For this July 4th weekend I’m linking to four timely articles and one video. Given the events of the past couple of months, it’s appropriate to reflect on the meaning of Independence Day and I think each of these helps us do that. Also, if you missed my conversation about racial trauma with Sheila Wise Rowe, you can catch it here.
Have a great weekend!
Isabella Wilkerson, author of the beautiful The Warmth of Other Suns, has a new book coming out next month and, if it’s anything like this long essay in The New York Times Magazine, it’s going to be essential reading
Many people may rightly say: “I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked Indigenous people, never owned slaves.” And yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures in the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars or joists, but they are ours to deal with now.
And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands.
My friend Dominique Gilliard reflects on how “prophetic black voices” can shift how we think about Independence Day.
Furthermore, as we honor the service of all U.S. veterans who have fought for our nation’s liberties and freedoms, let us be intentional in this kairos moment about remembering and honoring the service of oppressed people who have faithfully fought for the U.S.—even when the U.S. has failed to fight for them. Let’s honor indigenous soldiers who, despite our nation’s genocidal wars, broken treaties, and hostile history, continue to serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other demographic. Let’s honor Japanese American soldiers who fought for the military as the U.S. government unjustly interned over 120,000 Japanese men, women, and children during World War II (over 60% of whom were U.S. citizens). Let’s honor African Americans who have fought in every war our nation has engaged in—even while being enslaved, subjected to Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and denied access to the benefits of the G.I. Bill upon returning from war. And let’s honor Latino/a veterans who’ve faithfully fought for our country, only to be deported for mostly trivial infractions.
Religion News Service looks at some forthcoming research about race and religion to ask whether this moment signals a change in how white Christians perceive the need for racial justice.
Glenn Bracey, a principal investigator for the project, along with Emerson, said the race-related statements by religious leaders in recent weeks may not foreshadow a coming structural transformation.
“I have noted a lot of churches, including the Southern Baptists, coming out and saying that this is even up to the level of a gospel issue,” said Bracey, an assistant professor in Villanova University’s Department of Sociology and Criminology. “That said, there doesn’t seem to be much understanding around the country, and certainly not being led by the church, of the systemic changes that would need to take place in order to realize how Black lives matter.”
He said such changes would involve spending money to reduce segregation in housing, education and employment.
“I haven’t seen any moves in that area,” said Bracey. “And our data suggest, I would say, that white evangelicals would have a long way to go before they were willing to see those.”
Thanks to my new friend Jeff for sending me this article in Christianity Today in which a Christian professor responds to some of the criticism white pastors who are speaking up about racism are receiving.
Argument #1: Like all sin, racism originates in the human heart. Therefore, the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change. “Systemic racism,” on the other hand, is a Marxist idea.
Response: The first sentence’s claim is true. If you believe in original sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5), you have to admit that any sin originates in the human heart. Sin might be aggravated by circumstances, but circumstances don’t cause sin. However, the conclusion that the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change is true but incomplete.
If people are born in sin and people build a society, that society will be structured in ways that reinforce whatever sins dominate the hearts of those who build it. Therefore, even if many people’s hearts change a few generations later, those structures might still perpetuate the problems associated with that society’s “original sins.”
Finally, it’s always a good idea to revisit Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech this time of year. NPR has a video of some of Douglass’ descendants delivering portion of their ancestor’s famous speech.