Late Monday night, author Jen Hatmaker posted about Ferguson on her Facebook page:
What happened in the comment section of this post is mind boggling. As Jen’s audience–a gathering of mostly evangelical white women, many of whom seem to walk a line between conservative and progressive thinking–engaged in a cultural and spiritual debate about race, the conversation attracted a wide variety of opinions, many of which showcase just how ignorant some Christians are about their own racism.
The debate started okay, with a handful of reasonable comments.
But then Elaine decided to ask this: Do you for one second truly believe that officer Wilson shot michael brown because he was black? Apparently she wasn’t the only one who thought that was a valid inquiry–at last count the comment had 79 likes.
And then Jill chimed in: Perhaps we should listen to the precious mother (that I know personally) of an officer that has been shipped to St. Louis for this very moment. Your lack of wisdom in intentionally enflaming (sic) an already bad situation is devestating (sic) …simply devestating (sic again).
And Brenda: And how about the Caucasian population that is continually having to pay for mistakes our ancestors made years ago. Drop the race card. It is a weak, lame, and OLD excuse.
This comment by Rachel had, as of this posting, 40 likes: Ferguson isn’t about race. It’s about a thug attacking an officer of the law. End of story. Why don’t you put yourself in the shoes of the families of law enforcement officials? Because the fear they feel is just as real…
And then Einsteins offered a sexist plea to Jen’s husband, Brandon: Brandon please save Jen from herself! She is way over her head and digs only deeper! I like you Jen I do! Take heed and listen to wise council. Delete all your posts and tell us your kids stole your phone as a joke and posted these Crazy comments
And Brandi… It’s the black people in the community that made this about black and white…
Gina: This is not about race. Most of the witness’s that testified were African American!! This is about a kid who did not respect authority and was a thug.
Melanie: Until the black American community takes ownership of their problems, nothing will change. How about this- don’t steal and don’t commit violent crimes. That would be a start.
Brian: This was never a racial issue. The people of the Ferguson community made it a racial issue…
And it goes on and on for a 1000 comments. Some of the comments left on Jen’s post make these comments above read like Hallmark greeting cards. But it’s always there, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, the racism is littered throughout.
This is just one conversation. But I think it’s a telling conversation, one that offers us a glimpse as to how people who identify as Christian engage the topic of race.
With seemingly no ability to see that what’s happening in Ferguson is just one part of a much bigger story/problem, one that’s been a part of the American story for many many years…
Honestly, evangelicals have been engaging the topic of race with and without a lot things for a very long time.
But this comment thread might also showcase reasons why Sundays are still so segregated. And also show why evangelicals are some of the worst champions for racial reconciliation. To be honest, we might be the least equipped community of people in America to talk about race or help with reconciliation. Because we still haven’t learned equality and reconciliation in our own churches, communities.
Even those of us who are open to the concept or desire to see it happen don’t really know how to make it happen.
And I think that’s because, from this country’s beginnings, evangelicals have been a part of the problem when it comes to America and racial reconciliation–perhaps the biggest part of the problem. If you think I’m exaggerating, go study your American history.
At best, we’ve been two-faced about this issue. In my book, Our Great Big American God, I write a good bit about this topic.
America’s God was a grand participant, a reason to fight for equality, and an excuse to fight for the right to own slaves. God aided both sides. Leading up to the Civil War , America’s God was a two-faced deity working with both the North and the South. God was for slavery. And God was against slavery. God’s name was praised among the slaves. And God’s name was praised among the owners of slaves. God was pro-equality. And God was a complete and utter racist. God helped preachers and politicians in the South form messages and rhetoric that suggested slavery was good. And God helped countless slaves find passageways toward freedom.
Like the terrible and unnecessary death of Michael Brown is just one thread to a much bigger cultural problem in the United States, I think the comment thread on Jen Hatmaker’s Facebook wall is also a small thread to a much bigger evangelical problem when it comes to race.
Like we have for a 150+ years, many of us continue to stand in the way of racial reconciliation, fighting it at every turn.
Like we have for a 150+ years, many of us refuse to listen to the stories of the black community–really listen.
In her post, Jen wrote: We are a part of an important generation, one who might be ready to start listening humbly and maybe even move beyond to something more like racial healing and justice. Generations before us have done this hard and brave work in other arenas, and now it is our chance. What important work lies in front of us.
And she’s right. There’s much work to be done.
But I fear that many of us are far too evangelical to do what truly needs to be done in order to change.
Can Jesus heal these evangelicals’ racism? Maybe. But not as long as he’s a part of the excuse for being racist.