A Beautiful Kingdom Warrior’s Perspective on Race Relations in America

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Becky and I began The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors this January as a place to empower Christian women and to host redemptive (redemption: n. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil) dialogue on gender issues within Christianity.  We chose to name our blog “The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors” because we believe that our role as Christians is to partner with God in the redemption of the world’s brokenness, restoring God’s kingdom on earth.  When God presented Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden, it was as his “ezer kenegdo” (Genesis 2:18, 20; ezer appears throughout the Old Testament to describe God’s help in warfare – i.e. the Warrior bit).

A simplistic summary of the story of the world is: the Creation (all was good, according to God’s plan), the Fall (all is broken and in need of redemption), and God’s Redemption Plan (encompassing all aspects of God’s restoration of His creation to its’ pre-Fall perfection).  As Beautiful Kingdom Warriors, we are not only concerned with reversing the Genesis 3 curse of the subjugation of women, but of all aspects of brokenness in our world.

Approaching the new year, I do not want to move ahead on the blog without addressing racial reconciliation.  Between travelling for three weeks around Thanksgiving and the busy Christmas season at home, I have struggled to find the time or the words to share my heart on this issue.  This is not an easy post to “bang out.”  I am wrestling with my words, fighting to be helpful and redemptive, according to the vision of our blog.

As the national debate on race relations reached fever pitch around Thanksgiving, I was sharing pertinent articles on Facebook and I received a private message saying, “Aren’t you worried about [my friends whose husbands are law enforcement officers]?”  I was a little taken aback, 07ff16ab8af9d0ae6728277d45ceeb61because of course I care about my friends and their amazing husbands!  But I hadn’t connected them to the protests.  I realized I hadn’t been viewing this as a “cops vs. protesters” issue–but many others were.  With a heavy heart, I have read posts (like this one and this one) that these friends have shared on Facebook.  I began to think about how we filter information through our particular lenses, and how conflict escalates in a predictable pattern, with an unfortunate but universal “us vs. them” rhetoric that polarizes people, forcing everyone to “choose sides.”  I firmly believe that reconciling race relations in our nation will be beneficial for everyone – especially our heroic men and women who put their lives on the line to protect and serve us and who are directly impacted and endangered by the heightened tensions and open hostility.  It is also beneficial for all when justice is served against police officers who have abused their authority.  Not even the Church is impervious to corruption, so it is too broad a statement to paint all police officers as “the good guys.”

The reality is that America has a long history of systemic racism and inequality that shackles poor black communities throughout our nation.  There are legitimate issues of injustice that need to be addressed and redeemed.  As Christians, we are commissioned to partner with God in making peace and mending brokenness.

About twelve years ago, I signed up to go to Tennessee to build a home with Habitat for Humanity over my spring break from Gordon College.  There ended up being twice as many students as spots on the bus, and an impromptu Racial Reconciliation trip was formed, for which I was picked at random.  That week in Washington D.C., we spent each day visiting Beautiful Kingdom Warriors fighting for their black communities.  We stayed at The Little White House, a center for racial reconciliation conversations.  We visited local pastors, Congressmen, a domestic violence shelter, a food pantry, a poorly funded school, an after-school program, a non-profit that collects school supplies for local children.  For the first time in my life, I was hearing from black people what it was like to be black in America (according to this article, typically only 1% of white peoples’ social networks are black).  I came back to Gordon and gave a speech in Convocation about my eye-opening experience.  I said that for the first time in my life, I learned that you don’t have to be a Republican to be a Christian (another polarizing “us vs. them” mentality)!  God taught me that it was okay to cross partisan lines and care about a “liberal” issue.

In seminary, I took a “Cross-Cultural Missions” class in which we read Jonathan Kozol’s heart-wrenching book, “Amazing Grace.”   This book grieved me so greatly.

Amazing Grace is Jonathan Kozol’s classic book on life and death in the South Bronx—the poorest urban neighborhood of the United States. He brings us into overcrowded schools, dysfunctional hospitals, and rat-infested homes where families have been ravaged by depression and anxiety, drug-related violence, and the spread of AIDS. But he also introduces us to devoted and unselfish teachers, dedicated ministers, and—at the heart and center of the book—courageous and delightful children. The children we come to meet through the friendships they have formed with Jonathan defy the stereotypes of urban youth too frequently presented by the media. Tender, generous, and often religiously devout, they speak with eloquence and honesty about the poverty and racial isolation that have wounded but not hardened them. Amidst all of the despair, it is the very young whose luminous capacity for love and transcendent sense of faith in human decency give reason for hope. (Source – Amazon description).

