heartBy John D. Pierce

Where does racism reside? Ultimately, it finds its resting place in human hearts.

And there is even more evidence recently that a large number of such hearts huddle under church steeples on Sundays. Oh, we can ignore such reality in an effort to move on. But real moving on requires confession and restoration not avoidance.

Typically, I don’t mention relationships of trust with some African-American and Hispanic young adults at my favorite local hangouts. I’d never exploit them for my benefit. Just be assured, they are baffled by the way many white Christians see them as lesser persons if not as enemies.

These bright, industrious and caring people are not out on the streets protesting (though there’s nothing wrong with that). Yet I’ve watched Bible-toting customers — grabbing coffee and bagels before “getting into the Word of God” — treat these young persons of color in very disrespectful ways.

Racism is strongly rooted in conservative American Christianity — more deeply ingrained than can be dismissed with a “Let’s move on” comment or an occasional photo op with a darker-skinned person than oneself. Reconciliation starts with respect, not affirming some statement on racial equality.

White superiority as divinely ordained was taught more overtly among conservative churches in the recent past. Such indoctrination doesn’t simply go away.

The horrid “Curse of Ham” — that has no valid biblical basis — was infused in generations of Christian fundamentalists. Fundamentalist Christian schools long held policies that discriminated against people of color — and still discriminate against women in ways that are justified by equally poor biblical interpretation.

Southern Baptists and Mormons, among other American faith groups, have long histories rooted in racial discrimination and even support of slavery. Both have made changes — at least in public statements or policies. But racism doesn’t reside in resolutions.

For Southern Baptist leadership, racial reconciliation (at least publicly) appears to be primarily an embrace of black autocratic male preachers who share the same discriminatory attitudes toward women and LGBT Christians as the autocratic white male pastors with whom they share the stage and spotlight.

However, racism ultimately resides in hearts, not groups. Therefore, only individuals can truly be deemed racist. Yet our teachings and examples have influences on the hearts and minds of others with whom we share life, religious and otherwise.

We can ignore the reality of racism within American Christianity, or pretend we’ve moved beyond it with a simple or even a well-constructed public acknowledgement or change in policy. However, only repentance, respect and restoration can fix the human heart — and that’s where racism, resentment and fear abide.

Or, more hopefully, where courage, grace and love find their home.

John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce is editor of Nurturing Faith Journal — the signature publication of Baptists Today, Inc. He is also publisher of Nurturing Faith Books and Resources. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates.