Conviction and a Call to Action

Michelle Higgins speaks in chapel. (Photo by Reed Schick.)

Michelle Higgins speaks in chapel. (Photo by Reed Schick.)

If Chapel were as honest, moving, engaging, and convicting as “The Conversations on Race” series, I can truthfully say I would never use my skips. Michelle Higgins’ powerful presentation on “The Rich Heritage and Theology of Black Gospel Music,” along with Christina Edmondson on “Paul and a Polarized Nation,” and the panel on ethnic reconciliation shed a tremendous amount of truth on our campus concerning both historical and current race relations with a special focus on the body of believers.

The words “truth” and “honesty” have already been used several times here, because I think that’s the most important part of what happened during the Conversations on Race Conference. Have we had conferences on race before? Yes. Have those speakers been straightforward about the issues? Certainly. However, I think previous conferences have been a little too easy for us to walk away from without feeling called to do something more, almost as if the fact that we had a Black person speak to us is “reconciliation” enough. But never before have three such intelligent, theologically-grounded, bold women stood before our student body and said, simply, I’m sorry, but you’re not doing enough; the white evangelical church isn’t doing enough, and it is damaging our fellowship.

Never before have we been told how the term “racial reconciliation” feels to the Black community, since “race” is a social construct designed for the oppression of Blacks and Natives, and “reconciliation” implies that minorities are at equal fault as whites, when that’s simply not the case. Never before has a woman stood on the Chapel stage and explicitly acknowledged the fact that the way we worship there is not the only theological way to worship, but simply culturally comfortable — and potentially oppressive for non-white students… Wow.

A lot of that sounds offensive or overwhelming for us, perhaps. How can all that possibly be true, right? How can we have missed all this until just now? Moreover, the eternal question of the dominant culture: how are we responsible for this? I might be wrong, but I expect that is how a lot of us feel in the wake of this chapel conference.

As a campus, I think our two objectives in moving forward should be exactly what our speakers encouraged: listening to our brothers and sisters of color, and then talking to our family, friends, and churches about these issues. “Listening” means making friends, attending lectures, and reading the news, all the while opening our hearts to listen to the experiences and the feelings of our brothers and sisters without imposing our socially defined perspectives onto them. Having conversations will most likely not look pretty, nor will it be as easy as making some Facebook posts.

My Thanksgiving break was characterized by difficult conversations with family and church members about this conference, in which I witnessed the shock, the shutdown, and the offense that I expected. However, I still refuse to relent on the immutable fact that we are at fault, we must change, and we must die to our privilege out of repentance, and that’s not the last time they will hear this conversation from me.

It’s easy to shut down on these issues because it’s information overload, it goes against everything we’ve ever learned, or it offends us. However, we cannot shut down here. We hold a privilege. It is fact; it is not fair; and it cannot be changed unless we leverage it to create a system that inevitably strips the privilege away. There’s a lot of reasons to not want to do that, but none of them are God-honoring or loving to our brothers and sisters. So, we must begin somewhere, and I think listening and creating an educated and motivating dialogue within our social circles is a good start. And from there, we must move into action on our campus, in our churches, and in our careers, to visibly, vociferously, and tangibly lay down our privilege at the feet of our Lord and our brothers and sisters.