Christian Choices for a Son of the South

Christian Choices for a Son of the South

Do I vote red or blue? Do I stand with the fearful “religious” right or the angry “liberal” left? Do I get my daily dose of reality from Fox News or CNN? Do I listen to Candace Owens or Black Lives Matter? Do I speak out or keep silent?

Choices. The heat of this day seems to demand a choice. Pick your side.

I cannot erase my own past. I am a son of the South who grew up in Mississippi during the days of Elvis, Martin Luther King and Archie Manning. My high school was integrated my junior year. Keith Moses and Darryl Nobles were my first African American classmates. Our high school principal, Julian Prince, took quite a public pounding.  He reflects on those years in his book Balancing the Scales: A Turbulent Age of Mississippi History During School Integration. His experience is summarized in this Associated Press article.

I also grew up in a holiness denomination, the Church of the Nazarene. While the Bible was the book we memorized and quoted, our interpretation of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus never led us to civil rights protests. It did keep us from the cruelty and violence of the KKK.  And it did introduce compassion and civility to interracial relationships. Not enough for today, but quite radical for the culture of the 1960s.

Many who are reading this post grew up in a very different world than I did. I’m not writing to you. If I were, I would start at a different place. If you’d like to understand where my reflection comes from, two readings will give you a deeper look. One is a Jackson, Mississippi, newspaper article recommended to me by Andy, my Mississippi cousin who is now a New Testament scholar and champion of racial reconciliation. Read it here.

The other is an article by Rod Dreher, another fellow Son of the South, which you can read here. On this given day, I woke up, read these two articles and then listened to a phenomenal sermon by our pastor on the story of Barnabas, the son of encouragement whose Pentecost experience led him to share his wealth with the needy of Jerusalem. My mind is in a highly reflective gear this morning. I am trying to connect my past to the present.

The temptation of many Christian sons of the South is to pull a few examples from our memory and use them as proof that we were not then, nor are we now, racist. I have some of those stories. I’ll spare you. This kind of defensive posturing is not helpful. Rather, I find myself wrestling with a haunting feeling, possibly a mixture of shame and guilt, that “good Christian people like us” did not do more back then—or since then. As I watch the apologies of whites to blacks, I hear many defenses from those who choose not to say “I’m sorry.” Their statement, “I didn’t do anything wrong and I have nothing to apologize for,” seems to be the end of the matter for them. I understand where this comes from. In the South, you could demonstrate personal morality of the highest order and still do nothing about social sin. We were taught to own up to what we had personally done, to take responsibility for our behavior. It was a mark of maturity. You take your licks, not someone else’s.

But southern culture never taught us the meaning of corporate sin. It would take a move of God to bring us to our knees in confession of our cultural sins. It would take the Christ who was essentially lynched for the sin of all to convince us that we too are stained by the sin of humanity.

Why have I apologized to my black friends? Because Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us OUR trespasses, even as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” This prayer recognizes that sin is much larger than what I have done individually. This prayer recognizes that I pray as a member of the human race, even as a son of the South. Sin is present in political systems, power bases, self-promoting cultures and human valuing. In the same way that I pray for God to forgive our nation for aborting an unborn life or warehousing the elderly poor or incarcerating the traumatized child, I pray for God to forgive us for the sin of racism. And if I can utter that prayer to God, why not express the same confession to my black brother? Christians confess on behalf of the world that we live in. Confession begins in the house of the Lord and then goes out looking to right the wrong in the wider world.

My concern for today is that the current octane of anger will not achieve the kind of just, reconciled, merciful society that the kingdom of God imagines. If raw anger were a vaccine for racial injustice, the world would be cured. Many think we have two options regarding our anger: act it out or swallow it down whole. Speak up or shut up.

The first destroys others, the second destroys its carrier. The practice of corporate confession of sin suggests a third option: we take it to God. By taking our anger, our feelings, our emotions, our memories, our prejudices, our cultures to God and confessing them openly and honestly, a miracle occurs. God is the only demolition expert I know who can take the octane of raw anger and transform it into righteous energy.

In this present moment in our history, this righteous energy in the predominantly white church must be focused on working to change polices that deny justice to our Black brothers and sisters. If we cannot say publicly that black lives have not mattered in this society—certainly not as much as white lives—and take concrete steps to repair this breach, we have stopped short of anything that can be called a gospel response. Without this, I think any talk of reconciliation/peace is an illusion. Nothing will change. I think this is how most African-American churches in this country will see it because they know that in the biblical tradition justice and peace are joined at the hip.