Over the years, I have continued to read articles and books about systemic racism in America.  The statistics can be overwhelming.  Currently:

  1. 27 percent of black Americans now live in poverty, a two percent increase since 2009.
  2. According to last month’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the unemployment rate for black Americans now stands at a staggering 14.1 percent, a figure well above the already high national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent.
  3. White Americans now have 22 times more wealth than black Americans, a figure that has nearly doubled during the recession. According to the Census, in 2010, media household net worth for whites totaled $110,729. For blacks, the figure was $4,995.
  4. From June 2009 to June 2012, real median annual household income for blacks fell 11.1 percent from $36,567 down to $32,498. The drop for whites was 5.2 percent and 4.1 percent for Hispanics.
  5. According to the Census, 26.4 percent of households who report receiving food stamp assistance are African American, despite the fact that black Americans constitute just 13 percent of the total population.
  6. A study by the AARP found that home foreclosure rates for African American borrowers over the age of 50 were almost double those of whites.
  7. High school graduation rates, which strongly influence income and job hiring, continue to vary widely by race. A recent study found the following on-time high school graduation rates: 91.8 percent of Asian students, 82 percent of whites, 65.9 percent of Hispanic students, and 63.5 percent of African American students. (Source)
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“It’s hypocritical to criticize rioters without criticizing the long-standing and systemic injustices that produced the rioting.” Christena Cleveland

Here is a large quote from a New York Times opinion post from economist Joseph Stiglitz that demonstrates how the widening income gap is at the heart of the issue for black Americans:

But Dr. King realized that the struggle for social justice had to be conceived broadly: it was a battle not just against racial segregation and discrimination, but for greater economic equality and justice for all Americans…In so many respects, progress in race relations has been eroded, and even reversed, by the growing economic divides afflicting the entire country.

The battle against outright discrimination is, regrettably, far from over: 50 years after the march, and 45 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, major United States banks, like Wells Fargo, still discriminate on the basis of race, targeting the most vulnerable of our citizens with their predatory lending activities. Discrimination in the job market is pervasive and deep. Research suggests that applicants with African-American sounding names get fewer calls for interviews. Discrimination takes new forms; racial profiling remains rampant in many American cities, including through the stop-and-frisk policies that became standard practice in New York. Our incarceration rate is the world’s highest, although there are signs, finally, that fiscally strapped states are starting to see the folly, if not the inhumanity, of wasting so much human capital through mass incarceration.  Almost 40 percent of prisoners are black.  This tragedy has been documented powerfully by Michelle Alexander and other legal scholars.

The raw numbers tell much of the story: There has been no significant closing of the gap between the income of African-Americans (or Hispanics) and white Americans the last 30 years. In 2011, the median income of black families was $40,495, just 58 percent of the median income of white families.

Turning from income to wealth, we see gaping inequality, too. By 2009, the median wealth of whites was 20 times that of blacks. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was particularly hard on African-Americans (as it typically is on those at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum). They saw their median wealth fall by 53 percent between 2005 and 2009, more than three times that of whites: a record gap. But the so-called recovery has been little more than a chimera — with more than 100 percent of the gains going to the top 1 percent — a group where, needless to say, African-Americans cannot be found in large numbers…

Despite rhetoric about the land of opportunity, a young American’s life prospects are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country. And thus, the legacy of discrimination and lack of educational and job opportunity is perpetuated, from one generation to the next.

Given this lack of mobility, the fact that even today, 65 percent of African-American children live in low-income families does not bode well for their future, or the nation’s.

Men with just a high school education have seen enormous drops in their real incomes over the past two decades, a decline that has disproportionately affected African-Americans.

While outright race-based segregation in schools was banned, in reality, educational segregation has worsened in recent decades, as Gary Orfield and other scholars have documented.

Part of the reason is that the country has become more economically segregated. Poor black children are more likely to live in communities with concentrated poverty — some 45 percent do so, as opposed to 12 percent for poor white children, as the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out.

This summer, I read several articles detailing the history of racist legislation over generations in Ferguson (and similarly across our nation).  Legislation that has effectively ghettoized black communities.

