FRIEND AND PASTOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Rev. Joel C. Hunter stands in the foyer of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood, Florida. Hunter is one of President Obama's closet spiritual advisers. (Photo: Phyllis Redman/Newscom)
The Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter grew up in small town Ohio, the son of a widowed mother who loved black jazz musicians. Now he is a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama and pastor of 15,000-member Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood, Florida. “Cooperation and partnership are hallmarks of Dr. Hunter’s ministry,” his church bio says. “Together, he believes, we can accomplish more because of our differences than we would on our own—without giving up our unique identities.” UrbanFaith talked to Hunter about how this kind of cooperation is possible, and about his unique testimony of coming to faith after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., his friendship with the president, and what Sanford area ministers are doing in response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: You have a unique testimony in that you were involved in the civil rights movement and came to the Lord after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. You also recently wrote an op-ed for Charisma about the Trayvon Martin case. Has racial reconciliation always been a thread in your ministry?
Joel C. Hunter: Yes, it has been. The little town I came from in Ohio didn’t have one ethnicity other than white. I think it was one of those Midwestern towns that had a law about the exclusivity of races. But my mother, who reminds me in some ways of President Obama’s mother, was one of those free spirits who loved everybody and thrived on jazz: Nat King Cole and all of those greats—back in that day they were called “Negro geniuses” with music. And so, when I went to Ohio University, it was a natural thing for me to go to the other end of the spectrum and get involved almost immediately with the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t from a faith perspective that that first happened, but when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, I went to Galbraith Chapel, a little generic chapel at Ohio University, and came to Christ. Caring for those who are left out was at the core of my calling to ministry and that’s always been.
Now that there has been an arrest in the Trayvon Martin case, have things settled down in the Sanford area?
We are in the same county and I’m actively meeting with ministers from Sanford, being led by the African American ministers. We have another meeting scheduled for tomorrow night about how we can take our community toward, not just reconciliation and healing, but toward improvement because of what has happened here. We’ve had ongoing meetings together: prayer meetings and brainstorming meetings. We may have a community memorial service with the Martin family. I’m not sure. The publicity has somewhat died down now, but the ministers and spiritual leaders are much more conversant, active, and cooperative than we’ve ever been. So, I’m thinking God is really going to do something wonderful from this.
As a pastor who comes from a relatively humble upbringing, how do you keep being a spiritual adviser to the president of the United States in perspective?
I don’t know how this happens, but it’s really true: people are people to me. The president is a person. He’s great about this; he has a great sense of humor and he’s very personable, so it’s not like this is a lot of work. I realize that to the world, it’s a long way for a kid from Shelby, Ohio (where the largest buildings literally are the grain elevators for the farmers), but to me he’s a person and the job of a pastor is to help the person in front of him or her to get closer to God. And so, that’s exactly what I do.
I remember a time when I had had a conversation and a prayer with the president and within 24 hours I was back at my church talking to a AIDS-infected prostitute who wanted to get closer to the Lord. It struck me that my conversation with her resembled very closely the conversation I had had with the president less than 24 hours previous. To me, that was the ultimate. That’s what a pastor does. Each person has the same value in God’s eyes. I didn’t count one of those conversations more valuable than the other.
When your five-year-old granddaughter Ava passed away from glioblastoma in 2010, the president called you and prayed with you. How do you respond to criticism of his faith when you’ve been so personally engaged with him on a spiritual level?
The president called me when Ava was first diagnosed and then, of course, he called me when she passed away, so it was very tender and kind thing for him to do. I understand that people are ignorant, that is they lack knowledge about his faith walk. I realize there is some political agenda when people accuse him of not being a Christian. I’m not naïve about that, but the president and the candidate Barack Obama chose—even more after he was president—not to make his faith walk very public because he knew it would be politicized and that’s an area of his life he didn’t want politicized.
I always say that nature hates a vacuum and when you don’t have a lot of information, you will fill it in with your latest email. That’s exactly what happens. I know from personal experience and from many personal conversations that they’re wrong. I know his daily practice of reading Scripture. I write many of those devotions. Our prayer times in the Oval Office, over the phone, and on special occasions have been just as sweet and participatory as you can imagine. Of course, there’s always the defensiveness for a friend. I consider the president a friend and any time a friend is wrongly accused, you want to defend them. But, by the same token, I can’t really go much further, because this is the president and I don’t want to give a lot of information that is not directly related to his role and official duties. So, I have to be very careful about not saying too much.
