Our nation has seen an increase in instances where police and citizens have interacted with African Americans in public spaces in not so positive ways.
Examples include the infamous shootings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and the like, as well as the negative consequences of professional athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, taking knees before sporting events to protest perceived police brutality against minorities.
These incidents added more fuel to the public debates about patriotism, nationalism and the place and importance of race in North American culture.
I live in St. Louis, Missouri, and while the riots and unrest were occurring a few miles away in Ferguson, I heard a consistent refrain from black and white people within the St. Louis region. That refrain was, “I’m not surprised.”
People were not surprised about the racially discriminatory findings showing how minorities were treated by various law enforcement departments in the region, or how municipalities raised operating funds on the backs of citizens, or how political and law enforcement officials from the region responded with false outrage and astonishment in the aftermath of the release of the Department of Justice’s comprehensive report.
The racial and economic issues that were brought to the surface in the aftermath of Ferguson exemplify the many systems that sustain the “business as usual” model that is found in St. Louis and other cities.
One of the things that did surprise me about the conversations that occurred during the Ferguson tribulation, although it shouldn’t have, was the participation of white Christians in this process of vilifying these efforts to bring attention to the experiences and feelings of minority groups who believed that they were once again being held to a different standard for life based on their skin color.
Some of the questions raised by white Christians were: Why aren’t black people more patriotic? Why can’t black people just be happy? Why don’t black people just follow the rules?
These are loaded questions. What do the people who ask these questions mean by the words “patriotic” and “happy,” or the phrase “follow the rules,” especially when they are asked of people who have not always been considered fully equal to them or their ancestors?
These types of situations and conversations continue to remind the world of the racial and social dysfunction that is uniquely American. This is why it is important to me to continue to write about racism and the church in America.
We tend to think and act like racism, sexism and classism no longer exist within the walls of our faith communities. We pat ourselves on the back when we have a few families of color within our communities.
I think we would be better served by acknowledging that our faith and practice has often served as the beacon for separation and political jockeying. Instead of denying the past, we can learn from it so that our faith can serve as a beacon for love and equality and living into the principles contained in God’s word.
“Ten Commandments: What it Means to be Black and Christian in America” seeks to look at what it takes for black people to be viewed as acceptable in public spaces by whites, especially white Christians.
The book also seeks to point out long held unwritten American societal expectations for black people that serve as unofficial guides so that African Americans do not make social or cultural waves.
I hope this book spurs open and honest dialogue that will help positively change our nation and the Christian faith we practice in America for good and God’s glory.
Editor’s note: This article in an adapted excerpt from Carter’s book “10 Commandments: What it Means to be Black and Christian in America,” which is available here.
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.