Three ways to fight racism

The Bible is not racist, but people are, says US author and historian Jemar Tisby.

Speaking to John Dickson for Undeceptions, part of the Eternity Podcast Network, Tisby lamented the “depressing perversion of what God speaks about” that we have seen in our world.

We see throughout the Bible this ever-unfolding, ever-expanding scope of the Good News to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“The Bible is very much biased toward racial and ethnic equality and diversity,” said Tisby.

At the very beginning, says Tisby, in Genesis Chapter One, God makes clear that all humans are created in His image. Further on in Genesis, God tells Abraham that all the nations on earth will be blessed through him. In the New Testament, Jesus announces that he has come to proclaim the Good News to the nations, and later tells his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And we see in the final book of the Bible, in Revelation, that people from every tribe, tongue and nation will be gathered around the throne worshiping Jesus at the end of all things.

“We see throughout the Bible this ever-unfolding, ever-expanding scope of the Good News to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. And as we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’, we as followers of Christ, should be modelling what it looks like to have diversity in the midst of unity. That is different to uniformity. Jesus doesn’t make everyone the same. He holds us together within our differences – differences that are beautiful and to be celebrated.”

“History has the receipts … it has the evidence. It tells us how we got to where we are. It diagnoses the problem and helps us understand what we’re dealing with.”

Tisby’s new book How to fight racism: Courageous Christianity and the journey toward racial justice explores practical ways by which the Church can respond to what Tisby sees as systemic racism in society.

“When you study history, you come to learn that it’s not just individuals, but institutions, that can be racist. You learn that it’s not just people, but it’s also policies that enact and perpetuate inequality,” says Tisby.

Tisby says there are three things that Christians must focus on to break the chain of racism both within the Church and in the broader society: Awareness, Relationships and Commitment.

The first step is learning about how Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have been treated, and continue to be treated.

“I’m particularly keen on building our awareness of history,” says Tisby.

“History has the receipts … it has the evidence. It tells us how we got to where we are. It diagnoses the problem and helps us understand what we’re dealing with.”

That starts with listening. But, says Tisby, it’s hard to listen if you don’t know any Black people or People of Colour.

“All reconciliation is relational. And white people have to work harder at this, because [at least in the United States] they are the majority, so society tends to cater to your needs, wants and proclivities. You don’t ever have to have deep relationships with People of Colour. So you do have to go out of your way to make that happen.

Just being able to say, “Some of my best friends are Black” won’t cut it.

“Relationships build empathy. It builds solidarity and makes sure that we don’t get so caught up in the information or the action that we forget that real people are involved.”

But it’s not enough to stop at relationship, says Tisby. Just being able to say, “Some of my best friends are Black” won’t cut it.

“It doesn’t matter how many cups of coffee you have with your friends. Or how many panel discussions you attend to learn more. That’s not going to do anything about Black voter suppression. That’s not going to do a thing about mass incarceration.”

That’s where ‘commitment’ comes into play. “We have to work on a policy level – an institutional level – to eradicate racism.

Among the actions Tisby suggests to ‘commit’ to racial equality is preaching about racism in churches.

However, such preaching is becoming less welcome in church. According to a LifeWay Research study, 17 per cent of pastors in the US say their church would not want to hear about racial reconciliation, up from 7 per cent in 2016. Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research concedes that most pastors’ don’t limit their teaching to topics their congregations want to hear.

“But it is helpful to know the reaction pastors anticipate from their congregations,” he said.

“Instead of a majority strongly agreeing, now only a third of pastors have no hesitation that their congregation would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation.”

Tisby says the only way to make headway in the journey toward racial justice is to keep all three points – awareness, relationships and commitment – moving around each other in a “dynamic dance”.

“It’s not linear. You don’t move from awareness to relationship to commitment. All these things need to happen at once. And it’s not like you’re ever done. We’re always learning, always deepening relationships.”

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