You were on a press call defending President Obama’s faith around the time the Rev. Franklin Graham publicly questioned it. How do you address other Christian leaders who cast doubt on the president’s faith?
I can and do openly tell them about my personal relationship with the president and my personal knowledge of his spiritual life. Sometimes I say I wish most of the people in my congregation were as attentive to reading the Bible every day, praying every day, and trying to put their faith into practice as the president is. Some of them are really taken aback, because they just don’t have the knowledge. It’s not covered in the media by design. That’s fine. I’m very open about my personal knowledge of his walk.
AN OVAL OFFICE CHAT: Last February, Rev. Hunter shared a light moment with President Obama and Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. (Photo: Pete Souza/Newscom)
I heard the president debate Sen. John McCain at Saddleback Church in 2008. He seemed more articulate and comfortable talking about faith than McCain then and continues to sound more comfortable and articulate talking about faith than some other candidates now. Do you attribute doubts about his faith to politics or to his policy positions on issues like abortion?
It’s kind of all of the above. I think a lot of it is politically driven. I also think there’s some racism attached in this. I don’t play the race card, but I do think that because his father was from a different country (not faith, because his father wasn’t a man of faith) and with the hyper-sensitivity about Islam, there’s been an effort to paint this man as being very different because he does come from a unique background.
In that particular debate with McCain, he said something that didn’t quite come out right; he was a little too flip about it. When questioned about when life begins, he said, “That’s above my pay grade,” or something like that. Because he is such a respectful thinker in terms of religious questions, he won’t give the reflexive responses. When he didn’t say the axiom that “Life begins at conception,” he was hearkening back to something that is not particularly addressed in Scripture. If we don’t come from a particular faith tradition that says this is the dogma of my church and you simply look to Scripture, “Does life begin at conception?” is an open question. And so, part of this is because he is very careful not to give just the patently religious responses, or the religious platitudes. When people don’t get those, then they begin to say, “Maybe he’s not a Christian like others that have given us boiler-plate Christianity.” I would say to that: he doesn’t pretend to be a theologian, but he really does want to search the Scriptures authentically and personally, and it’s because he takes it so seriously and so personally that he won’t automatically give the response that everybody is looking for.
Is there a level of theological illiteracy on the part of the general public that contributes to this kind of misunderstanding?
Absolutely. In cultural Christianity in general there is, but specifically, the more fundamentalist versions of Christianity have shibboleths: “You have to say the right thing with the right accent or you’re not really one of us.” Part of the problem is not his level of sophistication, but ours, not his level of thinking, but our lack of more broad-based responsiveness to the depths of the theology of Scripture. When you don’t come with automatic or dogmatic sound-bite answers, that’s a good thing. That’s a sign of personal engagement. But because we would rather just have a category of correct belief and many people are satisfied with that, then we are the ones making ourselves upset. It’s not because he’s not answered adequately; it’s partially our discomfort at not having simple answers. That’s part of the unease with his particular faith walk.
The president comes down on the side of keeping abortion legal and you are pro-life. How do you, or anyone else, preserve relationships with other believers when there are such deep disagreements over these kinds of issue?
Abortion is probably the premiere issue where we see this. I am pro-life; therefore I think that’s a baby. I don’t happen to subscribe to “It’s a baby at conception,” because I don’t see that in Scripture, but I do believe that soon after that baby is implanted in a womb, it becomes a person. So I think abortion is homicide. Having said that, the way that I want to work with other Christians who don’t have the same theological presumption that I do about the personhood of a developing fetus is to keep my eyes on the goal. My goal is to have no abortions some day, ultimately because no woman decides to do that.
Other people say, “How can we reduce, by practical common sense, the number of abortions?” I’m on board. Every baby that can be saved, I think, is invaluable. And so, if I talk to somebody who is pro-choice and they say, “A lot of abortions come from feeling financial pressure or because people are afraid they won’t be able to complete their education, and if we could relieve that kind of pressure, they would carry their baby to term,” I’m all over that. I don’t have to have an all or nothing. That’s why the president and I, even though we would disagree probably on who should be able to get an abortion, we still can agree on the reduction of abortion as a very important goal together. That’s kind of how I walk that through.
