I think you are missing his point, again. The only way it could "divide us" is if you allow it to divide. That is, if you refuse to bear the guilt and shame. Instead of letting it divide, freely choose to "step into the gap" and carry the cross for the sake of peace (a Christian perspective). Carry it even though you may believe modern white American males are scapegoats. Choose to carry it for the guilty ones. People that choose to follow that path to the cross have a truly radical faith. A faith that even his disciples did not share as he made the choice on his journey to the cross.

  38. Even if, say, Michael Brown is found out to be very guilty the post doesn't change. Again, that whole approach--let's wait to find enough guilt on "their" side do that we can all just move on--is what this post is trying to criticize.

    The point of the post isn't about if Michael Brown was a saint or a sinner. That issue is irrelevant. To repeat, we shouldn't be sifting the media narrative to get the moral accounting "balanced" so that we might justify the status quo.

    The point of the post is that the events in Ferguson reveal something about black rage, a rage that White American's continue to find immoral or incomprehensible because it fails to carry the cross of sympathy.

    In fact, the trigger-like aspect of Black rage--which might cause it to be "mistaken" once the "facts come out"--shouldn't be cause for dismissal but reflection. When you see rage like that you're likely looking at a rage that is coming out of a deep festering place of pain.

  39. Yes. I agree with this and hope that one day I can have the courage and faith to carry that cross. This message needs to be preached. The one issue I might have is that to use this incident as a launching point that begins from the perspective that race was a factor in why Michael Brown was shot, without knowing the facts, seems to offer up a particular individual up as a scapegoat, the police officer.

    "That is, when we see Black suffering, particularly innocent suffering as with Michael Brown, images of the cross come to mind."

    This appears to be what you, along many other well-intentioned Godly men have done to the police officer. By starting with the assumption that Michael Brown was an innocent sufferer, without knowing the facts, you lay the blame at the feet of the police officer without him having a choice to carry it.

    I think this might speak to QB's point. Of course, I could be wrong about his point. If so, my apologies.

    So, have the conversation. Have it frequently. But, when incidents like this happen, meditate, reflect and exercise patience so that we are not guilty of laying the sins of others at the feet of someone who has not made the choice to "step into the gap." We may be called to carry the cross, but we are not called to force others to walk with us. We can only hope that others may follow.

  40. I guess my question is, is it possible to have this conversation without contributing to the violence being committed to the police officer and his family? If so, what does THAT look like?

  41. Thanks Brian. That line from the comment thread--"That is, when we see Black suffering, particularly innocent suffering as with Michael Brown, images of the cross come to mind."--was in a discussion about the theological framing of innocent suffering vs. rage over suffering. To be sure, history might affect using Michael Brown as an example of "innocent suffering," but the point of the comment holds as does the overall thrust of the post. That is, nothing I've argued in the post or comments requires Michael Brown to be innocent.

    That said, I wholly agree about the radical symmetry of grace, that it should be extended to both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

    And beyond grace we shouldn't focus on Darren Wilson for some pragmatic reasons. Maybe Darren is a bad, racist cop. Or maybe he's a wonderful police officer who, in the heat of an altercation, made a huge, huge mistake.

    Either way, if Darren's actions weren't justified, using either the "bad seed" or "mistake" plotline causally closes the narrative leaving the status quo unchanged. Black rage on the streets of Fruguson isn't because of Darren Wison. If the justice system of the US were unbiased the actions of Darren Wilson--bad seed or mistake--does not create race riots. It'd be a tragedy, but not fuel for race riots.

    As always for me, our fight is not against flesh and blood--against Darren Wilson--but against the principalities and powers of this evil age.

    The principalities and powers killed Michael Brown. Which is why anything that focuses on the morality of the primary actors--either the innocence or wickedness of Michael Brown or Darren Wilson--will miss the point completely.

  42. And what if it was NEITHER "bad seed" nor "mistake?" What if it was, in fact, a case of mortal self-defense? Again, the presumption that it must have been one of the first two is a deeply biased, unjust starting point. This whole argument begins with a highly dubitable premise about the moral possibilities, which actually are quite relevant to your argument because the larger "U. S. justice system is biased" theme is derived, at least in part, from those premises. (The fact that you begin with those premises by itself proves that point, even if there is an element of circularity to it. Again, causal closure, etc.) If you wish to reach your intended audience - that is, someone who does not already own box seats in your cheering section - beginning with these kinds of premises makes you inaudible and incredible.

  43. John, I just have to say that your "attempt to craft and place my comment on the same level" was executed beautifully. That second paragraph made me stop in my tracks. I hope you don't mind that I re-post it (giving you credit of course :) As a white mother of two teen boys, my husband and I have tried so hard to navigate them in a world that is hard to understand with a complicated past that they did not bear witness to. The power of those words is a power I hope to instill in my children, the amazing power of loving in name of Christ. I will share these words with them tonight. Thank you.

  44. 'Whether whites consciously commit explicitly racists acts or simply implicitly benefit from the racist system, there are no innocents.'

    This is really hard, and I wonder if you could unpack that a bit. I understand the concept of societal guilt, but is that the same thing as saying 'there are no innocents?' This seems to flirt very dangerously close to the same line that Hamas uses to to justify lobbing rockets into Israel, and Israel, in turn, uses to destroy neighborhoods in Gaza. This seems quite similar to the 'Black Culture' argument that implies all people of color are contaminated by their 'culture' thus providing justification for oppression and higher rates of incarceration. Can you be declared 'guilty' simply by association? This is hard to understand. Am I seeing this wrong?

  45. I really enjoyed your viewpoint as usual because it makes me ask questions. Like how this would apply to bearing the shame of the church and those who call themselves Christians but walk a very different path them ourselves.

    It also makes me wonder about the injustice of mercy and kindness. If we extend love to one, are we obligated to extend it to all? Or by its very nature is mercy unjust because the wicked are not punished equally? Would we hate racism if it was only used to justify acts of kindness? Is it still chauvinism if I only treat my wife differently to help her out?

    It seems like there is probably should be a way to walk out being racist, prejudiced, and generally stereotyping like most normal humans seem to do while using it as a tool to bless others rather than oppress.

    To claim no sense of judgment when it comes to relationships, race, sex, etc seems almost inhuman. I suppose the law should be such, but we all know how well people do when they try to live by law rather than grace.

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