Humbly – and in the Hope of Healing

  
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Before I start to address an issue that has been much on my mind – and on yours, I want to thank Lauren Babb and Mike Sacasas for their faithful service to the Study Center and to the entire community in my absence. I especially want to thank them for leading the way in thinking about the challenges that have been on all our hearts and minds in recent weeks. I have been deeply appreciative of both Lauren’s statement on behalf of Pascal’s several weeks ago, and Mike’s constant, wise voice in recent newsletters. Part of what has been so hard about being gone for most of the past two months is that I feel like I abandoned these friends in a time of need and that I especially left Mike to bear the weight of being the voice of the center through very difficult times. It was hard for me to leave that burden on “the new guy.” But I am also so very thankful to have been able to lean on him as I have.

Thank you, Lauren. Thank you, Mike.

As Mike noted a few weeks ago, “As this year has unfolded, we have been confronted by one crisis after another with barely a chance to catch our breath.” And as he went on to say, “A crisis can simultaneously call for thinking and make it difficult to think.” This has been especially true given the fact that these crises and our responses are playing out on what we call “news” media and on social media platforms. Mike is very insightful in exposing the reductive and counterproductive impact that these social technologies often have, and I want very much to return to some of these issues in weeks to come, but at present, I want to push past these issues and move on to the issue that has been much on my mind and heart not only in recent weeks but for over five decades. That is the issue of race in our country—the inequities, unfairness, injustice, misunderstandings, distance, and more that fall along racial lines. 

There are numerous lines of racial and ethnic diversity in our country today, and numerous stories that need to be told for everyone from native Americans to immigrants who continue to come to our country from a wide variety of nations. Sadly, these stories typically include hard issues. There are stories of inequities and unfairness in every direction. I will confess, however, that for me personally the question of how a light-skinned race, of European origin, has treated a dark-skinned race, of African origin, over nearly four centuries of our country’s history has always been a central concern. I trust I care about all people and that I act on behalf of minorities and the underserved or disadvantaged of any race or ethnicity, but black/white relations have played a crucial role in the American story from the beginning and have always been of particular importance to me personally. 

Just to be clear, I am a sixty-eight-year old white male. I was not born yesterday, so I did not just get “woke” in the past several months. I do fear and fight my sad tendency to “doze off,” but I first got woke back in middle school. I am old enough to remember water fountains and restrooms in stores in Lakeland, Florida, marked “colored” and “white.” I remember the infuriating way that white Christians pronounced the word “negro,” and while I did not throw stones through windows, nor did I think it was ultimately the best way forward, I remember being pretty sympathetic with those who did. I also recall quite vividly numerous eye-opening experiences that came with what was called “forced integration.” In my case, it occurred during my high school days, and I have always been thankful that it did. Virtually everyone complained about it, but it was a good thing and had good consequences for many of us. These experiences played a tremendous role in awakening me, educating me, and motivating me to participate actively in seeking to see integration be the good thing that many of us knew it to be, even as we – white and black – struggled with what we didn’t like about it. 

Partly because these issues mean what they do to me, I chose not to jump when social media said “jump” two months ago, but please do not interpret my choice not to participate in the social media frenzy as some indifference on my part. To the contrary, it is because I see these issues as the sort of important, enduring human issues that they are that I have waited before addressing the issue explicitly. Thank you, then, for allowing me to share a couple simple lessons that have been formative for me and that continue to serve me as I seek the sort of healing to which I pointed a month ago. I offer these thoughts quite meekly and with no pretense about having gotten something right, but only in the hope of being helpful as we seek to engage important issues together.  

The bedrock for my own thinking about racial and ethnic injustice and inequity lies in the rich Humanism that Scripture teaches. Using the word “Humanism” here may puzzle you, but it is exactly the right word, and it is desperately needed today. I was raised on a biblical understanding of human beings by parents who loved God and therefore loved their neighbors—all their neighbors. I won’t pretend that I grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood, school, or church, but I grew up with a concern for all people—for Jew and Gentile, for people of every race and ethnicity, for Kenyans, Peruvians, and Indians. Because we were Christians, respect and love for all people was a given. Humans are made in the image of God – all humans, and “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” This was all we needed to know. This is what I mean by biblical Humanism, and it laid the foundation for my life both through my parents’ teaching and through their example. 