Sanford Pastors Want Reconciliation
It only slowly dawned on Charisma Media publisher Steve Strang that the Trayvon Martin story had gone national, even though Charisma’s offices are located “less than three miles” from where Martin was killed, Strang said in an op-ed published Friday. He organized a clergy press conference after meeting with with local pastors for two days last week and with Special Prosecutor Angela Corey. He said Sanford’s ministerium wants “reconciliation and healing—not marches and protests” and the June issue of Charisma will include an article on “The Church’s Response to Racism.”
Transcending Racial Division Is Everyone’s Responsibility
In another Charisma op-ed, the Revs. Joel C. Hunter and Nelson Rivers III said, “The fact that Trayvon’s family and George Zimmerman lived in the same gated community in the South is a mark of how far we’ve come as a nation. The fact that Trayvon was presumed to be a threat, followed and shot to death is a testament to how far we have to go.” They also said, “The slow, ambivalent reaction to this tragedy by many in the white Christian community demonstrates the need to break down stereotypes and fear, and to build closer relationships across racial lines. Transcending this division is a responsibility for people of all races and creeds.”
Land’s Comments Don’t Help Southern Baptist Efforts
Meanwhile, the Revs. Fred Luter and Dwight McKissic have expressed disappointment in Southern Baptist leader Richard Land for for comments he made condemning President Obama for speaking out in support of Martin’s family, the Associated Press reported. “When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, ‘It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.'” McKissic said he thinks Land’s remarks “will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter.” He intends to “submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.” Land told the AP that he stands by his controversial remarks, but he’s now been accused of plagiarizing them from a Washington Times column, The Tennessean reported.
Zimmerman May Apologize
Land may be immovable, but George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara told ABC News that his client may apologize to Martin’s family for the shooting. “What I want to happen is for that conversation to occur directly to the family rather than …in the media through me,” he said. (O’Mara also told Florida’s WFTV that he will file a motion today to have the presiding judge in the case, Jessica Recksiedler, removed [at her own suggestion] because Zimmerman had contacted an associate of Recksiedler’s husband to represent him prior to hiring O’Mara.)
Central Florida’s ‘Dark, Violent’ Race History
At The Nation, Mark I. Pinksy pondered why white clergy in Sanford have been so slow to engage the issue and concluded that the “main impediment” has been the involvement of the Rev. Al Sharpton. More importantly, Pinksy outlined a troubling racial history in Central Florida as a backdrop for the story.
“In separate events in the 1920s, an attempt by two black men to vote in the town of Ocoee led to a race riot that spread to Apopka, Orlando and Winter Springs. Three years later, a white mob attacked the black community of Rosewood, burning the town to the ground and scattering its residents forever.
In the spring of 1947 … Jackie Robinson came to Sanford with one of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league teams. Although Robinson kept a low profile, a mob of town residents effectively ran him out of town, forcing him to stay miles away in Daytona Beach….
On Christmas Day, 1951, Harry T. Moore, Florida’s NAACP executive director and an anti-lynching activist, and his wife were blown up in their wood frame home. Local law enforcement officers were widely thought to have been among the Klansmen responsible. Harry Moore died en route to a Sanford hospital, where his wife died nine days later.
In 2007, an all-white jury acquitted seven prison guards and a nurse of beating to death a 14-year-old African American boot camp inmate, a killing caught on videotape.”
Who Cares About Trayvon and Who Doesn’t
Strang may have been late to the story and Land may decry it, but they’re not alone. This morning The New York Times published an insightful article about why this story has blown up and with whom it has gained a hearing. “Opinion polls show high interest in the case, with blacks far more likely than whites and Democrats more likely than Republicans to identify it as a ‘top story’ in their minds, according to the Pew Research Center.”
Update: Richard Land has apologized for failing to give verbal attribution in radio broadcasts and for offending people in his public discussions of the Trayvon Martin case, USA Today reported this afternoon. “I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962,” said Land.
What do you think?
Has this story gotten too much media attention, not enough, or the right amount?
Prayer made an appearance at Special Prosecutor Angela Corey's Press Conference announcing the arrest of George Zimmerman.
