Grace: The Answer to the Race Card

by | May 9, 2011 | Frontline

Last Sunday,
May 1st, I appeared on Roland Martin’s Washington Watch program with
two other DC pastors. Our discussion centered on the role of the clergy in
politics.  One of my fellow participants, Dr. Charles Wallace Smith, came
to national prominence because President Obama attended his Easter services
this year. Starting the Monday after Easter, conservative pundits played
excerpts of one of Dr. Smith’s previous messages on race almost non-stop. A
January 2010 speech at Eastern University in Saint Davids, PA conveyed these
emotionally charged words:

“It may not be
Jim Crow anymore. Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school and
carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, Esquire.
And he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore because now he can wear the
protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.”

Dr. Smith must
have known that he would eventually get a reaction from this speech, even
though it was delivered 16 months ago. Despite his low opinion of conservatives
and the Fox News team, I came prepared to affirm Dr. Smith’s right to speak.
Further, I wanted to remind the nation that America has been repeatedly
transformed by a free pulpit. The important fruit of religious liberty is easy
to forget when someone is saying something we do not like. Further, I attempted
to offer a plan of action for the nation to begin to tackle the 800 pound
gorilla in the room – 400 years of racial turmoil in America.

Just before
the interview, I was surprised to learn that both Dr. Smith and the Washington
Post reported that the pastor had received over 100 death threats in the first
few days after Easter. While I believe Dr. Smith’s claims, I question whether
all of these threats were actually from conservatives. I would not put it past
some liberal activists to fake a percentage of these death threats in order to
stir the pot of controversy and cast all “right wingers” as racists.

As soon as I
heard about the death threats, though, my heart immediately went out to Pastor
Smith personally. I could not help but remember the impact these kinds of
threats has had on my family, church staff, and congregation over the last two
years or so because of my stand for traditional marriage in both DC and in
Maryland. It was hard to believe that simply upholding the institution of
traditional marriage and preaching biblical truth could put a 21st century
preacher in harm’s way. For my family, it felt like living in a war zone. 

In response to
all this “hubbub” over Dr. Smith’s views on race and the president’s failure to
find a church in the Washington, DC area, the liberal pundits took to the
airwaves and viciously attacked the conservative electorate – not just the Fox
Newsmakers.  Liberal media persons very openly called Fox News anchors
“birthers” who had demanded that the president produce an official birth
certificate; they also called the Tea Party movement and Donald Trump “racists.”

By the Friday
of our taping with Roland Martin, just five days after Easter, both sides of
the political aisles were accusing each other of playing “the race card.”
Against this backdrop, I found myself having to defend the conservative
movement. Further, I felt I was being asked a couple of subliminal question by
Roland Martin, “Who are the bigger racists: extreme right wingers or liberals?”
and, “When will we solve this nation’s race problem?” Our host, Roland Martin,
even used a recent interview that Christiane Amanpour conducted with
Franklin Graham as proof positive (in his mind) of the racism that he thinks
permeates the white evangelical community. Unfortunately, I found myself
defending the Bible-believing evangelical community for most of the program.

After the
show, an important explanation of where the nation is in terms of race relations
was put forth by Niger Innis, national spokesperson for the Congress On Racial
Equality (CORE).Many of my older readers recognize CORE as one of the nation’s
oldest civil rights organizations. My younger readers may remember that James
Farmer Jr. portrayed in the movie “The Great Debators” became the founder of
CORE. Mr. Innis made the following remarks about race in America today: 

“The questions
surrounding our President’s religion and place of birth are a reflection and
manifestation of an American populace that is simultaneously proud that it elected
its first black president, but still curious about this young man that came
virtually out of  nowhere to become the most powerful man on the planet.
Election 2008 was far less a normal election year, than it was a racial
cathartic moment for the American people…. Questions about our President,
regardless of how clumsy they look and conspiratorial they may seem are a
reflection, not of racism, but of generally unanswered questions.”

I believe that
Mr. Innis is correct in his analysis. A few rocky years are ahead of us as we
finally begin to work on the problem of race. In all deference to Dr. Smith, incendiary
sermons will not help us. Loving, pioneering church leadership that challenges
people to rise above their personal histories and comfort zones is the only
answer to racism in America.

The church is
the only institution capable of leading the nation into a genuine process of
racial reconciliation. The Southern Baptist Convention modeled this some years
ago. Their leaders apologized for racism and then began to plant multi-ethnic
churches in communities that church growth experts would have viewed as
marginal. As a result, the Southern Baptists have grown dramatically in black
and Hispanic membership. Their people are learning to live together and love
one another.

In closing,
let me give you a word of encouragement. We can change America on our watch.
Using Christian faith as a form of social glue can help us create real changes
in our communities. For more practical steps of action I would recommend
reading one of these two books: 1) Unity
by Tony Evans or 2) my book entitled The Truth in Black and White.  Becoming salt and light within
our culture is not for cowards and it requires personal commitment and personal

Semper FI,


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