You might think that leading evangelical schools like Wheaton College, my alma mater, would be beyond racial insensitivity. Sadly, no. On Feb. 28, at a football team gathering, a group of players acted out a skit parodying a scene from the Martin Lawrence and Will Smith movie Bad Boys II, where the players wore Ku Klux Klan robes and carried Confederate flags. The controversy quickly expanded beyond the bucolic suburban Chicago campus, as word spread over the following days and weeks through social media and major media outlets.
A related controversy arose at Moody Bible Institute over the defacing of posters promoting a student-led event where white privilege and the experience of minority students were discussed. What followed was a social media conflict (#MBIprivilege) that revealed deep pain, anger, misunderstanding, and tensions. While details differed between the two events, it was gut wrenching to see two respected Christian colleges show such racial ugliness.
In processing these incidents I came to four observations I hope will be helpful:
1) Details matter and so do motives. In a letter to the Wheaton community, the captain of the football team, who helped organize the event (an African-American man), revealed that the players’ aim was to be satirical and undermine racism, not insult minorities. Is that an excuse for insensitivity? Absolutely not. It also does not excuse a lack of maturity and awareness, but it does differentiate this event from what happened at the University of Oklahoma, where a fraternity joyously sang racial slurs. One is misguided. The other is hateful.
2) Sadly, such events are not surprising. It is the privilege of the comfortable Caucasian to believe American evangelicalism has moved beyond issues of race. When I was at Wheaton more than a decade ago I witnessed racial insensitivity. When I worked at Moody two years ago I saw the same.
. . .
3) They’re not even surprising at a Christian institution. The American church has never been ahead of society when it comes to race. The white church has remained silent on race, comfortable in our majority culture and the benefits of it. And what should we expect? These issues exist at numerous evangelical educational institutions, which in turn train our church leaders, and our best youth group kids are sent there. It is a vicious cycle of racial insensitivity.
4) We can see what must change and how difficult it will be. The first step to curing a disease is diagnosing it. These incidents reveal issues of heart, society, practice, and ignorance.
. . .
WorldMag.com is a paid subscription site, but if you sign up for it you can get 30 days free.