Prayer is the first thing Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey and her team did when they met with the parents of Trayvon Martin some three weeks ago, she said at a press conference last night announcing that George Zimmerman had been arrested on second-degree murder charges in Martin’s death.
Wearing a large gold cross around her neck, Corey said, “After meeting with Trayvon’s parents that first Monday night after we got appointed in this case … the first thing we did was pray with them. We opened our meeting in prayer.”
Corey did not make any promises to Martin’s parents, she said. “In fact, we specifically talked about if criminal charges do not come out of this, what can we help you do to make sure your son’s death is not in vain? And they were very kind and very receptive to that,” said Corey.
She thanked “all of those people across this country who have sent positive energy and prayers our way” and asked them to “continue to pray” for Trayvon’s family and for her team. “Remember, it is Trayvon’s family that are our constitutional victims and have the right to know the critical stages of these proceedings,” said Corey.
At a separate press conference, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, thanked God and Jesus for Zimmerman’s arrest. “We wanted nothing more, nothing less,” she said. Fulton also expressed gratitude toward supporters, saying, “I just want to speak from my heart to your heart because a heart has no color. It’s not black; it’s not white. It’s red, and I want to say thank you from my heart to your heart.”
Likewise, Corey addressed the racial tensions inherent in this case, saying, “Those of us in law enforcement are committed to justice for every race, every gender, every person of any persuasion whatsoever.”
Speaking after Fulton, Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, said, “We [have] a long way to go and we have faith. The first time we marched, I looked to the sky and I just told myself, ‘When I walk, I will walk by faith.’ We will continue to walk by faith. We will continue to hold hands on this journey: White, Black, Hispanic, Latino.”
Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, did not invoke faith at his press conference, but said his client is “troubled by everything that has happened.” It is perhaps ironic that he also said “it must be frightening” for Zimmerman to not be able to go into a 7-11 because of “hatred” directed against him given the fact that Martin was reportedly returning from a 7-11 when Zimmerman shot him.
O’Mara said his client will plead not-guilty and he will ask for bond to be set at a level Zimmerman’s family can afford. They are not people of means, O’Mara said. He has advised his client to “stay calm” going forward.
Corey said her office does not “prosecute by public pressure or by petition,” but “based on the facts of any given case, as well as the laws of the state of Florida.” A CBS News article describes her as a tough, tenacious litigator who ran for and won her boss’ job as state’s attorney after he fired her.
“The Supreme Court has defined our role on numerous occasions as prosecutors that we are not only ministers of justice, we are seekers of the truth, and we stay true to that mission,” she said at the press conference.
She also said her office is “equally committed to justice” for both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. “We will scrupulously adhere to our ethical obligations and to the rules of evidence in presenting this case,” said Corey.
The decision to charge Zimmerman was made last week and the Sanford Police Department investigation was ongoing when Florida governor Rick Scott assigned her to take over the case, she said. If convicted, the maximum sentence Zimmerman could receive is life in prison, but Corey said she will not decide what penalty to seek until after the case has been tried.
O’Mara said Zimmerman is “concerned about getting a fair trial” in central Florida given how “high” emotions are running against him. Asked why he took the case after Zimmerman dropped his previous attorneys, O’Mara said, “It’s what I do. … Mr. Zimmerman needs a very good and focused defense, so we’re going to build him one.” Florida’s “stand your ground” law will be a facet of Zimmerman’s defense, O’Mara said, but he conceded there are “troublesome portions” to it. “We are now going to have discussions and conversations about that as a state. Right now it’s the law of Florida,” he said.
In an interview this morning with the Today show, Fulton said she believes her son’s death was an accident. “I believe that it just got out of control, and [Zimmerman] couldn’t turn the clock back,” she said. How her use of the word “accident” will impact legal proceedings and public opinion now that Zimmerman has been charged with murder is anybody’s guess.
Update: Sybrina Fulton released a statement this afternoon through her attorney stating that her “accident” comment was “mischaracterized” by the media. “When I referenced the word ‘accident’ today with regard to Trayvon’s death, in NO way did I mean the shooting was an accident. We believe that George Zimmerman stalked my son and murdered him in cold blood. The ‘accident’ I was referring to was the fact that George Zimmerman and my son ever crossed paths.”
What do you think?
