Search

13670-handshake_racial_reconciliation.630w.tn

My honest truth? When it comes to so-called “racial reconciliation” or just plain living out the faith in its intra-ethnic dimensions, these days I’m quite exhausted and usually thinking about ways to check out. That’s been the case for the last two years. It’s not hard to imagine why.

And just when I’m thinking of folding up the tent and moving on to some other more isolated, less diverse spot to camp, the Lord sends encouragement. Not encouragement to go, but encouragement to endure. A gentle reminder that He is there, doing His work all along, achieving reconciliation in far flung places. And that’s the thing: I (we?) tend to think it’s not happening if it’s not happening with me (us?) right where we are. I’m seldom actively thinking it’s happening somewhere else, where I’m not, with people I can’t see. Then the encouragement comes.

Today I received the following letter from Peter in, of all places, Alaska. I don’t receive letters like this often–just often enough to keep praying and pushing. They don’t arrive weekly or even monthly. But they do come in time, on time. And I’m reminded that God works things out where we’re not looking, behind our backs, for His glory.

So, with his permission in the P.S., I’m posting this (a) because Peter specifically mentions a number of people we should appreciate, (b) because perhaps you need encouragement too, and (c) perhaps his example might help others own their own stories, diversify their friendships, and confess to the glory of God. While I’m hopeful, this is what I pray. Tomorrow I might be less hopeful and I’ll have this here to read again.

———————-

Thabiti,

Allow me to introduce myself and hopefully give you a little bit of context for the rest of this note:

My name is Pete Doner. I’ll be thirty years old this summer, and my wife and I will celebrate six years of marriage. We are expecting our third child any day now, which is part of why I’m at home writing instead of at work. I’m a self-employed carpenter, with the most of my time spent framing houses. My family lives in Wasilla, Alaska. We are members of Wasilla Bible Church–a congregation that was briefly made famous by Sarah Palin’s occasional attendance. 

If every fact I’ve given you and my manner itself hasn’t already made this obvious: my wife and I are white. We also both belong very much to Jesus, and we love his Church. 

I first heard your talk “The Decline of African American Theology” via a TGC podcast in the spring of 2012. I was impressed with your courage, and I was fascinated by the history of African-American theology–something I knew nothing about. But more than anything I felt a flood of relief as I heard you speak. Deep down inside me was the inarticulated fear that the reformation truths that grip me and have shaped my life were only part of my white cultural heritage. Its embarrassing to confess that I used to feel that way- I know its an ignorant view. But hearing you, with your obviously black name, express love for biblical theology in your obviously black voice, encouraged me deeply. In pointing to a rich heritage of black theologians who submitted joyfully to the authority of scripture you silenced a lot of my fears.

That was the first in a chain of events that led me to think about black/white/Jesus issues more than before. Next, John Piper posted something online about Lecrae, who I had barely heard of. I might be the only person on the planet who became a hip-hop listener because of John Piper. But over the last few years Lecrae, Propaganda, Shai Linne, Jackie Hill Perry and others have become some of my very favorite artists, and voices that God has used to convict and encourage me.

I hope I can describe some of the irony here. I don’t know if its possible to look racist, but I might. I’m tall and skinny, with short blond hair and blue eyes, and my clothes reflect my occupation (I wear a beard, flannel, plaid and boots in a non-hiptser way). Whenever I encounter someone who is brown or black I feel obligated to smile extra and hope they take a second look at my tattoos and see that they are inspired by Jesus and my wife, not Adolf Hitler. I am an avid hunter and skier. The Johnny Cash in my iTunes library isn’t going to surprise anyone, but the growing library of hip-hop made by Christians would probably surprise an observer trying to figure me out. 

Having all these black voices in my thought life has been disruptive to my accustomed habits of speech and thought. After saying something racially charged around my white friends (and I only have white friends because I live in Wasilla, Alaska) I have found myself wondering how that would make Thabiti or Propaganda feel if either of you had been in the room. A couple of times I’ve heard white guys say offensive stuff about black people, and I felt compelled to speak up (really clumsily as it turns out) on behalf of these black believers I’ve come to love and respect.