So what is my role in all of this? In 1 Peter 2:9, the people of God are called a royal priesthood. The role of a priest is to bear the sins of the people to God and to offer the same people the forgiveness of God for their sins. My anger over racial injustice leads me to confession on behalf of the human race that I belong to. I cannot separate myself from my fellow sons of the South but I can certainly be a priest in prayer for them/us. Then I can work for righteous action.

Could I be wrong? I certainly am. I will never see perfectly in this complexity. “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three: and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13: 9-13 NRSV)

Now there’s a choice I can make.


Comments

  1. Thank you. A few years later, I walked in those same shoes. We do have a sense of guilt, because even if we did not say or do things that were wrong (which many of us did at least once to our chagrin), we did not do more. But we can ask for God’s grace, which we need each day, and take the next step.
    As I have said to many, including my children, this is not a quick fix. It is a marathon, which will go past our lives, and perhaps theirs. But we have to continue to take every step we can- with purpose, care and consistency- to fight the results of this 400 years of oppression, America’s great social sin, which even today claims lives, families and the strength of our people.

  2. Rodney Shanner says

    White Christians guilty of mistreating blacks, or anyone else, should confess their wrong and change their behavior.

    But a clear distinction should be made between black people and the BLM organization. BLM is a radical group seeking to take over this country and turn it into a socialist state run by them and their deep pocket funders, and their America hating radical ideologues, many of whom are University professors, whatever it takes.

    Is there racism? Yes. Are there bad police? Yes. Any police that do what was done to Mr. Floyd are not acceptable. The police involved have been charged according to the rule of law. Such police should be identified and removed from the force, just like bad preachers.

    BLM, and their ilk, violate the rule of law. White guilt that undermines holding such groups accountable for violence, property destruction, and looting is misguided.

    Christian love is to be informed by knowledge (Philippians 1). When it becomes gushy sentimentalism it endangers citizens, our Country, and civilization.

    • Alice Lathrop says

      AMEN Rodney Shanner!!!

    • Dana Price says

      Excellent! I’m thankful to see this in print. I’ve had these feelings swirling around in my brain and haven’t been able to adequately express them. Thank you for expressing these thoughts.

  3. Philip Craig says

    What I see in today’s newspaper headlines doesn’t surprise me. The Bible tells us that Satan knows his time is short and he has to increase the anger to cause maximum disruption to God’s plans.

    What surprises me is that we have no Christian leadership. We live in a world where more spiritual truth is available than ever before and yet those who put the title “Pastor” in front of their names are asleep in the light. When they do speak, their words have become nothing but sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. They self-flagellate over the cause du jour hoping that someone will give them the attention they desperately crave. And because there are no shepherds, the sheep are confused and wandering away.

    Let’s explore what’s on God’s mind: the Hebrew people. God chose the Hebrew people to work through. They gave us Abraham, the father of nations and a mighty faith teacher, they gave us God’s Word in the form of the Bible and they gave us the Messiah. God is using the nation of Israel as His time clock for this Earth. The Hebrew people know all about slavery. They know about being taken from their homeland, they know about being mistreated. God scattered them to the four corners of the Earth and allowed their identity to become invisible. Yet, God promised to restore them to their promised home. God promised to raise them up. And we see how blessed the Hebrew people have become. So many great inventions, many dealing with healing, are currently coming out of Israel.

    Christians have failed to focus on what concerns God. During World War 2, President Franklin Roosevelt turned away a boat of Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler’s death machine. Did Christians fall to their knees in repentance for that? Currently, in New York City, we have a mayor who is actively targeting the Jewish community. In Israel, families are being bombed out of their homes and their enemies want to wipe them from the face of the Earth simply for being born Hebrew. Have you posted on your Facebook about that? Have you even taken time today to pray for the peace of Jerusalem as Psalm 122:6 instructs?

    I don’t say this to take away from what’s going on in the black community, but more to put things in perspective. God recognizes three groups of people in the world: the Jews, the nations and the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). Are you neglecting the spiritual things of God to attend to today’s headlines? If you will give attention to God’s chosen people, then He will intervene to put things right for the nations and the Church.

    • Thanks for your opinion. It is easy to divert a conversation from the issue being addressed by pointing out inconsistencies in other places. I’m not trying to address the whole world here but rather using this platform to address the need for corporate confession of racism by those who grew up in the south. Sorry if I triggered other buttons in you.