Will public emotion settle down now that Zimmerman has been arrested?
TRAYVON'S LEGACY: At an April 9 rally in downtown Los Angeles, hundreds marched in memory of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Martin's death has both galvanized a movement and exposed our nation's racial divisions. (Photo: Ringo Chiu/Newscom)
In a previous column here at UrbanFaith.com I warned that after the news cycle on the Trayvon Martin case runs its course, we will likely “quickly return to the same old stereotyping until the next tragedy explodes,” unless, that is, the nation commits to something different.
The sea of black, white, Hispanics and others faces of color that protested for the justice system to give a second look at Trayvon’s case is extremely encouraging. It led to the second-degree murder charge and arrest of George Zimmerman on April 11 that Trayvon’s family and all of us moved by the tragedy have been praying for. But the specter of going “back to the same old stereotyping” continues to linger.
A recent USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows the vast difference between how blacks and whites view the Trayvon Martin case. Seventy-three percent of blacks think Zimmerman would’ve been arrested right away if Martin were white compared to 33 percent of whites. Meanwhile, 52 percent of whites believe race hasn’t made a difference in how the case has been handled, while 72 percent of blacks say it definitely has.
We continue to have a serious racial divide.
Since the case came to national attention, there have been many calls for an open dialogue on race, and even some town hall meetings. It’s a good start. However, just talking is not enough. All Americans need formal systematic anti-racism training if we’re going to close the divide.
I attended an anti-racism workshop called Damascus Road as part of my work at Mennonite Mission Network. Damascus Road is an Anabaptist training program developed by the Mennonites and Brethren in Christ churches to help end institutional racism. The name refers to the biblical story of Saul (a mass oppressor of Christians) being transformed into the apostle Paul (a great evangelist for Christ) after experiencing Jesus along the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-31).
At Damascus Road, people of color and whites came together for two full days of intense learning and reflection about America’s systematic racism and how it has wounded us all. Trainers representing various racial and ethnic groups – Native Americans, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians — guide participants through America’s racist history to the present.
Tears were shed as participants verbalized deep wounds. We left with a greater understanding of ourselves and our America — “My country ‘tis of thy people you‘re dying,” as the song by legendary American Indian singer Buffy Sainte-Marie says.
Damascus Road is not a “one-shot” program. There are additional sessions, but my key takeaway from this first session is that honest dialogue followed by ongoing actions are what can heal America because we are “all in the same birdcage” together. At the top of the cage are whites that have a false sense of privilege — “internalized racist superiority identity.” Basking in the benefits of being up top, many whites either don’t care or are oblivious to the mess caused by their droppings at the bottom of the cage. Meanwhile, other whites turn their guilt to self-righteousness, criticizing “those rednecks,” but still clinging to their unearned privileges.
At the bottom of the cage, many people of color suffer from “internalized racist oppression identity.” They often see themselves as victims and can overreact to even unintentional slights. Meanwhile, other minorities instinctively jump at any opportunity to oppress their own kind, or other people of color. Yes, black-on-black crime is a symptom of this same systemic racism.
From these ills stereotypes are created. When we encounter each other based on these stereotypes the situation can potentially explode into a tragedy — like a 17-year-old black male wearing a hoodie lying dead on a lawn in a gated community.
Race is a myth turned into reality. There is no biological justification for race. Skin color is simply about having more or less melanin. It should be as insignificant as eye or hair color. Race is a concept created to advance racism — a system that holds one group of people superior over others.
CNN has been broadcasting a series of reports on race showing that children as young as 6 years old learn racism primarily from their parents. It’s sad. Racism is not something that babies arrive with from heaven. It’s a sickness of the mind that eats away at the heart.
But the heart can be changed and racism can be unlearned if we commit — like the Americans of all colors who stood for justice on behalf of Trayvon and his family.
Honest, open dialogue and direct systematic change is the prescription. I’m not talking about paying lip service to it with an afternoon “diversity talk” in the workplace, but a holistic approach, like Damascus Road. We need to be taught how to discuss racism together. How to create an environment where white, black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian … all Americans can be heard, understood, and then revise the way we think and behave towards each other.
Implement anti-racism workshops in churches and across denominations and faiths. Make secular versions mandatory in schools, starting at a young age, as part of civics education.
