THE START OF MY JOURNEY: Understanding Racial Reconciliation
If I say the words “racism” or “racial reconciliation”, what thoughts come to your mind? What feelings are stirred up in your heart?
For some of you, those words may make you uncomfortable for a few reasons. Maybe they stir up pain. Maybe they remind you of political discussions as of late. Maybe they seem distant and irrelevant to you. Whatever these words mean to you, I want to tell you a little bit of what the words “racism” and “racial reconciliation” have come to mean to me in the past year.
In August 2017, I started taking an AP US History class at high school. Like many typical history courses having to do with America, this one started with colonial America and finished with present day. Over the course of 9 months, I read over 1000 pages of my (*not*) beloved textbook, read dozens of primary source documents (documents directly from the people living the history), and discussed all I was learning with my classmates. Hours and hours of my time were spent bent over a textbook, learning in greater detail the history of this nation of mine. But, unlike most history courses, what I learned wasn’t what I thought it’d be.
As we began with colonial America, I saw the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade with the horror of Africans being taken forcibly from their homes to be transported to America for a live in bondage and oppression. I read about how vital slavery was for huge economic success of the agriculturally-based Chesapeake and southern colonies. We pored over journal entries of the Founding Fathers as they began to draft the Constitution. Most of this, I knew before this class. But slowly, it became apparent to me that some parts of what I was learning had been omitted or glossed over in my classes before.
My eyes opened wide as I read a discarded draft of the Constitution that declared slavery to be illegal. It had been considered too divisive to put on the negotiating table for the Southern colonies. So instead of stopping slavery in its tracks, the Constitution was silent on it, and the South built on the backs of Africans was welcomed into the United States with no hesitation. Things like this seem to be uncovered again and again as I watched the drama of the pre-Civil War compromises unfold as the issue of slavery was skirted over and over. The Civil War and Reconstruction period (right after the Civil War) were a swath of fighting for a power system of slavery and oppression. History marched on through the early 1900s and into the Civil Rights movement as blacks rose up to claim what was rightfully theirs: humanity and dignity. I came to see that all the history up to yesterday has been affected by racism, and I just never understood the depth of it.
I used to think racism was simply a chapter in the book of United States history. But, I’ve realized that racism is much more a theme than a chapter of American history.
Around the same time as I was re-learning American history, the news became ablaze with videos of police shootings. The shootings of Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, and countless other African Americans sparked outrage, protests, controversy and division across the country. One side accused the other of racial profiling and racist bias as motivation for the shooting of almost exclusively blacks. The other side threw back accusations of “playing the race card”, overreaction and liberalism. Stories of racial stereotyping in Starbucks, golf courses and apartment buildings seemed to alert my news feed almost daily. Talkshow hosts, news outlets and people around America discussed the problem of racism in America.
Ok, so back to me, in my 6th hour history class. I’m looking at the history of racism and suddenly, on Twitter, I saw the continuation of that history unfolding before me. The dots began to connect for me once again in a pattern that spelled out this fact: America has a racism problem, and we have to talk about it.
So, I expected to talk about it in the place where issues of sin, oppression, justice, righteousness and cultural engagement are normally talked about: church. As the shootings continued almost in horrific regularity and activist groups like Black Lives Matter arose, I was ready to have a conversation about racism at church. Why? Because I know the Gospel calls us all equal and valuable image-bearers of the King. Because I know the Gospel calls us to be like our Father who is just, righteous and compassionate. And yet, there was radio silence. There was eerie silence from the local churches around me, from evangelical leaders in my touted Bible Belt state, and from highly respected Christian organizations and leaders across America. It was stunning to me, and it pushed a deeper conversation about racism in my heart.
Maybe you’re not sure why I’m talking about this. And that’s ok. This is a really hard discussion to have. But for me, the combination of history, present events, and the Gospel all created the spark for it in my heart. I committed to understanding racism and racial reconciliation with a Gospel perspective because I believe at the core, the King I serve cares deeply about it. I believe my Father’s heart has a deep place for justice, righteousness, mercy and reconciliation. So that means I care about it, just as deeply as Jesus does.
I want to invite you to come along with me as I tell you about what the Spirit has convicted me of, where I see a call to change things in my life, and where I see a vibrant hope for the Kingdom coming in this sphere that is so crucial right now, in my life and so many more. I know it’s not an easy conversation to have, but I believe it’s necessary, especially for us as Christians in America.
There are a couple parts of my journey to understanding racial reconciliation that I want to detail more fully in a series of pieces. With each one, I want to let each of you see more of what changed my heart towards this simply by walking you through the different parts in detail. I would be honored if you entered into this conversation and journeyed with me that we might continue to follow the Father’s heart. I know it’s heavy and complicated, but I think that’s because we’re pushing deeper into the Kingdom coming. Come along with me, part 1 is coming soon.
If you have questions, comments or feedback for me, I’d love to hear it and talk with you! Feel free to DM me on Instagram (@rachel_madden99), Twitter (@rachel_madden11) or Facebook! I look forward to hearing from you!