Wednesday 23 August 2017

There are no good people

On Radio New Zealand National, Kim Hill recently interviewed Reni Eddo-Lodge about her 2014 blog post Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race and its aftermath.

Listening to her speak, Martin and I realised that Christianity has something really important to offer here.  Reni Eddo-Lodge is concerned with the way we white people simply do not notice our own racism.   One of the things that prevents us from doing so is that we are perpetually dividing the world into 'good people' and 'bad people'.  When it comes to race, racists are clearly the 'bad people'.  This means that, when a person of colour calls out racist attitudes in a white person, that white person isn't in a good place to hear that message as they're likely to assume they're a good person and hence know that they can't be a racist.

But one of the core tenants of Christianity is that none of us get to be the 'good people;.  I came across this again just today in my New Testament reading.  In Luke 11, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that they can confidently ask God for what they need.  To illustrate his point, he says:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?  Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Did you see it?  Jesus takes for granted that his disciples are 'evil' and seems to assume that they will take this for granted as well.

This runs counter to a really strong strand in our culture, where it is normal to take for granted that we are good; indeed, that everyone is good except for a few clearly defined 'bad people' (such as 'racists').

But, when it comes to racism, there aren't really 'racists' and 'non-racists': there are only fallen people.  Maybe some of us have more to learn than others about how to treat people of all races equally, but it's not like anyone has truly 'arrived'.  And being able to acknowledge this is really important if we want to move towards a more racially equal world.

The other day I came across a black market gardener who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, reflecting on the recent protests and counter-protests in his town.  In it he basically states that it is of no importance to him  whether or not people protest against those trying to prevent the removal of Confederate statues.  What he cares about is people not calling the police when they see him walking down their street: something that happens to him frequently when he delivers his vegetables in white-majority neighbourhoods.  He has good reason to believe that many of those who clearly see his simple presence on the street as a threat are the same people who take part in anti-racism protests.

Like all of us, those white people he sees both protesting and practising racism are neither 'racist' nor 'non-racist'.  They are simply broken people, originally created in the good image of God but now also evil, marred by sin.

This is what Christianity has to offer to the racism debate.  There are no good guys.  We are all broken.

When someone accuses me of racist attitudes, I don't have to deny it (although I may want to!).  But it doesn't violate my understanding of myself as a 'good person': after all, I know evil lurks in my heart.  So I can listen to the accusation and, if it seems well-founded, ask God to change my heart. Acknowledging that there are no 'good people' thus creates a path for reconciliation, rather than the polarisation we see so much of today.

Lord, show me the evil in my heart!

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