Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Honoring William Wilberforce

On WNYC (NPR) this morning, we heard that 68% of white New Yorkers think the police treat all races fairly and equally and 14% of African-Americans think so.

What's wrong with this picture?

How could white people think this if they are paying any attention to the news? More to the point, how can white people--from our privileged position--possibly know whether the police treat all races fairly and equally or not?

The excitement about the Wilberforce movie, Amazing Grace, and the commemorations in England of the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade, are encouraging signs. However, the pressing question is, what will be our response? Most of the action so far seems to be centered on world-wide slavery, still very much with us. Yet there is a self-congratulatory tone in much publicity about this--see how much we Christians care about slaves overseas! It seems to me that it is equally, if not more, important for our souls (speaking as a white American) for us to see, acknowledge, and take steps to repair the continuing hurt feelings of our black neighbors right here in our own cities and towns. For 68% of whites simply to refuse to see what their black neighbors are experiencing is very disappointing. Whether the police are fair to blacks or not is not for whites to determine. We can only understand what others experience if we see them and listen to them.

An article in Christianity Today, headlined on the front cover as "Black Evangelical Despair," describes the pain of blacks who were hired (doubtless with the best of motives) by white-dominated evangelical agencies, only to quit after enduring dismissive, insensitive, and patronizing treatment.

This is an issue that cries out for the attention of every one of us whites no matter where we are. Paying attention to the grievances and feelings of others is surely one of the most obvious callings of a Christian. Even if we cannot do anything, we can at least acknowledge how African-Americans feel.