Along with this shift in my thinking the Holy Spirit has convicted me that I’m guilty of racial partiality, and while its a dirty and complicated word, I’ll just call it racism. It’s not a racism that makes me Donald-Trump-offensive, but for a long time it allowed me to be more angry about black/white conflict than I was grieved. I was angrier about Michael Brown apparently roughing up a convenience store clerk more than I was grieved for his family and community. I was angrier about riots in Baltimore more that I was grieved about the poverty and pitiable condition  of the rioters. I don’t think it is wrong to be angry about violent or rude behavior from people of any color, but I’ve felt convicted that my anger should be dwarfed by real Christian grief and desire for reconciliation. Along with that, I’m looking for ways that I can take part in reconciliation with my words and my work.

Thabiti, God is using you and other black Christians to prod me out of sin and pull me into better obedience. Thank you for that! I’ve been writing this rambling note in the back of my mind for a few months now, since I saw some crazy white dude accuse you on social media of being some sort of secret abortion supporter. I think I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me that maybe I should try and reach out, that maybe a word of thanks, confession and support from a culturally distant brother in Christ like myself might be of value.

God bless!

Pete Doner

PS: I’m sending this to you privately, but its also an open letter. Here’s what I mean: If I’m rambling, or this is the sixth letter like this this month that you have received, or if I’ve accidentally  been offensive I am content with privacy. But I don’t want you to feel for a second like my appreciation for you or my repentance from sin is something I’m embarrassed to say publicly. This letter is yours to share anyway you want. If you think I should, I’ll post it on my blog where all eleven of my readers can see it. (Mostly, my blog is read by my extended family, I’m not exactly Tim Challies.)


View Comments

Comments:


8 thoughts on “Love from Alaska”

  1. Patrice Wedderburn says:

    Praise the Lord for His ACTIVE work in the lives of His saints!!! Super encouraged Pastor T and reminded of the need to pray for you more.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Amen!

  2. Dana Tedeschi says:

    I appreciated the humility and honesty this man expressed. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. susan says:

    It took me a few days to read this post, but I wish I had read it on the day it came out. It echoes my story so well. I am a white woman living in a mostly white town (not as white as Wasilla – where I have been, oddly enough) who has been convicted of my white basis, to borrow a phrase from the RAAN. I too started listening to Shai Linne because of John Piper or someone similar; it’s been over a year and a half now, so I don’t remember the details. The Lord convicted me of the *whiteness* in our culture, the systemic and historic racism that exists – He opened my eyes. And I am so thankful that He did. Your blog was (and is) a part of that revelation, so thank you. Please know that there are some of us white folks out there fumbling our way through to racial reconciliation, or at least, I am fumbling my way there.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Praising the Lord for you!

  4. Susan says:

    I appreciate Pete’s humble desire to examine his own heart in this matter and make a genuine effort, with God’s help, to grow in love and awareness. We all have areas in our life than need self-exposure…Spirit-exposure, repentance and sanctification. I will be in Alaska for my niece’s wedding this month!

    Unlike Pete, I live in one the most ethnically diverse and integrated cities in the US according to this recent report: http://www.presstelegram.com/social-affairs/20150513/long-beach-is-second-most-diverse-city-in-us-report-finds In fact, Long Beach, side-by-side with Los Angeles, are the most diverse cities in the US today. My sons attend two different public schools in the district in which white students are a minority. Many, many nationalities/races are represented in large numbers in their schools. I LOVE that this is part of their education! It will help them to work with people of all ethnicities in their future jobs, churches… wherever they find themselves, with much less bias or prejudice than they might otherwise have been prone to, because they are doing that now, both in sports and in classrooms. Our church is primarily white but I’ve often thought that I wish more blacks would attend. I commented about this to my older son one day and he was quick to agree. The congregation is perhaps 5% black, 5% Asian, 5% Hispanic, which isn’t exactly representative of the diversity of our city. We have one black elder (who is one of my favorites), and our pastor is VERY involved in missions in several African countries, so we often have African pastors speaking and reporting from the pulpit. We bring two Hispanic children (one a best friend of my son for years) to our church each Sunday. Both of my sons have ethnically diverse friendships. (yay!!)