Many of these explicitly segregationist governmental actions ended in the late 20th century but continue to determine today’s racial segregation patterns. In St. Louis these governmental policies included zoning rules that classified white neighborhoods as residential and black neighborhoods as commercial or industrial; segregated public housing projects that replaced integrated low-income areas; federal subsidies for suburban development conditioned on African American exclusion; federal and local requirements for, and enforcement of, property deeds and neighborhood agreements that prohibited resale of white-owned property to, or occupancy by, African Americans; tax favoritism for private institutions that practiced segregation; municipal boundary lines designed to separate black neighborhoods from white ones and to deny necessary services to the former; real estate, insurance, and banking regulators who tolerated and sometimes required racial segregation; and urban renewal plans whose purpose was to shift black populations from central cities like St. Louis to inner-ring suburbs like Ferguson. (Source)

White America has come up with a number of rationales for these enduring pockets of despair. An elaborate mythology has developed that blames it on a “culture of poverty” — holding the poor culpable for their poverty and letting our political and economic systems off the hook. A somewhat more enlightened view holds that whites simply fled areas like Ferguson — which had a population that was 99 percent white as recently as 1970 — because of personal racial animus, leaving them as hollowed-out, predominantly black “ghettos.”

But a study by Richard Rothstein, a research fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, comes to a very different conclusion. In his report, “The Making of Ferguson,” Rothstein details how throughout the last century a series of intentionally discriminatory policies at the local, state and federal levels created the ghettos we see today. (Source)

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As Christians and Beautiful Kingdom Warriors, we should be concerned about income inequality and the insurmountable challenges that poverty places on black communities in our nation.  Throughout the Bible, “there are more than two thousand verses involving poverty, physical oppression and justice, and the redistribution of resources” (Jen Hatmaker, “Interrupted” pg. 19).  Here are some of the verses we find in the Bible about poverty:

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth (Job 5:15-16).

“Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “Then I will protect them from those who malign them” (Psalm 12:5).

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight (Psalm 72:12-14).

The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:20-21).

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:1-3).

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 22:16).

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35).

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5).

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:17-18).

As a white American, I cannot understand what black Americans experience.  But I can listen.  And that is what I am urging you to do as well.  Let us not get caught up into taking sides in an “us vs. them” battle that will only lead to more violence and an escalation of conflict, but let us come alongside God in the work of reconciling the world to His perfect Kingdom.  Let us love our black brothers and sisters by listening to them, and lending our influence and privilege to the demolition of unjust power structures.

I will leave you with some powerful stories for your listening ears:

I am a man

“As we listen to Ferguson, we can learn from Ferguson – just as we learn from Montgomery and from South Africa. Many of the worst pits of oppression have later become the brightest beacons of hope. Some of the worst moments of injustice have sparked some of the greatest movements for justice. And those places known for acts of evil later inspire the world towards freedom a generation later – out of these places rise up people like Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks.” – Shane Claiborne


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4 responses to “A Beautiful Kingdom Warrior’s Perspective on Race Relations in America

  1. Reblogged this on multicolouredsmartypants and commented:
    Very interesting post.

    I imagine there are many negative things within British culture that cause polarisation. For instance, there is widespread prejudice against gypsies in the UK (some people say one shouldn’t use the term ‘gypsy’ but as far as I know it is what they identify themselves as). When you’re close to it you don’t perhaps see yourself as prejudiced, maybe you see it as common sense. After all, gypsy communities are often involved in crime and social disorder… or so the story goes.
    More generally, people will say ‘I’m not prejudiced’ but then will spout the rhetoric of overtly divisive political groups who blame either immigrants or the unemployed for everything bad that has ever happened in England since Alfred the Great. The stupid thing is that the UK has a long history of being ‘multicultural’, going back two thousand years when the Roman’s first invaded. Various different races/cultures have invaded/influenced/imposed since then, until we invaded half the world under Queen Victoria (which was without doubt inherently racist!). All of us have mixed ancestry.
    That said, there are some things that are perhaps more noticeable by outsiders, and in relation to the US it seems to me that America is obsessed with labels and putting people into boxes right from childhood. There is also the (now universal, in the internet era) phenomenon of opinions being given the same weight as facts, which is troubling in and of itself. One of the pitfalls of freedom of speech? In this sense, ignorance is often as much at fault as prejudice… and that fact just makes me weary. :-/

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! This is such an important reminder (especially for a white American like me) to open up to the experiences of others. Thanks for all the research and the links.

  3. Pingback: On New Beginnings and Old Battles | The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

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