A Glossary of Terms, Part 2

June 19, 2020 by Gregg DeMey

We are at a moment in society and the church where it is essential for us to speak about matters of race, justice, and righteousness. It’s crucial that we define our terms with loving precision so that we can make Kingdom-of-God progress rather than descend into the misunderstanding, frustration, and the loud emotion that the enemy would paralyze us with.

To this end, I’d like expand on the short glossary of terms that I began last week and describe Systemic, Structural or Institutional Racism.

Here is a formal definition generated by the Aspen Institute (non-partisan think tank):
Systemic racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other issues.

In this current moment in history, I believe that it’s important that we as Christians, especially those of us who are white Christians, affirm that systemic racism exists and also affirm our desire to undermine its pernicious effects out of care and respect for our Brown and Black brothers and sisters. Many of us are struggling to affirm that much. If that’s you, I highly recommend that you watch this video on the topic from Chicago’s own highly creative evangelical, Phil Vischer.

There are two powerful reasons for Christians to make these affirmations. The first is theological. Reformed Christians believe in Total Depravity. Those words do NOT mean that everybody and everything is as bad it can possibly be. Rather, depravity means that every human being, behavior, and institution is polluted because of the pervasive problem of sin. Sin stinks. It’s corrupting effects literally touch everything, including race relations.

Secondly, the narrative experience of African Americans is overwhelmingly, painfully consistent that racially prejudiced behavior pervasively persists. Imagine if only 5% of white Americans harbor the kind of quietly racist thoughts that regularly get translated into looks, body language, and remarks. That mere 5% of the white population would still guarantee that every African American would have had a bevy of painful racial interactions. This can’t be discounted.

But what are we to do about this pernicious problem in 2020? Hasn’t our nation already obliterated the institution of slavery 150 years ago and haven’t we consistently removed overt vestiges of racially preferential treatment from our law code? Yes, that’s true. And still the problem persists. This very tension is the driver behind the outpouring of pain and frustration in this moment.

In an insightful piece of journalism for The Dispatch, conservative author/lawyer David French teases out the difference between, “We’ve come so far” and “we’ve got so far to go” when it comes to race relations. This moment in 2020 is the right moment, a righteous moment for Christians to emphasize the latter. Out of love we are being called to justly recognize that we’ve still got so far to go when it comes to race relations.

So what can we do right now? I believe the Holy Spirit is suggesting two strong verbs for starters:
Listen - and - Care.

Those two actions are enough to jump start the journey that will lead us a little closer to the Promised Land. I’m hoping to walk that way with you.

Grace and Peace to you along the path,
~ Pastor Gregg

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A Glossary of Terms
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Glossary of Terms Part 3: Social Justice