“Why can’t White Christian America understand how African Americans feel about the black men who have died at the hands of white police officers?” So wonders author Robert P. Jones (p. 155).
Racial Perception Gap.
Shortly after the Baltimore riots in April 2015 a Public Religion and Research Institute (PRRI) found that 74% of black Americans thought “the recent killings of African American men by police in Ferguson . . . New York City and Baltimore . . . were part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans” (p. 153). Many white Americans see these killings as “isolated incidents”.
America’s Still-Segregated Modern Life.
Jones sees “America’s still-segregated modern life” marked by geographic segregation, an overwhelming majority of white Americans not having a close relationship with a non-white, and no institutions to resolve “systemic social segregation”.
For example, in 1911 Baltimore’s mayor signed an ordinance designed to “promote the general welfare of the city by assigning separate blocks for the city’s black and white residents”. Such segregation spread and persisted over the years through housing codes and and property owners’ associations that blocked blacks from moving into white neighborhoods. It’s resulted black Americans having only 72% of the well-being of white Americans—“as measured across . . . economic well-being, health, education, social judgment and civil engagement” (p. 157).
Second example. A 2013 PRRI survey found that “on average, the core social networks of white Americans are . . . 91% white and only 1% black” (p. 161).
Third example. Public schools are the primary institution to bridge this racial divide. Yet “the average white student today attends a school that is 73% white” (p. 162).
What about the church? Jones argues that, while a small number have successfully integrated, “the church is still the most segregated major institution in America”, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. charged in 1963.
The Role of White Christian America.
Jones asserts, “No segment of White Christian America has been more complicit in the nation’s . . . racial history than white evangelical Protestants” (p. 167). He indicts Southern Baptist churches as the guiltiest, but notes that recently SBC churches are leading the way regarding integration (p. 174).
Can the church “desegregate”? To “reinforce the current racial isolation” would “ensure White Christian America’s declining relevance”, according to Jones. Better, as some churches are doing (Middle Collegiate Church, New York City and Oakhurst Baptist, Atlanta), to “pioneer a new kind of Christian community that transcends the color line” (p. 179-188).
On her “Huffington Post” blog, Reverend Jacqui Lewis described a transcending-the-color-line service at Middle Church: “A tall gorgeous Black gay man from our congregation led with One day, when the Glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours, while his petite white husband played the Hammond organ. The choir–directed by a Mexican American man, accompanied by a lesbian Black woman–filled with the voices of Chinese, Japanese, White, Black, Puerto Rican, married, and single folk who span generations rapped like Common–in unison! They wept, they stomped their feet as though they were stomping out injustice. Our congregation was on fire with deep feelings of both sorrow and hope.”
The church we planted in North Jersey in 1973 grew to be about 25% non-white. Not by our planning. It just happened. We all treated non-whites the same as whites. We aimed at loving each other as Jesus loved us (John 13:34). We realized Christ’s cross made two (or more) races one . . .
The subject demands far more thought than I can give to it here. Suffice it to generally agree with Jones” conclusion . . .