I’ve always leaned the other way when I’ve seen the crowd moving in one direction or the other. I can’t explain why but if everyone else is doing it, I usually think it must be wrong. I remember a time prior to seminary where many in my faith circles were promoting this idea surrounding sowing seed (money) into good ground (a good church). This idea held that the key to acquiring material blessings was linked to sowing seed (money) into a church that was considered as good ground.
The passage most referred to was Luke 8 where Jesus teaches on the parable of the sower. While just about everyone in my circle was teaching this concept, I on the other hand, could not gravitate to this line of thinking. After all, Jesus declared in verse 11 of that same passage, “Now this is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God”, and he later declared, the ground represented the heart of man. How anyone could substitute the terms, “word” and” heart” for “money” and “church” is beyond me! Nevertheless, the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve never been willing to follow the direction of the crowd on any platform. Be that as it may, when I first heard everyone using the buzzword, racial reconciliation, I had a hard time following along.
Even though I knew the spirit behind the buzzword was well intentioned, the chances that a minority was in the room when it was first coined, is slim. It is apparent to me that this term was not vetted by a minority because there are many in the minority community who have questioned the correctness of this term. Yet and still, you won’t find many minorities making a big stink about it outside the minority community simply because there is a true appreciation for those within dominant culture who have made it their business to address marginalization and the bridging of harmony between racial groups. However, on the other end of the spectrum, the term has become a popular movement of sorts. Churches of all faith backgrounds, organizations, countless books and articles have all joined the movement; some with an authentic heart for change and others have joined the movement simply because it is the popular thing to do. Subsequently, many minorities overlook the perceived incorrectness of the term in an effort to move the needle forward.
For minorities, racial reconciliation is perceived to be defined as the restoration of friendly relationships. We know man can be reconciled back to God because at one time or another, a friendly relationship existed between God and man. But minorities are asking how do Black and White individuals be reconciled back to something that never existed? It’s not that minorities don’t want friendly relations, they just don’t want to go back to any former time in America. The pursuit of peace and harmony between Black and White individuals must continue, but the term, “racial reconciliation” can never happen for Black and White individuals from the perspective of a minority, simply because of how the term is defined in the Black community. History is always present in the Black community, and unfortunately, there is no historical evidence of friendly relations that Black and White individuals can be restored to. I know saying this might offend someone, and God knows that is not my intention; however, when has there ever been a time in American history where the overall arching interactions between Black and White individuals were friendly?
Maybe I have it all wrong and I stand to be corrected but I can’t seem to find a time in American history where peace and harmony existed between Black and White individuals. Though I state the facts of the past, at the same time, I also desire to see true peace and harmony among Black and White individuals. Be that as it may, I ask how can we learn from our brothers and sisters of the other race if we can’t have an honest conversation. I’m not out to offend anyone, I simply want to have an honest conversation. Part of the problem is we as a society are not having enough conversations that will challenge our comfort zones. Certainly, I recognize there were some amazing relationships forged between Black and White individuals in American history. As we approach closer to the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, I am reminded of some of the amazing relationships he shared with the other, while at the same time reminded of how far divided Black and White individuals were in this country. During a time when it was not popular, Dr. King and Billy Graham collectively broke barriers.
Both men pointed to the gospel in breaking the barriers between Black and White individuals. They believed the gospel was the answer then and I believe the gospel is the answer now. Let me also say this, though I mention Black and White individuals often, it is not at the exclusion of any other race of people. I do it only because there are no two races of people who share as much historical contentiousness in the U.S than Black and White individuals. Yet, through the love of the gospel, I still believe there is hope for peace and harmony between the two!
Be that as it may, I introduce a term that aligns more closely to not only the gospel but to the peace and harmony many desire to see among Black and White individuals. I call it, Racial Reconstruction. It can be defined as the process of tearing down the walls of flawed relations, interactions, and imaginations of the other and rebuilding from a place of humility, harmony, and the reimagination of equality. While the term racial reconciliation allows us to gloss over the fact that friendly relations never existed between the two groups, Racial Reconstruction recognizes the relationship was flawed to begin with. For those who desire to see positive change, the goal is not to restore a flawed relationship but rather to reconstruct a new, better, and harmonious one.
