Over the past three years, I have become increasingly aware of the present issue of racism in the United States. Growing up, I believed the myth that racism ended in 2008 when America voted into office the first African-American president. Since then, I have come to realize that this idea is merely a comfortable lie. Participating in conversations on campus with MOSAIC and my gateway class and experiencing Chicago and Tulsa with the Student Ministries Leadership Team gave me an opportunity to confront my ignorance.
As I began to learn more about racism, the subject began to influence my day-to-day conversations. On one such occasion, a close friend and mentor of mine made the comment, “Race is your new thing, isn’t it?” I was confused by the remark, stumbled over an unsatisfactory reply, and moved on with the conversation. I felt both saddened and offended, but was unsure as to the reason. Later, I continued to process the meaning of the statement and consider its implications. The following serves as my response.
There are two devastating implications embedded in this comment that must be disclosed. The first implication addresses the concept of racism as a thing. Things are an individual’s current (and usually temporary) passions. Having a certain thing is viewed as a childlike behavior because the interest is usually fleeting. You can probably recall a thing you once had in your life. For instance, mine was competitive swimming. Calling racism a thing assumes that this phase of activism will soon dissipate because the cause is not serious.
Secondly, the statement implies that racism is not, and does not need to be, everyone’s thing. This mentality grants ownership to a select few and excuses everyone else from participating because, “It’s not their thing.” On campus, we often apply this excuse to general education courses like biology, saying, “Science is not my thing.” We have segregated ourselves into different majors and used this lack of interest as an excuse for not participating in those conversations. This idea falls short of God’s vision for the body of Christ.
Christianity is a holistic commitment, an all or nothing situation. Deciding to follow Jesus Christ is an obligation to change your entire lifestyle, not just your Sunday morning routine. Sometimes Christians act as if they may pick and choose which commandments to obey, or they choose to only obey certain commandments in easy situations
By cherry-picking our way through the Bible, we have denied the responsibility of Christians in regard to social justice issues and thus limited the impact of the body of Christ. Christians have become disengaged from conversations that they should be leading. This charge goes far beyond our responsibility to reconcile with the African-American community and indigenous people groups. This applies to conversations about caring for the environment and welcoming refugees, along with many other topics. If we continue to view fighting for social issues as optional, or only certain people’s thing, we will never be united as one body.
In the end, no Christian is exempt from participating in social justice reform. Regardless of if we do or do not enjoy studying science, we are not exempt from the command to care for the earth and all life that inhabits it. Regardless of the economic structure we support, we are not exempt from caring for the poor. Regardless of if we feel loyal to one particular political party, we are not exempt from defending the oppressed. I realize now what I wish I had the forethought to say in response to my friend’s comment: “No, racism is not my thing. Being a follower of Jesus is. Being a follower of Jesus means we all, collectively, stand up for the oppressed.”
I want to thank Residence Life, SMLT, and MOSAIC for their intentionality in fostering an environment that encourages hard conversations and provides platforms for people to engage with these subjects. My prayer is that we, as a student body, will not view social justice issues as merely things, but as the responsibility of each Christian to defend.