Wednesday, September 30, 2015


    I would like to discuss several different words or phrases in this article.  Obviously the two words in the title of this piece are good words, things we should be in favor of and want to see happen.  One might often link these two words together and assume that if we have reconciliation, specifically here I am speaking of racial reconciliation, then that will satisfy the quest for justice.  My answer to that would be that true reconciliation should and ought to lead to a pursuit of justice, but that the trappings (or even the feelings) of reconciliation don’t necessarily lead to justice.

    Some people, and it might be correct to say “white people” seem to think that reconciliation is when they recognize their prejudice or bias, repent of it, and try to make peace with black people (or other minorities) they have excluded or feel alienated from.  When those who were former strangers and even enemies make peace and come together and establish a relationship there are some strong feelings of love, forgiveness, and unity.  Those are good, if not great, feelings.   Reconciliation is a good thing, and should be pursued by those who have alienated others or been alienated by others.  However, it doesn’t automatically result in a consequential  removal of disparity.

    That there is bias, and has been bias, there can be little doubt.  Some may be in denial but it is hard to deny the racial and indeed racist history in our American heritage.  That there is disparity across the statistical spectrum of racial demographics is a matter of fact.  Despite the achievements of the black middle class, despite individual success stories, despite the reality of some wonderful black families and black entrepreneurs, black intellectuals, and black entertainers and athletes, nevertheless the statistical disparities in almost every area are dramatic and sometimes horrifying.

    Single parent homes, failing schools, unemployment, renters not owners, low skilled and low income employment, inadequate intellectual formation for school, school suspension and expulsion, drop-out rates, graduation without literacy, juvenile detention, adult arrests, violent encounters with police officers, insufficient legal representation and plea bargaining, convictions, felony convictions and loss of voting rights, incarceration, length of sentencing, rates of violence, rates of STDs and HIV/AIDS, death by homicide, early death, early infant death, obesity and diabetes and other health issues, toxic proximity environmental health issues, failure to achieve loans for farmers and home owners, loans only given at higher rates; these are all categories in which there is statistical disparity.

    Why do bad neighborhoods exist, why do bad schools exist, why is there no work and no men to do the work?   Some still in their oblivious disconnect will make it simply a matter of personal initiative and responsibility; “He’s lazy and I’m not!”  You will notice that some of the disparities above might be true even for middle class or wealthy African Americans.    Test after test for hiring, purchasing homes, admission into schools, and treatment by government officials continuously reveal patterns of bias.  Bias continues to create and reinforce disparity.

    Does bias and disparity relieve anyone of personal responsibility?  Of course not, and the glory for any individual who rises above the obstacles is what Americans love to hear and believe about themselves.  Sometimes this is true, and often it is not.  Do bias and disparity make it harder for people of color to achieve?  Absolutely!  Does it absolve the gang-bangers, dope pushers, and those who commit criminal acts even in the name of feeding their families? Again, of course not!  Did bias and disparity help form the neighborhoods and communities where such things flourish?  Again, absolutely!

    Do bias and disparity help to crush hope?  I ask ridiculous questions here.  Will the end of bias in individuals help to end disparity?  Ah, that is the question I am really trying to get at.   Certainly if someone is racist and full of prejudice and they truly see it in themselves and repent of it, but then they begin to treat people fairly and give everyone the same opportunities they formerly denied to people of color, then justice begins to take shape; at least in their personal sphere.

     However, the systemic and structural aspects of historical bias and disparity still need to be identified, dismantled, reformed, and sometimes whole new systems and structures need to be created.  This is where justice is harder, more expensive, longer, and often more confusing.  This is where issues become economic and thus political.  It is often in the face of such barriers that some people deny the disparity, (which is to deny white privilege) avoid the guilt and shame of it, and disparage the discussion of such things.  It is also where some of those who have suffered from the bias and the disparity don’t want to talk about it because they think it will just continue alienation.

     Friendship is often the beginning of restoring things to justice. Two people walking down the street holding hands, with only one having something to eat, only one having clothes to wear, only one getting respect and greetings as he passes along, only one not attacked by criminals while the other continues to suffer seems to be a strange friendship.  While we may never achieve full equality as human beings surely , if we are friends, we can eliminate some of the disparity.  Surely if I have something good in my right hand I will share it with the one holding my left.  Surely if the one I allow to hold my hand is attacked, his fight will become mine.


