A little less than 8 years ago, this country was celebrating the election of its first African-American President. A select few proclaimed that Barack Obama’s victories were a signal marking the end of racism in this country. In contrast, other voices are now proclaiming him as the most divisive President in U.S. history, and tensions between people of different origins and skin tones are seemingly on the rise because of his leadership or lack thereof. The atmosphere seems to have changed and tension fills the air. Attitudes and ideologies are being revealed to us at a rapid-fire rate. We are apparently seeing people more accurately for who they are, what they think, and how they feel. Biases are not being hidden; sometimes they are not even being denied. Anger and frustration that have been bubbling beneath the surface are now bursting forth and showing no signs of subsidence.
I thought of numerous ways to approach the subject of class and race in America when presented with the theme of this month’s issue of the Mount. The thought that we are living in the last days or that these are dark times crossed my mind. I supposed that maybe I should help our readers change their perspective and see our present as exceptionally bright times because the truth can only be seen in the light. Then I considered writing about why the light is shining so brightly and informing my fellow believers that social media and digital technology have provided the light that we should be giving to the world and are focused on our humanity without the benefit of God’s love and the redemption of Christ. Maybe that is why much of what we see is ugliness and the only thing we can feel is anger or judgment that is not tempered by love. Then I remembered that we are considering and evaluating a complex set of relationships. The concept of race relations is central to this theme
Race relations in America are and always have been experiencing patterns and exhibiting qualities much like those of any dysfunctional person-to-person relationship. If we hope to see change, we must employ attitudes and methodologies that foster an environment for such change. Looking at our problems systemically, through the lens of family therapy counseling, may shed some light on how things can be improved and maybe why they can’t be.
“Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” (Ephesians4:25 NIV)
Most people conveniently find ways to credit the other person in a relationship when things go wrong. Blaming others is a habit that develops quite naturally. After all, it is easy to see how others contribute to our mutual problems and see ourselves as victims when each of us comprehends the world from our own unique perspective. But if we explain our problems in linear terms (action A causes action B), then we have oversimplified human interactions and circumstances and ignored the reality of mutual influence. Viewing our interactions and subsequent problems in a circle allows us to see the portion of the equation that we can control and minimizes blaming. Focusing on each member of the family while simultaneously assessing the familial system is useful for understanding people and their relational problems. That approach to healing can be applied in some form to our race-based relationship troubles.
However, the relationship(s) between races here in this country has additional complexities that require a different approach. Those complexities are very similar to an environment of domestic violence and abuse within a family. Sometimes therapy and reconciliation take a backseat to safety. When one family member is willfully harming the other and then trying to convince the wounded individual that they are the reason for their own abuse, it is wise for a therapist to consider creating an opportunity for separation. We have to think about what reconciliation versus separation would mean for us within the context of race.
The parallels and analogies I am drawing between race and family relations may or may not be obvious seem logical, but please bear with me. We who occupy this country share a last name that identifies us as a family–American. We also share a complex history that makes it hard for us to accept the fact that we are a family. Even thinking of ourselves as neighbors in an ever-shrinking world seems to present a challenge. Then again, maybe we just don’t care for our neighbors or our family very much. Regardless of how we feel about each other, it is imperative that we see ourselves in a relationship with each other. It is an undeniable fact that we exist in a space where the suffering of a few brings down the quality of life for many. That is apparently not enough for us to give empathy from either side of the divide. While it is a disheartening reality also an understandable one, because this family did not come together and begin from mutual feelings of love and affection for one another.
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians5:14 NIV)
As a therapist and counselor, I must ask my clients open-ended questions in order to identify what they feel and why they feel it. As a writer and relationship educator, I will ask a few open-ended and close-ended questions to give you some things to think about after your reading. If you represent the member of our family that has been abused, are you willing to reconcile or do you need to sever the relationship? If you must sever it, what would be the cost of doing so? Can you willingly admit to tearing down the family if you have played the role of the abuser in our family? If you stood idly by while one of our family members belittled, threatened, or harmed one of us can you acknowledge that you contributed to the family’s problem(s)? If we(Christians and the Church)are to be the light and salt of this world, then why does the world look and taste the way it does today? Are we willing to take the circular view and deal with our share of the blame? How would Christ feel about your responses to these questions? Does thinking about how He would feel about your answers change how you feel?