In light of the recent chapel talks and panel discussion on race, Dr. Bill Dennison used his CHOW II class period on Nov. 16 to respond. He showed two videos of Star Parker, an African-American Christian activist, to argue that there are different narratives within the African-American community and within the Christian community.
He mentioned that we need to understand a complete narrative and talked about the greater context of Galatians 2 and Acts 17, which were used in the Wednesday chapel talk. That was part of his larger point that we don't and can't redeem culture. Paul wasn't necessarily respecting the culture at Mars Hill so much as proclaiming truth.
In fact, the solution is offered in Matthew 16:24, where Jesus commands His disciples to deny themselves in order to follow Him. Therefore, Dr. D calls on us to lay down our identities, and focus on our commonality in the kingdom of Christ. He added that he had been told that the group on the receiving end of the most prejudice in the 21st century is not African-Americans, but those committed to conservative historical Christianity.
I understand Dr. Dennison’s perspective. Indeed, it is not just about race. It is not just about skin color. People who look like you can do things to you that you can never imagine. Being a fourth generation Chinese in Malaysia, I still remember what my grandparents told me about the cruelty the Japanese inflicted on my people in WWII. The soldiers raped young women. They sliced open the pregnant women’s bellies, tied people on a tree naked and let the ants consume them, just to name a few.
More recently, we can look to the discrimination against Chinese in Indonesia two decades ago where the local people burned down houses of rich Chinese Indonesians and committed other inhumane crimes. And switching to another continent, consider the genocide that happened in Rwanda—the mass slaughter of Tutsi by members of the Hutu majority government in 1994. Indeed, only the blood of Jesus, which is deeper, darker, and richer, can heal, as Michelle Higgins said during the panel discussion. Ekemini Uwan also echoed that it will only be the blood of Jesus which allows us to claim righteousness.
Nevertheless, in the context of the United States, with its long history of the codes, civil conduct, laws of the land, and other systemic racial injustices, the issue is about race. Of course, undoubtedly they are people who continuously play the victim/blame card, but I wonder if when our Black brothers and sisters in Christ bring this issue up, not just once, but again and again, there is something for us to pay attention to, lest we become undiscerning and unloving.
Ms. Uwan pointed out that when we talk about racial reconciliation, it is more important to move towards anti-racism, which makes us name sin. We have to share in the guilt, namely the sins that White people have done to Black people based on skin color, before we can share in the grace that God gives us.
Dr. Dennison was correct when he quoted Matthew 16:24, but it is precisely that when Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, in this case, He calls the White brothers and sisters to lay down their norm of comfort of an unreal race, to follow Christ. White brothers and sisters need to give up their privileges and illegitimate power—even the unhealthy fixation on niceness—to confess their sins and receive the forgiveness on Calvary. Then they can engage in personal restorative relationships with their Black neighbors.
Jesus Himself set an example, when He gave up all His privileges to become a human, even to the point of death, so that through His death we, all the undeserving sinners, could participate in His life. To give a fair interpretation, when Dr. D referred to the Scriptures, I think he meant more of putting down cultural pride, and instead embracing the unity that is in Christ. That is why Dr. Christina Edmonson made a distinction between race and culture at the end of the panel discussion. She even urges for a basic evaluation of what Whiteness means, because to her, race is a social caste system.
Above all, therefore, before we as the church celebrate reconciliation at the communion table with one united identity as the children of God, we must produce a repentance of sins, the sins that unfortunately involve how people look. In this case, it is about race.