By Bob Hiller –
A couple of years ago, when I first started writing for this blog, my brother told me I needed to deal with some of the pressing social issues in our culture. He said that since I write a good deal about sports, I should talk about race in sports. I have been incredibly hesitant to do this for many reasons. First, I am a rather privileged white dude. My views on race are not going to be particularly well informed. Second, I try to keep my blogs to issues of preaching + ham-fisted sports analogies, though I have blogged about social issues before. Third, I have an aversion to the social gospel, which I don’t believe should be confused with biblical Gospel. Fourth, and perhaps this is the most shameful reason, I am afraid of causing offense where offense need not be given (the key word there is “afraid,” read “cowardice”). To be fully honest, I don’t know the utter depths of the issues. I cannot argue for or against politically conservative or liberal views with any sort of competency. I am ashamed to say that I live in a rather white world where issues of race are not on my doorstep every day apart from what I hear in the news or see on social media.
(Please recognize, I understand how completely horrible the previous paragraph is, hence my hesitation to write about this topic. Nonetheless…)
Yet, issues of race are certainly inescapable in our world. Spending as much time as I do listening to sports talk radio means hearing about some very significant race and class struggles that exist in our country. A few weeks ago, a major story line was how Major League Baseball players despise playing in Boston’s Fenway Park because of the racial slurs they are bombarded with in the outfield…in 2017! Or in late May, LeBron James’ home was vandalized when someone painted a racial slur across his front gate. James said, “No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. We have got a long way to go as a society and for us as African Americans, until we feel equal in America.”
Confession of sins: Now, a white dude like me hears this, and my knee-jerk response is: “What are you talking about, LeBron? You have it all! Fame, money, privilege. Your house is in a pretty swanky part of LA. How can you say it is tough? You have it all together!”
I am not joking when I say that I write this as a confession of sins. I actually read this and find it despicable, but I also can’t deny I thought it. I still wrestle with thinking it. But I can also say that I am not the only one who thought it. And a quick read through the God-blessed/forsaken internet will show you that there are any number of bloggers who agree. Everyone has an opinion on LeBron’s response to his vandalized house. Everyone has a response to give. That’s the way it goes with issues of race. Everyone has something to say. Even privileged, white, Lutheran bloggers.
But the fact that everyone has something to say is precisely the problem. All of our “saying” is a defense mechanism, a self-justifying move to appease our own systemic guilt. We don’t want to think we are the racists, or at least a part of the racial problem, so that when LeBron is lamenting the hate-crime committed against his home, we feel like we have to speak up to defend ourselves, our race. Our fear of being guilty of contributing to a racist society prevents us from showing empathy towards someone whose house was just defaced with hatred. Strange (and sickening) how we, or at least I, felt the need to self-justify.
As soon as self-justification comes up, you know I’m going to get back to the Gospel. Perhaps there is something that white dudes like me can learn from the Gospel in how to deal with racial issues. Luther says somewhere that the primary organ for the Christian is the ear. In our relationship with God, this is most certainly true. Paul says faith comes through hearing, and that is why Jesus sends preachers (Romans 10). The Law in the ear produces repentance before God. The Gospel in the ear produces faith and praise. In our vertical relationship with God, the ear is where He begins and continues His work on our hearts.
In a world of social media where our first move is always to react before we think, I’m wondering if we don’t need to re-emphasize the importance of the ear in our horizontal relationships as well. The more I hear about what people of color have had to endure in our country, the more I realize that I know nothing of their hardships. This shows me that I need to shut-up before I speak at them about how they should think. The more I listen, the more I realize that, though I have not committed an outright racist act, I am a part of a system that contributes to a culture of racism that doesn’t provide people of certain classes and colors the same opportunities I have. Here, I am hearing the Law from my neighbors that is convicting me. This shouldn’t produce a move of self-justification (a move made by sin), but rather a plea for mercy and forgiveness from those I have sinned against with things “left undone.” Further then, since we are in the horizontal realm now, if forgiveness and a welcome conversation arrive, my response should be one of love. Actually, even if forgiveness doesn’t come from those I have sinned against, love still needs to drive my actions. After all, love is from God… (I John 4:7-8).
Perhaps what we who are white need to realize is that when we decide to correct people of color on their views of racism in America, we are only perpetuating a culture of racism with an “us vs. them” mentality that puts “us” in the position of power. This is not a position of love. Love listens. Love repents. Love serves. Love takes action to help change a system of racism.
I don’t think I am racist. But I also can’t honestly say I haven’t contributed to a system of racism. For this, I repent. Perhaps we who are white just need to shut-up and listen before we solve everyone else’s problems. Maybe everyone needs to do this. Our position in conversations of race ought to be one of repentance and love. We need to listen before we contribute our own thoughts. Like faith towards God, love towards the neighbor begins with the ear.