I say this because the construction of my own perceptions were once flawed. My dad was born in Oxford, Mississippi back in 1936. He lived there until the late 1950s before moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The experiences and interaction he had with White individuals growing up in Oxford constructed his imagination of the White race. When he started a family here in Milwaukee, what was constructed in his mind about the White race was what he constructed in the mind of his children. Be that as it may, there was a time in my life where I ignorantly believed all White individuals were inherently evil.
I remember back in 2nd grade, my school also contributed to my mindset. Images were constructed in my mind as the teacher sat me in front of a tv to watch documentaries of the civil rights movement. The images I saw was horrific as I sat there watching Black people being hosed, bitten by dogs, and beat down with Billy sticks by White individuals simply because of their Black skin. I often wonder why would they show these images to a 7 year old kid? What was I to do with that, and what was I to think? Consequently, I ended up traveling through life with all these ill conceived thoughts of the other that was not only constructed in my head by my dad’s experience but also through what I learned in school. So, here I was traveling through life with all these ill conceived thoughts constructed in my head.
I will never forget calling my former boss a racist. At that time in my life, whenever I had a disagreement with a White individual, I blamed it on racism; however, I was manufactured to believe this dating back to 2nd grade. Consequently, calling my former boss a racist is one of the greatest regrets of my life. Sadly, it was hard for me to believe it was possible for a White man to authentically care for me as he did. At the time, I was a college dropout and former drug dealer working my first real job as an adult. He took me out of the warehouse and brought me into the front office and began pouring into me. I could not figure out his angle. He promised to train me on anything I was willing to learn just as long as I was willing to learn off the time clock.
When he first made the offer, I was super skeptical. My mind was constructed to think this was the White man’s way of getting me to work for free. I thought he was simply dangling a carrot and was only out to use me. Nevertheless, I decided I would take a chance on trusting him and see what happens. After a few weeks of him pouring into me, a position opened up in the front office and nobody knew how to do the job but me. After all, he had just trained me! Talk about good timing! Immediately, the open position became mine which also included a nice raise in pay.
I continued to learn from him while building true relationship over the next 15 months. I learned everything there was to know about that business, had been promoted several times, and eventually settled in as the number two man at the company. His recommendation would eventually lead to me taking over 13 branches nationwide as I transferred to our corporate office in Jackson, Mississippi. Throughout the process, it was hard for me to conceive all of this good fortune coming my way at the hands of a White man. The very one of whom I was constructed to believe was evil.
Later on that year, I ran into him at the national sales meeting which was attended by 4000 people. Out of that total, there were only three Black people present including myself. As I ran into my former boss, he was hanging out with the two other Black guys in attendance and introduced them as his former roommates. It was at that moment my heart dropped like a plate dropping from the hands of a waitress crashing to the ground. Suddenly, I remembered how I had previously called him a racist, but that was the furthest thing from the truth. I still feel sick to my stomach today thinking back to that time! It was at that point in my life where I knew my mindset needed to change about race.
I knew I had to reconstruct my imagination regarding racial relations. Sadly, I had placed a whole race of people in the same category, when in fact, evil people exist in every category just as much as ignorant people exist in every category. Because evil and ignorance exist in every category of people, humanity must be reconstructed through the lens of the gospel. The gospel does not reconcile us back to our former identity but rather we receive a new identity in Christ. If we are to see racial harmony we need not be reconciled back to a flawed relationship with the other but rather we need a new, better, and harmonious one. It is only through the lens of the gospel that we can change the narrative and experience a new, true, and authentic Racial Reconstruction. As the gospel reconstructs our identity, it only makes sense that we also allow the gospel to reconstruct our relations, interactions, and imaginations as it relates to the other.
KURT OWENS is a church planter specializing in multi-ethnic ministry. He serve as President of the Milwaukee Declaration, which is a group of diverse pastors from the greater Milwaukee area who stand as one against racial divides. He has been in ministry for 19 years and also chair the board of Bridge Builders, a community organization revitalizing neighborhoods through Gospel impact and cultural exchange. He holds a B.A. in Business from Concordia University; an M.A. in Christian Ministry form Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary; and is currently finishing up his Doctoral studies in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University.