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  2. Randi, I like your closing metaphor of two friends walking down the street of disparity. It helps clarify the context of care. Of course, how one shares with another becomes the issue. Brian Fikkart's book, When Helping Hurts, has forced me to refocus my means and goals in helping. Interestingly, he focuses on engaged relationships as a key component of helping without hurting. Just as interestingly, Fikkart founded the Chalmers Center. Maybe he ought to use TC's bust too!

    Alex, I may be misreading your sentence structure, but it seems you are correlating disparity with intelligence as measured by IQ testing. Are you also establishing a causation as in (very crudely stated, I know, not by you, but by other inflammatory persons), "You blacks are getting the short end of the stick because you are not smart enough to avoid it"?

    It might be helpful if you could provide supporting evidence for the correlation you suggest. Most critically, are measures of intelligence valid (I'm thinking of the standard validity and reliability issues related to measurements like this)?

    Once that has been established, then the move from correlation to causation needs to be validated. For example, one would need to rule out common causes of both disparity and intelligence. Such factors could include poor nutrition or exposure to toxins (e.g. lead) in early childhood. Beyond this lie cultural factors such as individualism & communalism.

    Then I suspect these are the kinds of interactions you have in mind in your desire that "readers to interact with challenging data and comments."

  3. Thanks for the comments. The issue of intelligence testing is fraught with difficulty, as many psychologists will attest. I don't want to engage that subject very much not only because of the lack of cultural and variable formative background necessary for testers to gain a true "average" conception of intelligence in testing, but also because it doesn't seem to me to be one where the issue is presented as a means to help people, but to somehow justify disparity. My point is not to argue for equal outcomes, but certainly for equal opportunity, and for an end to those things which diminish if not destroy equal opportunity. The fact of bias in various areas of life remains whether one believes in the validity of such testing or not. The question for me essentially is as to what love requires, and what does God's justice require if we are loving our neighbors as ourselves? I see no excuses allowed in the teaching of Jesus for loving those who are hurting, no use of test results or statistics, or politics, or exemptions because it might sound as if we are associated with people who are socially liberal. Is there disparity or not, is there bias or not? I am saying that these two things are related. I am not simply speaking of correlation here but of causation, not matter what the excuse of those who cause causation might be. Nor am I setting up disparity as an excuse for those who lack personal responsibility, as I think the article makes clear. Systemic racism, I believe, has been fully argued and proven, I am not sure how such an assertion can be made that it has not been argued unless it was in reference to my personally not doing it. I don't believe it is necessary for me to rehearse history lessons here though the record of economic and cultural geography, written records of banks, lending institutions, municipalities and corporations all contain a sordid record of systemic racial decisions which have resulted in loss to people of color. Unfortunately, just when some would like to tell us those things are of the past, more is brought to light, and certainly the vestiges of such major discriminatory practices continue to affect the people and children of those bear the economic consequences.
    What does love require, what does justice require? I don't think the reality of the suffering of people is changed by denial or avoidance, or through the subversion of the discussion into extraneous (if not self justifying) issues; not if we truly seek to be honest. I am sorry to say that the attempt to deflect charges of racism while being not simply racially insensitive but aggressively so, seems to ring hollow. Do we love people or not in the condition in which we find them, or do we make excuses that whatever that condition might be, they must deserve it? Surely the mercy of God goes beyond even what we bring on ourselves.

  4. Randi, I'm more curious about Alex's response to my questions about his challenge to your original post.

    I essentially agree with your posts, especially your identification of the key question, "What does love require, what does justice require?" Of course, the answer will be complex, multi-faceted and multi-layered, certainly not a 'one size fits all' solution. And, Amen! to "Surely the mercy of God goes beyond even what we bring on ourselves."

    For decades, I reacted to a leftist political agenda by ignoring the plight of the disadvantaged. Not until I read Keller's Generous Justice did I find a case for care for the poor and vulnerable that did not draw upon government redistribution themes. Now I have no excuse for failing to show neighbor love & justice. I have to deal not with whether to love mercy and do justice, but how to do so. This, of course, affects my politics as well as economics but, I find, not in simple Left vs. Right categories.

    Reconciliation is indeed a starting point from which justice can be pursued as we walk along the road together.

  5. Randy,

    There are so many of us who have sat under your preaching who have been impacted and influenced not only by your words, but especially by your exemplary life, emulating Jesus, that the sincerity of your message should not even be a matter for debate, here or anywhere else. A lot of us who were, like you, getting a lot of theory about Christianity at a little Presbyterian school atop a mountain in an idyllic setting really needed to see that theory in action, and the training we received at New City Fellowship helped prepare many of us for future service to the kingdom in innumerable places around the United States and throughout the world.

