Larry Smith

Recently, I attended a gathering called “One Race One Blood,” the stated purpose of which was to address “the historical roots of racism, how evolutionary thinking has led to an increase in racism … and the Bible’s powerful answer to racism.” There were two headliners: Ken Ham, who is white, and Dr. Charles Ware, who is Black. (I should note that Ham explicitly rejects describing people by color, which is not all that uncommon among well-meaning people who endeavor to combat racism.) Ham is an internationally known author and Christian apologist who famously debated “Bill Nye the Science Guy” regarding creationism vs. evolution. He is also the founder of the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. Ware is a religious leader who spent many years as president of Crossroads Bible College, which merged with the College of Biblical Studies (CBS). He now serves as executive director of Grace Relations and special assistant to the president at CBS. Ware has authored or co-authored many books, including “One Race One Blood.” (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have known Dr. Ware for several years.) The speakers were each allotted two individual sessions of roughly 45 minutes, followed by a joint Q&A period.

Though I decided to attend the conference as soon as I heard about it, I was skeptical as to whether the speakers would address racism in more depth than the superficial manner in which most such events do. My concern was well-founded, if not completely predictive. For example, while I respect many of Ham’s religious views, his sessions generally veered from the advertised topic. He would discuss an unrelated (or tangentially related) topic for 10 minutes or so before appearing to remember that he was supposed to have been discussing race and racism. Further, it was abundantly clear that he does not often speak to predominately African American audiences. Ham was generally dispassionate regarding racism, but he “came alive” when railing against the social issues that bedevil white evangelicals (e.g., abortion, homosexuality and gender identity). Not surprisingly, the audience was roughly 75% white, 20% Black, and 5% “other.”

Dr. Ware’s presentation was, to put it mildly, quite different. Ware has a long history of addressing issues of race and racism in a forthright, though non-confrontational, style. He was very engaging and peppered his presentation with personal anecdotes. When Ham remembered the theme of the conference, he tended to speak from a 25,000 foot level. By contrast, Ware, who drinks from the same spiritual fountain as Ham, went straight to the heart of the matter. (The relatively few Blacks in the audience often responded audibly to Ware’s remarks.) He spoke from the perspective of one who has a close kinship with the subject matter rather than as someone who has the luxury of living a life that is virtually unaffected by racism. I will emphasize that I do not question Ham’s sincerity; he comes across as someone who genuinely abhors racism. However, Ham gave the impression of wanting to get past “race stuff” in order to deal with the “weightier” matters of theology, ontology, soteriology, hamartiology and eschatology. 

In short, Ham’s spiritual gaze was fixed beyond the sky to an ethereal future; Ware understood that people of color must endure an existential crisis on Earth — in the here and now. (Importantly, neither man spoke to the scourge of systemic racism, preferring to focus on cross-racial interaction, personal recognition of the sin of racial bigotry and personal transformation based upon faith in Jesus.) After sitting through the presentations, I was frustrated that there was no clear charge or challenge to dismantle the structural edifice of racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often said “the most segregated hour in this nation” is Sunday morning (i.e., during church). That continues to be the case. 

Though I am a devout evangelical Christian, it is impossible for me to overstate the following: Being a baptized believer in Jesus Christ is far from enough to eradicate racism. Slaveowners usually were devout “Christians.” So were their progeny who created and protected Jim Crow, sharecropping, “separate but equal” laws and domestic terrorism against African Americans. A book that I am reading speaks eruditely and eloquently to this issue. It is called, “Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All.” Author Bryan Loritts, a Black evangelical who was educated at a predominately white religious university, explores the tension between being a white evangelical vs. the racially fraught history of “white evangelicism.” (Think slavery, the KKK, etc.) Black people did not create America’s “original sin”; therefore, we cannot atone for it. I am merely “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” — one of many. I’m hopeful that our warnings will be heeded while there’s still time. 

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com

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