      • Philip Craig says

        No need to apologize, it is our privilege as free Americans to enter into spirited debate, to put the questions to one another and test our own beliefs. The exchange of ideas has never been a stumbling block for me.

        My concern for all Christians is the distraction. A liberal, anti-Christian media pours gasoline on a situation and throws a lighted match which causes a cultural knee-jerk reaction and leaves some Christians with a bad case of whiplash. And seemingly out of nowhere, our alma mater issues a list of questionable resources that helps us better understand this issue. Yesterday, a black man governed our nation for eight years and today we’re overwhelmed with how racist we are.

        My point is not to highlight inconsistencies in other places, but pointing out that maybe we’re focused on the wrong issue.

    • Gina Diaz says

      Well spoken!

  4. Joel Tooley says

    Dan…your voice reverberates the prophetic message of the Jesus.

    Thank you for taking the time to write and speak from your heart. Thank you for willingly posting this in places where some of the wackiest people out there can take potshots at your intentions. Thank you for having the grace to be nice in the midst of it.

    You are a consistent model of humility, wisdom, prophetic calm and the faithful expressions of Jesus.

    And to top it off, I really like you.

  5. Stuart Rowan says

    Dr Boone. Great timely, prophetic, challenging, instructive, truth……..BUT!!!!

  6. Kathy S R Heppner says

    Interesting read, in the geneology on my dad’s side, it seems that MANY generations back about to the time of a male relative landing in N Carolina one was a slave owner. In working their way across America, it seems that one who may have been a slave married into the family. At any rate, yours truly has white skin, has never owned or wanted to own a slave. She believes that slavery is reprehensible. With all the militant & unlawful behavior of BLM, ANTIFA and others just capitalizing on the allegations of “racism” which is a blanket term from where I sit for hatred, prejudice and bigotry, I cannot justify apologizing for something I had absolutely nothing to do with, things that goes against that which is right and good. I am sorry that these things happened to the black people, but it is time for forgiveness to put it behind and move ahead as a united people. To ignore those who are fanning the fires. There are those behind all this who hope to profit by causing division and hatred. The church (believers) is made up of individuals of all sizes, shapes, colors, back rounds, and nationalities. We must come together and seek Gods face and pray continually for our leaders, our country, our families. Pray for our Lord to open eyes and bring many to repentance and salvation in Christ and for Godly persons who look to Him (God) for guidance to be elected to office, ones who are not likely to sell out to bribery or pressure. Thank you Dan for sharing your thoughts. Let us all remember that “God IS good ALL the time.”

  7. Dan: Thanks for sharing your wisdom & compassion. I think you would like my timely book. Search for: Off the RACE Track–From Color-Blind to Color-Kind.

  8. Mark Berry says

    With my heritage littered with slave owners from Virginia, I too have a sense of ownership for what my family did and what I have not done to stand up to racism as I should. Although I may not need to answer for my families sins, I still must live with the fact that my family committed the atrocities of slavery. I will never forget asking a pastor to assist in a reconciliation service with our African American pastors and Hispanics. He refused to be part of the service because he stated that he did not do anything to reconcile over. Whenever we have an opportunity to bring people together of all cultures and backgrounds, we should jump at the chance. We may not have committed the act of slavery, but we can certainly recognize that it has been part of our past and ask God to help us to look beyond status, color and culture. As we all know, the issue of racism is not a color issue but a heart issue. This was actually a statement by several African American pastors when I discussed with them. If we focus on the heart then the problem of racism will correct itself.
    Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

  9. Confession: I grew up in the volatile 60’s – and in the south. My experience with blacks in school and particularly buses was not good, and unnamed folk in our family expressed prejudice freely. I participated in it as well.
    But at the age of 16, something happened that opened my eyes. The anger I felt, the resentment I harbored, the hatred I carried – it all came to a head when I realized this one thing: when I realized the fact that God was going to hold me accountable for MY sins and unless I called on His name and received His forgiveness, I would die and go to hell.
    That’s it. From God comes every good thing. On the contrary, the wrath of God is quite the opposite – and no place I wanted to live! But be sure, I could not rationalize away the words of Jesus about the reality of heaven and hell. I turned to God for forgiveness and He changed my life. As I began to study His love letter to me (the Bible), the Almighty God began to transform my heart and life and I began to ‘see’ people differently – and love all people. It’s not a skin issue that affects many Americans today. It’s a sin issue.
    I listened to an interview recently with a black pastor and I thank God for him and for the lives of many black Americans who have made our country better, not bitter. America needs Jesus! Only Jesus can change America.

