Another Take on Racism

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Editor’s Note: In fulfilling our role as a public forum of diverse viewpoints, The Banner offers this unsolicited article as part of our denomination’s collective conversation on a pressing issue. 

At the June meeting of the Council of Delegates, leaders of the Christian Reformed Church presented a Statement Regarding Systemic Racism. A large majority of the delegates approved the statement. I was among eight who were opposed. Let me explain my negative vote.

I was born in New York City, grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood, and attended public schools from first grade to college graduation. We students were from every ethnic background under the sun. We studied and played together harmoniously—Black people, white people, Hispanic people, Jewish people, and Asian people. But that was not the whole story. I was beaten up by a gang when returning from a prayer meeting in Harlem, slammed to the ground and jeeringly called “whitey.”

Later, my family and I were missionaries in Japan and learned how Japanese people look back with deep regret on the militarist and racist ideology they had learned, which led them into a war of aggression. After WWII, they faced the enormous challenge of restoring relationships with their neighbors in Asia, whom they had been taught were inferior.

I agree that racism is sin. It is a deep-seated problem, calling for repentance and learning to love all of God’s creatures, for we are all made in God’s image. But it underestimates the breadth and depth of racism to focus largely on white racism and hammer away at white guilt. There are racists in every ethnic group. This is one reason I could not sign the statement.

There is also systemic racism, built into the structures of society. One lawyer told me how young Black men receive harsher sentences than young white men for the same crimes. Another friend described redlining: mortgages for homes in the inner city are harder to get. An article in the Wall Street Journal documented how police unions resist disciplining officers who have a history of using excessive force.

Yet two police officers I know resent that people have no idea what it is like to struggle with someone resisting arrest or the split-second decisions that have to be made. They see videos of the officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and unequivocally condemn choke holds as illegal. At the same time, they wondered if Floyd did anything to provoke the treatment.

We see demonstrations that turn into rioting and looting under the influence of anarchist groups. We see capitulation by mayors allowing for enclaves off-limits to the police, where more lives are lost. This serves only to prove how important it is to have police protection.

These are issues that call for serious discussion. But I felt the statement I was asked to sign was too simple to adequately address all sides of the story.

About the Author

George R. Young attends Sussex (N.J.) Christian Reformed Church and lives in Stanhope, N.J. Now retired, he is a former pastor of Immanuel CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich., and a former missionary to Japan.

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Comments

Thank you, George, for a helpful article which looks at racism from a perspective different from what many in the Banner are promoting.  Many of us in the church and outside have friends of other races and ethnic backgrounds that we love and care for as much as friends of our own race.  But that’s not where the problem lies. The problem lies in what we see and experience in the public square.  What we see in the protests on the News is a lot of hatred.  It’s one thing to suggest that white Christians need to exhibit a Christ-like spirit of sacrifice.  But wouldn’t all parties involved in racism also need to exhibit such spirit?  Realistically, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

George, as you point out, this is a topic that deserves serious consideration and action. How do you suggest we do that?

George, you spend more of this article, and far more of your sympathy, on your experience of being bullied as a child than you do considering the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. It is appalling to me that we have so fully accepted the death of Black Americans at the hands of the police forces we fund and support that any even hypothesized resistance to is justification for murder. It  also pains me to believe that a pastor would draw an equivalence between being the discrimination associated with being called "whitey" and the murder of Black Americans. You can call both those experiences "racism," but they are not the same, and it is at the very least irresponsible to pretend that they are. It should be devastatingly clear to you and to everyone that the racism experienced by George Floyd and all Black Americans is upheld by regimes of power and violence that you, as a white person, have not experienced and clearly cannot imagine. Jesus Christ spoke constantly against abuses of power, and on behalf of people suffering from oppression. He called us to lay down our lives for those brothers and sisters. The very least you could do was sign a statement to support them.

Katie - a more careful read of the author's article might lead to a less judgemental reaction. Racism and murder are an endemic human problem, and not a specific issue of colour. Dialogue respects a difference of opinion - or all we are left with is censorship / cancel culture.

Mr. Young,

It appears to me that your "no" vote was the product of some insight and thought.  I trust that you were doing what you thought was best.  I applaud you for that.  I am grateful that there are countervailing voices to the group-think that attends this issue.

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