    I realize that in other parts of the country racial tensions are much more pronounced than they are here. Twenty years ago there was a lot of campus tension between blacks and hispanics. The Mexican father of the kids we bring to church with us told me that the black guys who work for him at the railroad were very hostile toward him (because he is hispanic) when they started working under him. He told them that they could keep it up but he would love them anyway. In time, their attitude changed. Yes, blacks have prejudices too, towards whites as well. All are fallen.

    In all honesty I was deeply upset by some of what you wrote during the Ferguson and New York police incident era. I think it is prejudice to assume that those two officers mistreated the two black men who died. I think its prejudice to assume that they acted differently toward those two men BECAUSE they were black, and that those incidents wouldn’t have played out in exactly the same way if the suspects had been white. Those things happen to suspects who resist when they are white as well. Just because everyone jumps on the bandwagon an assumes the officers actions were racially motivated doesn’t make it so. I think that people are afraid to point out that it just might be highly racially prejudiced for blacks to assume that white police officers have it out for them. Have you considered that? My husband is a retired Long Beach police officer, so he’s experienced a lot of ‘reverse prejudice’ on the job. I’m sure that police officers struggle with racial categorization in their hearts and minds and sometimes it is displayed, because they are daily exposed to the worst of society. Believe me, my husband has such categories for white criminals as well. I scold him when he uses the term ‘white trash’ at home. My daughter and I scold him when he says anything that sounds even slightly racial. It is somewhat of a hazard of the job, but our sanctification is ongoing! I do know though that he worked with many outstanding officers who truly have a heart for protecting the innocent from the criminals among them, in whatever part of town they found themselves. It’s one of the few jobs where you experience people’s hatred toward you on a near-daily basis. He has told me you just get used to it. In fact he was unfazed by the rioting and demonstrations surrounding Ferguson and such. He was an officer in Long Beach during the Rodney King riots, which spilled over into Long Beach. The word on the street then was for black men to kill white police officers. He was shot at but missed during that time. The current chief of Long Beach is a friend of ours (a professing Christian), and is hispanic.

    I asked the black elder at our church if he gets pulled over sometimes. He said, yes, but he’s friendly with the officers and all is well. Please understand, as my husband explained to me, they don’t pull over blacks just because they are black. They pull people over when they are looking for a suspect of that description, or because of something someone is doing that is suspicious etc. If a large percentage of crime in a city is perpetrated by, blacks, hispanic or whites then people of those races are going to be pulled over and questioned more. I was pulled over and treated unkindly by an officer once. I suppose if I were black I might have assumed that’s why he was disdainful. Our white pastor’s son was questioned by an officer while sitting in a parked car talking with a friend in his own neighborhood one night. This teen was indignant about it and posted on Facebook to let everyone know. As my husband explained, that officer was doing his job. There might have been some robberies in the neighborhood and they were looking for suspicious activity. Problems begin when people are uncooperative with police officers, when they resist or are combative. Christians (and nonChristians) need to be told that they are to submit to police officers as God-ordained authority figures. When you encourage people to protest against these God-ordained authority figures you are sending a very unhealthy message. You are instilling in the minds of black youth, and others, that police officers are not to be trusted, but rather despised. The lack of a respectful and compliant response to a police officer leads to most aggravated incidents where a suspect or even an innocent person is hurt by officers who are trained to act quickly in self-defense. It’s rough out there–not so pretty–much different than the daily happenings of my life! Please put yourself in the shoes of a white police officer when you say things than fan the flames of racial assumptions about their “corruption”, as if it is a massive problem that drives them to mistreat blacks. Please consider the possibility that you might have a racial prejudice toward white police officers and ask God to reveal it to you if so.

    Thanks for reading, and I will pray for you and for your continuing work in the service of our Lord!

    Susan

  5. Susan says:

    Thabiti,

    I would so appreciate it if you would listen to this entire interview with African American, Sheriff Clarke, on May 13 in Washington DC.

    6/05/13/sheriff-clarke-law-enforcement-fears-witch-hunt-cop-hating-doj-led-race-obsessed-ag

  6. Joe M says:

    Appreciate your ongoing commentary, content and especially tone. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


About


Thabiti Anyabwile photo

Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

Thabiti Anyabwile's Books