There are several organizations (religious and secular) doing this important work. They understand that talking is good but not enough. We need a systematic approach to undue a systemic illness.
Trayvon’s mother, Sabrina Fulton, said it best at the press conference about the charges and arrest of Zimmerman: “…I just want to speak from my heart to your heart because a heart has no color — it’s not black, it’s not white, it’s red …”
With God’s help, we can heal our hearts and minds of racism.
SEEKING HEALING: On March 31, congregants prayed for slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin and his shooter, George Zimmerman, during a service at the First Church of Seventh Day Adventists in Washington, D.C. The prayer was focused on racial healing and asked that people exercise patience to allow the judiciary to follow its course to bring about justice. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Newscom)
Many words have been and will be written about the death of Trayvon Martin, and the cocktail of grief, outrage, and confusion will likely linger long after the matter is resolved in one way or another. The circumstances of this unfortunate event have directed our attention to some of the challenges we face as a nation and as human beings, with considerable focus on the persistent difficulties connected to race. Whether or not Martin was racially profiled, this tragedy presents the opportunity to take paths that will lead us to better expressions of our humanity.
As director of Wheaton College’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics I had the privilege of participating in an event entitled “Civil War and Sacred Ground: Moral Reflections on War” (co-sponsored with The Raven Foundation). Two points raised at this thought-provoking conference can be helpful as we consider the long shadow of our history with race, particularly for followers of Christ. First, I continue to hear the echo of the following statement (paraphrased here) from Luke Harlow of Oakland University: “At the time of the Civil War, white supremacy was essentially held as an article of faith.” By this, he meant most citizens in the United States, North and South. Upon hearing this, I thought, No wonder it is so difficult for us to overcome the negative legacy of race.
The fact that racial superiority was so unquestioned suggests that the social, cultural, and political fabric of the Modern West in general and the United States in particular was constructed with a view of human beings that could be generalized as “whites” (or ethnic Europeans, who admittedly had their clashes) and “others.” Though the latter were identified according a range of racial categories, they definitely were not regarded as equal to “whites,” even among Christians. Of course there were those who did regard all humans as equal, but this was truly a minority report.
While many changes have occurred in the 150 years since the Civil War began, race consciousness remains in our social and cultural DNA like a stubborn mutation, rendering it difficult for us to truly and consistently regard “others” as equal before the eyes of God and fully human. This problem of otherness is not new, but it has manifested in a particularly malevolent fashion in the construction of racial identity. Today, this means that though great changes have occurred that would have been unimaginable 150 years ago, much more needs to change if we are to really live together as caring neighbors, at least in the church if not elsewhere. Yet this is an area where Christians continue to struggle, and many find themselves exhausted in reconciliation efforts.
The stubbornness of our race problem could lead us to despair, but taking a long view in light of where we have come from instead reminds us that we must have great patience as we pursue fundamental change. This patience is not the twin of apathy, but the disposition of steadiness and faithfulness in the face of at times imperceptible transformation. Change has occurred and can occur again.
Second, and more briefly, Dr. Tracy McKenzie, chair of Wheaton College’s history department, urged us to consider the difference between moral judgment and moral reflection. Whether it is the views held by most citizens 150 years ago or today in moments of racial conflict, moral judgment is the easy path which leads us to say “I can’t believe they held/hold such views and did such things.” Moral judgment keeps us separate from those we find reprehensible or disappointing. With moral reflection, while we may be surprised, disappointed, or offended by the ideas and actions we see in others, we are also prompted to consider our own moral architecture. In the question of race and otherness, moral reflection helps us to ask: What would I have thought if I were living at that time; how do I think about those that I readily regard as “other” from me; and does someone’s “otherness” make it easier for me to conclude that they are deficient in their humanness in some way and thus make it easier for me to disregard Christ’s command to love my neighbor as myself?
Moral reflection does not refuse to identify moral failings, but it leads us to look for them in places we might not peer otherwise. Moral reflection can prompt us to look at ourselves, our church, and our world in a way that brings us to a place of repentance that leads to transformation of life and even society.
Steady, faithful patience and moral reflection hardly exhaust our strategies for changing how we honor God in addressing the problem of race, but I find them helpful. What helps you?
This essay was adapted from an article at The Christian Post and was used by permission.