A second, important contribution to my own thinking about race came by studying history. It has taken many forms over the years, but it began with my Social Studies teacher in high school – a white man who grew up in the rural South. He was perfect for the job. He had learned the history, and it had changed him. He was perfect for teaching a bunch of naïve, mostly white kids. He shared honestly, stayed vulnerable, spoke boldly, and helped us learn the history of our country and face the sad and often horrifying story of how one race of humans came to think of another race of humans not simply as inferior but as property that could be bought, sold, and enslaved. He helped us confront the inhumanity of our own history and recognize that we had dug a hole so deep that we were and are still very much working our way out of it and will be for a long time. A society does not recover from such a history easily or quickly.

All of us would do well to keep studying history, and as we study the history of our own country, we would be wise to study well beyond our own borders. The stories of human beings mistreating other human beings across a variety of lines of difference are many, and they are global. There is something about us that is sadly bent, and we do well to recognize it as the deeply human tendency that it is. Our prejudices run deep, and this is just one of many reasons why it is so important that our efforts be rooted in a biblical Humanism and framed ultimately by Jesus’ declaration that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

The third great contribution to my thinking about race has come through relationships that cross racial and ethnic lines of difference. As simple as this is, it has made all the difference. I am convinced that the single most important social contribution to making progress where racial inequity, unfairness, injustice, animosity, and misunderstanding are involved is for us to be in life together—simply to have meaningful relationships that cross racial divides. This was why “forced integration” was a good thing. No matter how much everyone complained, it at least opened up the possibility for us to get beyond caricatures and get to know each other as actual human beings. With that experience came knowledge, with that knowledge came changed attitudes, and with changed attitudes came meaningful action. One thing led to another—not because someone condemned me on social media and demanded that I say the right thing, but because I got the chance to interact with fellow human beings from which my history had separated me. It gave me the chance, for instance, to get to know my friend Willie well enough for him, in turn, to trust me well enough to give him a ride home after band practice. With that experience came knowledge—knowledge, among other things, of the fact that there were unpaved streets and small frame shacks not far from my own home; and knowledge, in turn, changed my attitude and motivated me to action – to a commitment to see integration work, to address hard issues, to keep listening and learning, to speak up. 

Without going into any deep analysis, I fear that a re-segregation has taken place over the past few decades, and it has hurt us all. We are all the poorer for it. I am convinced that racial and ethnic integration remains key, and when we are blessed with it, we do well to celebrate it and be thankful.

I recognize that in offering just a small glimpse into my own story, I am not offering anything profound, but I offer it nonetheless – especially to my young friends who find themselves caught in the world as they encounter it on their cell phones and laptops. That is an especially difficult place to live these days, but all the more reason to be well founded in biblical wisdom; informed by historians, sociologists, and others; and committed to cultivating relationships across lines of racial difference – and across other lines of difference as well. 

I trust you know that I offer these thoughts haltingly and humbly in the hope of the gospel and of healing for all.

Dr. Richard Horner
Executive Director


Study Center Resources

This coming week we will be discussing the last section of the Inferno. The Dante reading group will pause during the month of August, but will resume with Purgatorio in September. This would be a great time to jump in if you weren’t able to join us for our reading of the Inferno. Contact Mike Sacasas at mike@christianstudycenter.org, if you’d like to be on the email list for the reading group.

Come September, we will also be kicking off our fall program. We’ll be featuring two Director’s Classes, an additional online reading group alongside the Dante group, and more. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.

Be sure to check out the archive of resources available online from the study center. Classes and lectures are available at our audio archive. You can also peruse back issues of Reconsiderations here.


Recommended Reading

— Philosopher Jennifer Frey reviews Zena Hitz's recent book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. We will be reading Lost in Thought this fall at the Study Center and look forward to hosting an online interview and Q/A with Prof. Hitz.

Hitz notes that what is intrinsically valuable for a human being is grounded in what a human being is—what it needs in order to flourish as a member of its kind. Even more boldly, Hitz frames her argument in terms of ancient Greek thought about the highest good. Such a good was understood by Plato and Aristotle as that sort of human activity we have a natural affinity for above all others and would be something “in which one’s whole life would culminate.” For Hitz, the highest good structures all of our choices and reveals something about the sort of person we are. It is the good for which, at the end of the day, we will sacrifice all else.

— Michael Wear offers his theologically informed reflections on “a politics worse than death”:

Our political problem is not simply a function of those who haven’t thought about their own death, but of those who aren’t motivated by the death of others. Our political problem is that we have a system that requires tremendous energy to be heard, and a citizenry that cannot find the energy, resources, and will to be heard. At some point, we must question the conventional wisdom that the stratification and sophistication of media, including social media, has been a neutral democratizing force, and instead ask whether it has empowered and incentivized unrepresentative voices at the cost of a representative politics. We should ask the question now, while we still can, before we become so limited by the extremes in our politics that we can’t imagine there are any other options.