Among blacks (and I’m sure other minorities in America), it’s a big deal when we’re able to see tangible evidence of our emergence into the mainstream and our ascent up the rungs of achievement – Edward Gilbreath in Reconciliation Blues and former “bus kid” in my former church’s bus ministry.
The arrival of Barack Obama to the American scene has been one of the most exciting things that has happened in American politics in my adult life. I am fascinated by what is currently taking place in our country and as on-pins-and-needles as the rest of American society to see how this will all play out. I fully sympathize with the black community that celebrates the first viable black presidential candidate in American history.
But celebration and confusion mingle. The matter of ethnicity is huge in the minds of many people, but many blacks who are rejoicing in Obama’s victories are agonizing over what they will do in the privacy of the polling booth. While they love his victories for their symbolic value and healing powers on a community that has suffered for years under the oppression of white dominance, they are loath to sacrifice their individual convictions (political or biblical) on the altar of ethnic triumph.
It is a hard, hard place for the black American. And it is not only conservative blacks that wrestle with this. Even liberal blacks are wrestling with this conflict of very powerful interests that struggle for dominance within their souls. The need for good leadership and clear-headed thinking has never been greater. And the leaders should be black.
This is the year of the black man.
This nation is still deeply divided on race, but the potential for healing is as near as it has ever been. My own personal belief is that it might be men, black men, that lead our nation both nationally and in the Church of Jesus Christ to the Promised Land of reconciliation.
And God is raising them up.
These are men that are learning what Clarence Thomas learned many years ago:
The black people I knew came from different places and backgrounds – social, economic, even ethnic — yet the color of our skin was somehow supposed to make us identical in spite of our differences. I didn’t buy it. Of course we had all experienced racism in one way or another, but did that mean we had to think alike?(My Grandfather’s Son; A Memoirp. 62)
Two key points in that clip; one for blacks and one for whites.
1. “Of course we had all experienced racism in on way or another.” We who are white need to grasp this. We need to read the rejection letters from Christian colleges and seminaries written to blacks who are still living. The pain is still there. We need to enter into the pain of those who were rejected from Christian institutions merely for the color of their skin. We ought to absorb the writings of men and women who have experienced a completely different America. This is important: We need to realize that all black people in America have experienced racism. All.
I will write much more about this later, but suffice it to say that I believe true Gospel ministry must be incarnational. We must put ourselves in the experience of others to fully effectuate reconciliation. We need to learn to feel with them.
2. “. . .but did that mean we had to think alike?” The black community must realize that the best way to unshackle themselves from the psychological and spiritual bondage of oppression is to become independent. And this is important: They must realize that they are never completely free until they are liberated enough to be independent not only from whites, but from each other. The Christian black leader realizes that he is not Christ’s servant if he pleases men, no matter what color their skin is.
The black man has more than one interest. He is as complex as every other human being in the world, and his challenge in America 2008 is much more complex than most of us realize. Therefore he has not only the interest of ethnic triumph over adversity, but the interests of his own personal convictions before God and family. What is a person to do when righteous interests conflict? And they are both righteous.
One black man that is wrestling with this legitimate conflict of interests (one that sees a much-longed-for, legitimate, symbolic triumph over oppression in the ascendance of a black man to the highest office of the land on the one hand and personal political, moral, and spiritual convictions on the other hand) is Thabiti Anyabwile; and he is transparently working out this conflict of cherished and righteous interests on his blog under the eye of his Christian brothers and sisters.
Thabiti Anyabwile says he’s a “delivered racist.” He passionately loves the Gospel of God, holds a conservative theology, and writes some of the most balanced analyses of Barack Obama that you will find anywhere.
As a black man he is unabashedly happy to see a person of his own ethnicity rise to such prominence. “To put it bluntly,” he says, “in my opinion, this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime. I feel it” (emphasis his). What a glorious feeling! I truly rejoice with him.
But Thabiti is also a Christian. As a Christian, he writes, “I am pro-life. Not because it’s the litmus test for the “evangelical” or “conservative” agenda, but because it’s the agenda of the Sovereign God who created us, gives life and eternal life, conquers death, and seeks a godly offspring to fill the earth with His glory (Mal. 2:15). To my knowledge, I’ve never voted pro-choice and I don’t have any plans to. Whatever is written in the post is in no way to be mistaken for softness or indifference to Sen. Obama’s position on the matter” (source)
These are trying times. The most important election in his lifetime and likely not to cast his vote for the pro-choice candidate. Here is one man who, if he stays true to his conviction, will not vote for the candidate that excites him the most. His non-vote will probably be with tears.
As I’ve written before, I am a delivered racist. I know how racism works in its black and white varieties. What most of us have not yet recognized is that racism is only possible where “race” is admitted. The difference between holding to a view that “race” exists and being a “racist” is a matter of degree, not kind. Most of us just haven’t gone as far as Wright or Farrakhan or Duke or Thurmond. But in holding onto the unbiblical and unreal notion of race, we have everything we need in our depraved hearts to get there.
Thabiti thinks our problem is that we are human. Because we are human our hearts long for healing and restitution of the pain and damage our humanness has caused. Because we are human we know the incredible symbolic value of a successful bid for the presidency of the United States of America by a black man; not just blacks, but many of us whites feel the importance of this as well. Because we are human that bid is mixed with conflicted interests.
The black man still weeps. And I weep with him.
This is the year of the Black Man. Now more than ever we need leaders. Black leaders.