  10. matt hurst says

    Philip Craig, thank you for speaking the truth! Its difficult to see the the culture influencing the leadership in my alma mater. Yes, we as christian must always stand against racism! But to embarrass or humble myself before a stranger I have never met is not biblical! Yes, black lives matter and sure we can go on on knees to the almighty God and ask for forgivness for the sins of the human race, but certainly not to someone we have never wronged or met regardless of the color of their skin!

  11. James Elkins II says

    Dan for what’s it’s worth, You are Not wrong… It always comes down a Choice We Must All Make! 🙂 Personally, I am an eternal-optimist and believe All Men Can Live Together In Peace. It Shall Be life, but “it must come from Men.” So Where Do We Go From Here?

    And with the current protests for social justice occurring around the nation, I think there may be no better time than right now to turn to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “and embrace them in full.” MLK said it Best: “Everyone is worrying about the long hot summer with its threat of riots. We had a long cold winter when little was done about the conditions that create riots.” (He’s exactly right too, ‘playing it cheap and living on welfare the whole next winter.’)

    The protest marchers and activists are trying to set things right: 1) they aren’t just crying for social-justice, 2) but also crying out for equal-justice too. I think it is a grave mistake to think that somehow the two can be separated. (The Two Can *NEVER* Be Separated!)

    “What are you doing for others? (Are we serving our fellow brothers and sisters?) The ultimate measure of a man is where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. I also think the ultimate tragedy the silence by the good people who say nothing and don’t speak-up…”the silence of our friends.”

    The world needs to change, and it’s only through listening, understanding, empathy, educating yourself (Isn’t All Knowledge is Ultimately Self-Knowledge?), and love that it will change for the better. MLK left behind a great legacy that was crucial for the Civil Rights Movement & Social Justice Movement of today, and will continue on hereafter.

    King said ‘Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism and charity or in the outer darkness of destructive selfishness.’ Yes, it must be boldly demanded by the oppressed. (IMO, Our soul begins die end the day we become silent and complicit about things that matter today.)

    “Always Do The Right Thing” (Love Your Enemies & Drive Them Nuts. :D):

    -People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
    (But Love them anyway!)

    -If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
    (Do good anyway!)

    -The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
    (But Do good anyway!)

    Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
    (Be honest and frank anyway!)

    The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
    (But Think big anyway!)

    What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
    (But Build anyway!)

    People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
    (But Help people anyway!)

    Give the world the best you have and may still get your teeth kicked in.
    (But Give the world the best you have anyway!)

    So God Bless & Wish Y’all the Best.

  12. James Elkins II says

    Personally I am an optimist and believe All Men Can Live Together. It shall be life, but “it must come from men.” The protest marchers and activists are trying to set things right: they aren’t just crying for social-justice, but crying out for equal-justice too. I think it is a grave mistake to think that somehow the two can be separated. (The Two Can *NOT* Be Separated!)

    With the current protests for social justice occurring around the nation, there may be no better time than now to turn to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “and embrace them in full.” The world needs to change, and it’s only through listening, understanding, empathy, educating yourself (Isn’t All Knowledge is Ultimately Self-Knowledge?), and love that it will change for the better. MLK left behind a great legacy that was crucial for the Civil Rights Movement & Social Justice Movement of today, and will continue on hereafter.

    MLK said it Best: “Everyone is worrying about the long hot summer with its threat of riots. We had a long cold winter when little was done about the conditions that create riots.” (He’s exactly right too, playing it cheap and living on welfare the whole next winter.) “What are you doing for others? (Are we serving our fellow brothers and sisters?) The ultimate measure of a man is where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. I also think the ultimate tragedy the silence by the good people who say nothing and don’t speak-up…”the silence of our friends.”

    King said ‘Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism and charity or in the outer darkness of destructive selfishness.’ Yes, it must be boldly demanded by the oppressed. (IMO, Our soul begins die end the day we become silent and complicit about things that matter today.)

    “Always Do The Right Thing” (Love Your Enemies & Drive Them Nuts!):

    -People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
    (But Love them anyway!)

    -If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
    (Do good anyway!)

    -The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
    (But Do good anyway!)

    Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
    (Be honest and frank anyway!)

    The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
    (But Think big anyway!)

    What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
    (But Build anyway!)

    People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
    (But Help people anyway!)

    Give the world the best you have and may still get your teeth kicked in.
    (But Give the world the best you have anyway!)

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