Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson, Race, Sin, and White America -- Reflection




Surely he has borne our infirmities    and carried our diseases;yet we accounted him stricken,    struck down by God, and afflicted.But he was wounded for our transgressions,    crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the punishment that made us whole,    and by his bruises we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;    we have all turned to our own way,and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6 (NRSV)


I have struggled to make sense of the tragic events at Ferguson, Missouri.  I am a White American and a Christian.  I am progressive in my politics and have sought to be part of efforts at bridging the gaps between ethnic communities.  I live in Metro-Detroit, a  region that has significant racial overtones.  The city of Detroit is 84% African-American.  A strong majority of the population in the suburbs, including the one I live in, is White.  The demographics are changing, but the old lines of division remain with us.  In fact the legacy of the 1967 riots remains palpable in the minds of many.  I understand -- at an intellectual level -- the pain experienced by members of the Black community, but I can never truly experience the realities that one faces as a person of color, especially when it comes to engaging with law enforcement.

There is great frustration in the Black community.  Sometimes the anger explodes into violence, which is often met with heavy-handed police tactics.  These realities are deeply rooted in our own American psyche.  The legacy of slavery remains with us, even if we who are White don't wish to be tarred by it.  And yet can we truly separate ourselves?

Psychologist and Christian thinker Richard Beck has contemplated these issues and suggests that perhaps we who are white should think in terms of picking up the cross.  Atonement theory is problematic for many of us, especially those of us who are more liberal, but how do we find a way forward?  

Below is just a brief excerpt from an earlier post at Experimental Theology.  Think upon it, and if you feel led continue on to Richard's blog to read the entire piece.  Share your thoughts, if you would like.



But as Black voices tell us, reconciliation comes with a price, a cost, a burden. A cross if you will. This cross, this burden, is one that Whites habitually refuse to pick up. And my argument in this post is that a part of that cost and burden will be sympathy for Black rage and violence. But that's a price that many Whites simply will not pay. Sympathy for Black rage. And if you cannot suffer that--Black rage over the death of Michael Brown--how are we going to be able to make any progress?  
Here's what I know after having spent many years as a part of these conversations. White people are more than happy to talk about racial reconciliation until 1) the rage is directed at them or 2) the burden of reconciliation becomes too costly.

In short, Whites want atonement and reconciliation with no cross, no passion, no willingness to suffer for sin. Sins can mount and mount and mount, across generations, with no reckoning. And so the wound festers.
  
And maybe here is where, perhaps, the notion of vicarious suffering does play a part. Christ may have been innocent, but for the purposes of atonement and reconciliation heassumed guilt. Christ "became sin." And in a similar way Whites must assume sin they may have never personally committed.

The question for me is this --as a White man who seeks to be involved in reconciliation efforts -- am I willing to pick up the cross laid before me?  I want to say yes, but will I do this?  Am I willing to acknowledge my complicity?

To read Richard's entire piece, click here to go to Experimental Theology.

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