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Race, Poverty and the Church

This weekend I had the opportunity to watch several specials on Dr. Martin Luther King. I have always been fascinated by one man who in a matter of effectively 12 years helped frame and shape the debate over segregation in our nation.

I'm often amazed at how little white Americans actually understand about the history of racism in our country. Much of what I hear today among my suburban Caucasian friends as it relates to race actually is little more than soundbites from the dinner tables of racist parents or grand parents. Those who have actually studied the issue understand that we're barely 45 years removed from Dr. King's speech at the March on Washington, bombings of black churches and fire hoses unleashed on citizens. Those who actually take time to ask what is wrong in America's urban centers will see that many of our African American brothers and sisters have never had an example of a productive nuclear family in their neighborhood. We are sitting by while generations of children are learning that there is no hope.

I'm completely convinced that poverty is a vicious tool of the enemy to keep generations of people hopeless, hurting and angry. Since segregation in America we have had a trend where we've seen a migration of the two-parent family from the city to the suburbs. Those who can make it get out and the rest are forced to live with the results of Darwin's theory in action.
I have people ask me on a regular basis why I was able to make it out. There are many reasons including the determination of my young mother who decided that she was going to do whatever it took to get us out of that environment. She got her GED, Associates Degree and a good job with the state of Maryland. By sheer determination she worked hard and earned enough to pull us out of the poverty-rich environment of the city.

In addition to my mother's determination I was blessed to have around me several mentors who took a liking to me at one point or another. Something inside propelled me to learn and grow from those few lights I could find in the dark world. Finally one other aspect of my success has been the fact that I am white. Not admitting that race had something to do with my mentors desire to guide me would be foolish. Let's face it... it's easier to help people who look like yourself. I know for a fact that several of those who helped me over time were still dealing with the residue of racism on their own pallet and I don't recall them helping others with a different skin tone.

But where are we now? Are we in a better place? Where can we go in hopes to change America and fulfill the dream of Dr. King?

I believe that by and large there is progress. No one can deny that the amount of opportunity for minorities in America has grown exponentially. The last several Presidential administrations have had cabinet positions occupied by people of color and many states and towns across the nation have embraced minority leadership to some degree.
Lets also view these changes with sober judgement. We are at the very front of what needs to happen in America if we sincerely want to have equality. Equality does not mean that we will live in Utopia where we all have the same income but it should mean that a child's family line, neighborhood or race is not a factor in your success or failure.

I believe America and especially her Christian influence need to act soon because for every minority in the White House there are 10,000 children believing that they can never get a job that can lead them to owning a house. To many suburban whites desegregation should have fixed everything. Minorities should simply make better choices. Let me remind my friends... when a person doesn't have hope or an example to follow then that person will not have perspective of what 'should' be done. Instead many of our inner-city young people turn to drugs, gangs and violence for self-preservation. Those of us who are blessed must take a new view of things. We must see our blessings as a way to reach into poverty and grab the enemy by his throat.

What are some ways to do this?

1. Educate yourself- Become familiar with poverty in your city/town. Find out which areas have the need for you and your network of friends. Find out what opportunities exist for education, recreation, entertainment, etc. . Get to know the political players, budgets, police protection, etc. Find out what is already being done by the government and non-profit sector (especially church related). What you will find is that the government resources are strapped and/or apathetic. You will find that the ministries doing great work need some structure, volunteers and cash. They don't need your ministry philosophy... leave that in the suburbs.

2. Get active- Contact some of the players named above. Develop relationships with those already doing the work. Again your goal isn't to be superman... it's to become an advocate withing your social network.

3. Get Others Involved- Make a list of action items and run it by the people you want to help. Remember... they've been at this a while. Your list may be great for your suburban ministry but horrible for their environment. Make sure what you want to offer actually meets a need.

4. Follow Through- Speak to someone dealing in areas of poverty and they will tell you how depressing it is for people to claim they want to change the world but can't even show up to a prearranged work day. Don't promise what you can't deliver. If you say you will have 10 people to help clean up a facility... be sure you can follow through on that.

5. Stick Around- In order to make long-term change and provide examples that kids can follow we must develop relationships for the long haul. You have to get these kids in new environments with new perspectives on life. Please do not make the same commitment to this as you did your white ONE Campaign bracelet. We are talking about changing a culture of poverty, not raising money for a one-time campaign.

Racism is real and our churches are silent partners in keeping people down. Let's not accept this any longer. Let's start opening our hearts and providing hope to the least of these. One of Dr. King's greatest lines was this: "I have a dream ... one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

In the American Church I believe we should still champion this dream. We must ask ourselves how we're doing in teaching our people to embrace those of different colors, backgrounds and socioeconomic conditions. We have to stomp out the ignorance of the past and embrace a biblical view of the future. Heaven is not homogeneous and I for one want people to be comfortable when they get there. How about you?

I continue to pray: "Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven."

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Tuesday, April 08, 2008


At 4:37 PM, Blogger Happy Mommy said...

What an eye opening post, Tally! It's just so easy in middle class America to turn a blind eye to poverty...
We visited Baltimore this weekend and my kids we so amazed and shocked at the homeless people just roaming around in the early morning hours, I realized they are so sheltered, so protected, so blinded by the many toys and large quantities of hot food... They have no idea what is going on, in I'm sure every town in America. There is something wrong with that! And it's not just kids, we took my mother with us on our trip, she is 53 years old and had never seen a homeless person, my mother is a Christian, and has been in church her whole life and has always been sheltered in suburbia.
Thank you for your challenge and your post. I want to be involved with a church that is following Gods most important commandments, Love God with all your mind soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.


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