    I ended up in California and Colorado trying to apply what I learned by becoming an advocate for the families of young people, and for juveniles who have been incarcerated and for whom there is still the hope of redemption in the cross of Christ. Some with whom I have been associated are seeking to establish Christian-based mentoring programs in the approximately 1,280 juvenile detention and treatment facilities throughout the United States. This work is being coordinated by Youth for Christ and Prison Fellowship in some places, and also by a smaller nonprofit with which I’ve been engaged called More than Music.

    I would have to say that for many like you and me who lived through the era of the civil rights movement in the 1960s that the evidence for systemic, endemic and persistent prejudice and racism could not have been any more overwhelming. I am often reminded of (and sometimes to this day still recount) the story of the interracial couple from New City Fellowship who were brutally attacked by a gang of redneck thugs while trying to visit relatives in Alabama around the year 1980 as evidence that this pernicious evil had a serious foothold long after the landmark civil rights legislation of the ’60s. I would like to think that largely because of the efforts of folks like you within the evangelical Christian community, not just in liberal quarters, American society has made significant progress; but vestiges of racial prejudice have sadly resurfaced in recent days in places that I have called home, including St. Louis County and the city of Baltimore. And I think it is fair to point out that not all prejudice lies within just one ethnic group—unfortunately, it has insidiously reared its ugly head in more than one ethnic community as we have seen.

    Yet I think the history lesson you were eschewing still needs to be presented to the faith-without-works crowd who apparently feel little obligation to do anything with their understanding of the gospel other than to pad their pursuit of comfort, personal peace and affluence. I recently read the biography of Frederick Douglass and have also recently been looking into the development of the movement to end slavery in the United States, which found its culmination in the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln and the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and also reread the text of the Lincoln–Douglas Debates as they took place only a few years before the Civil War, and I was taken aback once again by the cavalier way in which a message of white supremacy was widely believed and disseminated in this otherwise great nation of ours. Abolitionists like Douglass, antislavery Congressman Joshua Reed Giddings and Presbyterian minister Elijah Parish Lovejoy were openly ridiculed as radicals and religious fanatics by members of the establishment at the time, including the aforementioned Senator Stephen Douglas and even otherwise-respected statesmen like Kentucky-bred Episcopalian Henry Clay and New England Congregationalist-raised Senator and Secretary of State Daniel Webster. Senator Douglas’s “right to choose” doctrine with respect to slavery and the States, which also paraded under the term “popular sovereignty,” had scary parallels with today’s pro-choice movement; and Senator Douglas repeatedly and unapologetically referred to Lincoln and his cohorts as “the Black Republican Party.” [Continues]

  6. [Continued]
    Regrettably, Lincoln himself had disparaging things to say about Americans of African descent, but at least he, like others in the movement, believed that the founders considered the Declaration of Independence applicable to people of every race, and that they envisioned the ultimate extinction of slavery as they crafted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to exclude it from the Northwest Territory, which covered a large swath of the American Midwest. (Personal historical note: when my great-great-great grandfather Ninian Edwards came from Kentucky, where he had served as the state’s Chief Justice, to become the first Governor of the U.S. Territory of Illinois in 1809, he freed his slaves and employed them as servants in order to meet the requirements of this federal law and to establish it in principle for the State of Illinois. Lincoln became brother-in-law and a law partner of Governor Edwards’s son, educator, attorney and historian Ninian Wirt Edwards, in whose house Lincoln and Mary Todd were married in Springfield, Illinois. I’m descended from the younger Ninian Edwards’s brother, Albert G. Edwards, who became a brigadier general with the Union Army posted to Jefferson Barracks in the St. Louis area and later established a major U.S investment firm whose prosperity and generosity helped establish Covenant College and Seminary in the mid-1900s.)

    Please, please do not shrink back from telling the truth about the issues of justice and reconciliation, which are thoroughly biblical and provide the backdrop to everything we believe about the life and work of Jesus Christ and the gospel of grace, which sought out and rescued a “wretch like me.” Hymn writer and former slave trader John Newton understood this all too well as he penned “Amazing Grace,” and we must all acknowledge with him how prone to personal pride and prejudice we all are. The gospel is the only solution to this wretched, universal condition of the human heart, and I thank God for you and others who so faithfully preach this message of hope, rebirth and resurrection, as we participate in the ministry of reconciliation and seek to spread the good news of Christ’s kingdom to every corner of the globe.

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