One of the most astonishing and wondrous spectacles in the history of America, and even the world, has been the assimilation of the black race into mainstream America. I will attempt to illuminate only a few of the barriers that were placed in their paths, as well as the overwhelming odds that were against them. And then I desire to suggest that overt racism still exists in America, but hidden racism is much more prevalent. And, sadly, there is still racism within the Church of Jesus Christ as well.
For the most part the black race was introduced into America via the hulls of slave ships, and similar to the Germans dividing Jewish families, many black families were separated and sold to different slave owners. Many were forced to mate with strangers like a bovine attempt to construct genetically superior specimens. Many were used as concubines to say nothing of the free labor they provided. The black man was stripped of his leadership and even manhood, and the fruits of that are evident today. The horror of slavery on a personal level remains a savage mystery.
What I am describing is not just some antiseptic event in history, it was as evil as evil can ever be. Hundreds of thousands of slaves died from all sorts of diseases and starvation, many cast overboard before they even arrived in America. Many wished they had died on the trip. To describe the horror of those ships is impossible, and to understand the pain and suffering and abject fear that was foisted upon those people cannot be comprehended, and in fact, most people never pause long enough to ingest such thoughts.
The evil that man is capable of committing upon his fellow man is breathtaking, and most of us do not wish to learn about the shame of our slavery except as an answer on an American history quiz. Many whites feel very uncomfortable discussing the slavery issue because they fear some will paint the entire white race with culpability. I did not cause or participate in slavery personally, but that is no excuse for me being ignorant about that human exploitation, especially as it is tethered to some of the issues in the black community and family structure.
Hundreds of thousands of white men died attempting to preserve the institution of slavery, while many white men died attempting to preserve the union and by extension abolish slavery. But it would be a exageration to claim the nation's motives were completely pure. And when the slaves were set free, the government did precious little to provide vital ways to assimilate them into mainstream American society. To the contrary, they were ostracized and persecuted and separated from the general white population. Segregation had replaced outright slavery, and the national shame continued in a different form. Demeaning names were invented to further diminish the personhood of blacks, to say nothing of them aggressively being prevented from being full fledged citizens.
The government turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the continuing plight of our black neighbors. They were denied the vote, they were denied employment, they were denied adequate schools, they were denied justice when murdered, and in general many treated their dogs better than they treated the black race. The hatred and prejudice and in fact overt and malicious racism continued. Who can forget black women and children, as well as men, being beaten and attacked by police dogs because they marched to bring attention to their sub-citizen treatment? And many “white” evangelical churches practiced and preached racism from their very pulpits, some even teaching some tortured Biblical principle of God marking the black race with a curse.
And so through the difficult decades, slowly but surely, this relentless and resilient race of former slaves have gotten up time and time again and plowed forward in a society that never wanted them in the first place. To be sure there were rabble rousing blacks that were counter productive to the civil rights movement, but just as all the rest of us they were not perfect and foresighted. But some gave their lives so that others may see that “dream”, and so we come to today.
I could never vote for a pro-choice candidate, but that is not what I am addressing here. We now have a black Supreme Court justice, a black woman as Secretary of State, we have had a black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, black cabinet officers, and currently a black candidate for president. Millions of white people have now actually voted for a black man for president, and that should make us proud. I could not vote for Barak Obama, but I see in him Dr. King’s dream of equality, and his rise to national prominence is a testament to the magnitude of change that continues to happen in our culture.
I, though, have heard Christians who bear the “conservative” moniker make ever so delicate statements that slightly reveal a latent prejudice still breathing in evangelicalism. The white ears of America were listening intently to see if Obama would exhibit some “Jesse Jackson” type of rhetoric, while many black ears listened to see if he wouldn’t say those same things. In the end, I think this exceptional young man has carried himself well and has been uncommonly balanced when it comes to race. He hasn’t rejected the sordid history of the treatment of blacks, and yet he has had the courage to chastise his own race. He has walked a tightrope that frankly seemed impossible to navigate only a few years ago.
I would exhort all of us who name Christ as our Lord to pray for Barak Obama even if you cannot vote for him. There are still natural brute beats lurking among us who would gladly assassinate him, and even knowing that, he and his wife have still taken on that dangerous challenge. Racism is a monstrous sin that cannot have any place in either our lives or our hearts. All of us see another race as different, but we cannot allow that to translate into prejudice of any kind. I support no candidate, but both McCain and Obama are heroes of different sorts.
If we as believers cannot support Obama as a candidate, let us openly show him love and respect for representing an incredible journey of a race that began in the hulls of slave ships and now is running for the highest office in America. I for one appreciate the magnitude of this achievement. It is time for the church to rise up and show the gospel in the midst of a carnal battlefield in which hatred has made more than a cameo appearance. Our calling as followers of Jesus is a significantly different path than the one this current political atmosphere has generated.
Let us appreciate the racial benchmark of this election, but let us show compassion and intercession for the salvation of the ones we must disagree with on moral issues. They are the Mary Magdalene’s of our culture, and we, like Jesus, should shine the light of redemption and love so that against the backdrop of an ugly mess, we might shine forth as lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. Barak Obama’s salvation is infinitely more important than his political career.