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  • John Howard

Reparations of Love

For background, my family has deep southern roots on both sides going back hundreds of years. My father told me that his great grandfather owned slaves on the family farm in Alabama. He and his sons went off to fight the Civil War and they were all killed. My mom’s side of the family is from the Hill Country of Texas where slavery wasn’t as important economically but Texas is still very much a Southern state. I grew up before and during the Civil Rights Movement. As a kid, I remember gas stations in the South had three restrooms: Men, Women, and Colored. "Mixing of the races" was illegal. But I was never taught at home to believe the racism that was all around me. I remember asking my parents about it and they told me that when they got married, they made a pact not to pass that on to their children.

Fast forward to now. My family is multiracial. My little brother married a beautiful Korean lady and their son married a wonderful African American woman. Also our daughter-in-law is half Japanese and has sweet sisters who are African American/Japanese. I consider myself blessed by this diversity and it gives me a more personal interest in today’s hot topic of systemic racism. We have skin in the game (pun intended) because some family members are treated differently based on their skin color.

So what am I as a human being and as a Christian to do about it? The topic of white privilege is very current these days. I confess the term rubs me the wrong way - as it does most white people. Much discussion about it is centered on police treatment of people of color. I’m not a police officer so there is little I can do directly to deal with that aspect. However as I have been reading stories of African American experiences to understand white privilege, I see that many of them have to do with interpersonal encounters where they were treated differently (usually poorly) because of race. Or assumptions are made about their abilities or station in life. Or they are told any success they have is because of affirmative action. This is where I can made reparations. But do I owe a debt here if I don't behave that way personally? Roman 13:8-10 tells me I do. The debt of love. I need to do all I can to be friendly, pleasant, giving, helpful, and affirming to people of color to pay that debt. Of course, I owe the same debt to all people. But, because of racial animus in our past and present, a special debt is owed to people of other races/ethnicity. I observe that black people tend to see even a gruff word or an unfriendly look as racially motivated instead of assuming someone is just having a bad day. And they have cause. So I need to “check my privilege” by showing love at all times and in all ways.

When my nephew, Jimmy, got married to Juanita, who is African American, my wife (Linda), my dad, my sister (also Linda), and I decided to travel to meet her. At the time, Jimmy was deployed to Iraq so Juanita and her two kids by a previous marriage had this family of white Southerners descending on her without her husband there to help. She was concerned and had her mother come over for backup. But all of us went out of our way to welcome her to the family and to say and show that race didn’t matter and that she and her family were now one with ours. I noticed their toilet was running, popped the lid, and saw it needed new valves. So I hopped in the car with Juanita’s son and daughter as guides and went to the hardware store. Then I taught her son how to replace toilet valves. After about an hour, the relief on Juanita and her mother’s faces was palpable. Her mom prayed while we were there and thanked God for us. As we left, her son asked “when are you coming back”. We had successfully broken down a race barrier of apprehension and mistrust through expressing and showing love.

So be kind, be helpful. Go out of your way to do so. Seek out and befriend. Defend others, lovingly, in the face of observed mistreatment. If we, as Christians, can pay our debt of love, we can make “white privilege” a thing of the past. It won’t be easy because the debt is large and others are still racking up more. Mind you, I'm not saying that larger, societal change isn't needed. Institutions need transformation. But institutions are the collective actions of individuals and that's where transformation must start. Go to God with your attitudes and stereotypes. God can help us overcome. The debt is on our hands and, as Toby Mac sings, it "Starts with Me".

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