Between the Lines: A Personal Reflection on Interfaith Work

 

“…you know, since he’s black.”

Some variation of these words, the last one spoken usually in a whisper, came to define some of the more awkward and perplexing moments of my childhood. Born and raised in the South, I wondered at statements like the one above, spoken by adults or older folks—sometimes as an excuse, sometimes as an accusation, often as a proof—but never did I understand why one’s race meant anything. Why did it matter that someone was black? To me, the Civil War had ended a long time ago, and we should have moved on by now. Yet there were still moments overheard in conversation where someone would define an area of town because, well, you know, that’s where the black people live. It infuriated me, the way that “black” meant “other,” reduced sometimes simply to “they” or “them,” as if “black” and “crime” were almost synonyms, as if no white man ever committed a felony.

Because of my identity as a devout Christian, I felt especially awkward at these occurrences. Many in the South are Bible-believing, avid church-going people, yet, despite this fact, I sometimes felt that the Jesus I followed wasn’t the same one that the speakers of the above quotation followed. I had been taught that all people were God’s children—and that included those that humanity considered “other.” Indeed, it was with those on the margins of society that Jesus spent the most time. He had little good to say of the Pharisees and Sadducees or the rulers of the day, but plenty to say about the poor prostitute with an honest heart or the ostracized leper who longed for community again. I had thought at length about the significance of Jesus himself having been a Jewish man, a member of a people who had found, and would continue to find, their identity best defined by the word “other” for many hundreds of years.

Make no mistake, I don’t mean to mischaracterize the South—I’ve encountered enough of that during my time in the Midwest—as some of the kindest and most accepting people I have ever met are Southerners, and I absolutely loved growing up there. Generalizations in any form are dangerous. However, whether between races or religions, the underlying principle in what I have said is the same: ignorance and insularity only bring about strife and misunderstanding, never peace. We must be intentional in order not to label a certain group as “other,” reducing and disrespecting them as fellow inhabitants of this earth. My experiences with racial tension are why I am passionate about interfaith work, and why I look especially forward to working with Greg on Faith Line Protestants. To me, Patel’s “faith line” holds such personal significance because du Bois’s “color line” holds such personal significance.

Greg and I make no claim of expertise on the things we write about—we’re just trying to facilitate the discussion. We want Faith Line Protestants to be a forum of openness and honesty, where all of us can join together and shape the place of the evangelical Christian in a world of interfaith cooperation. In this spirit, I hope that each visitor to this blog can take something positive away from it (and add something positive to it!) as we embark on this journey together.

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