Friday, August 25, 2006

The Now and the Future of Young Black Children and Families

While I continue to think and work on my last post, a resolution to examine my own life that I might be more godly, a good friend sent me an article by Juan Williams called "Banish the Bling: A Culture of Failure Taints Black America." In the article, Williams comes to the defense of Bill Cosby, who at a 2004 NAACP 50th anniversary event of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS (the landmark school desegregation case) blasted those African Americans who are not "living up to their part" of the Civil Rights bargain by opting out of educational, economic and social opportunities in favor of that lie called "bling" and "gangsta chic." Cosby was on the money and finally a national journalist, leader, thinker has come out and said so!

What I found interesting about Williams' article, beyond the almost-two-years-late backing of Cosby, was his proposal for remedying the current crisis in African-American family and community life. In the latter part of the article, Williams writes:

Where is the civil rights groundswell on behalf of stronger marriages that will allow more children to grow up in two-parent families and have a better chance of staying out of poverty? Where are the marches demanding good schools for those children -- and the strong cultural reinforcement for high academic achievement (instead of the charge that minority students who get good grades are "acting white")? Where are the exhortations for children to reject the self-defeating stereotypes that reduce black people to violent, oversexed "gangstas,"minstrel show comedians andmindless athletes?

In order to face this century's class battles, young minds need the self-confidence that comes from examples of inspiring historical personalities, such as a black woman born into slavery who made herself a national leader, Sojourner Truth, or a black man living under rank segregation, A. Philip Randolph, who defied corporate power to break segregation in organized labor. Frederick Douglass had to teach himself how to read before standing up to defeat slavery.

These examples should empower young people to believe in themselves and to organize across racial lines and build institutions with a solid footing in the nation's political and economic power. This is real black culture, and it is based on strong families creating determined, self-reliant young people.

With seventy-percent out-of-wedlock birth rates; misogynistic, misogamistic and misanthropic attitudes galore; and serious rates of educational failure and unemployment, Williams falls back on proposing more marches and historical role models.

I suppose I'm fine with marches if they can focus public attention on the crisis. Though that seems quite passe and ineffective in this day. The worn-off novelty and shock value of marches, not to mention the apathy of most people, probably make this a highly symbolic but finally impotent strategy.

And I found Williams' recommendation of historical role models a bit naive or short-sighted. Naive if he thinks accumulating facts about 200-year old figures is the key to self-confidence and self-efficacy. I've spent my time in rites of passage programs and other efforts that have this line of thinking as their basis, only to see very marginal returns. Self-esteem wasn't meant to shoulder the weight of an entire community, and dead leaders can't lead a contemporary exodus from self-destruction.

But perhaps Williams' recommendation of role models is just short-sighted. Maybe he didn't go back far enough... two thousand years... to a Jewish baby born in a stable... who lived, not an exemplary, but a perfect life... who gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for all of His people... who conquered, not just unjust civil rights statutes, but death and the grave and sin... who satisfied the wrath of God against repentant sinners... who rose from the grave three days later... who rules from on high and will return to judge the living and the dead.

Perhaps Williams' suggestion to look to someone was correct; perhaps he just chose the wrong Someone.

What has all this to do with church? Well, there are a great many that argue the Christian church must be involved in fixing these social ills. Involved? I think so. But the more interesting question is "Involved how?"

The problem is when they argue the involvement must take the form of essentially secular political and humanistic strategies for fixing what is without doubt a spiritual and eternal problem. What we need are not more marches on Washington, but men who march to the pulpit Sunday-after-Sunday and clearly hold out the Gospel of abundant life in Christ Jesus! We don't need to worry about waging campaigns against hip hop music; we need to define that lifestyle offered by the Destroyer of souls over and against the gospel of changed lives through regeneration and new love for holiness found in Christ. Our greatest need is not to build institutions for national and political power; our greatest need is to build the Church and to demonstrate the glorious bounty of life inside the kingdom of God!

Lastly, we don't need a race-based strategy for fixing these issues. That's part of the problem. We need a strategy premised on the fact that all men are created in God's image, that all men were created from the same blood, and that all men share an eternal destiny--to appear before the throne of God to give an account for the deeds done in the body. Which means, this is a problem for which we must all be concerned. Certainly predominantly African-American churches must be steadfast with gospel action. But so too must predominantly white churches and Asian churches and Hispanic churches. We need every able Christian posted outside the gates of hell to snatch from the fires as many souls as we can without respect to race, ethnicity, or national origin.

I'm intrigued by the title of Williams' new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It. I'm buying it just for the title. But, I am surely to be disappointed by the "what we can do about it" proposals if they stop short of the root problem. We need a strategy far bigger than anything Williams or Cosby has proposed so far. We need a strategy as magnificent and invincible as the Cross of Jesus Christ, preached with Spirit-filled power, applied to the hearts of hearers with the omnipotent aid of God. Our issues are that big.


Shawn Abigail said...

As a white Canadian from a middle class background, I can't claim to understand the fullness of the African American experience. But I do know a little bit about the human condition and the heart of all men, and if racial equality means anything it means all men are made of the same material, with the same weaknesses and the same potential.

It is too much to expect, as some social conservatives do, for people who have been marginalized and impoverished for generations to pull themselves up by the boot straps and make something of themselves. It happens on occasion, but most people need some sort of help. But at the same time none of us should fall into the victim/entitlement mentality that says everyone else is to fault for my lack of success and so the world owes me a living.

Any people (whether viewed along racial, cultural or national lines) are only as great as the decisions made by the individuals. So if a man finds it easy to leave his wife and children, that people will suffer the consequences. Likewise if a teenage girl decides chastity is of little value, that people will suffer for it. And each day, individuals make a hundred choices about honesty and virtue and diligence, and the people-group those individuals belong to will rise or fall based on those decisions.

Now perhaps it is easier for people who are poor and marginalized to make poor choices, but the fact of the matter is we are all made from the same material and all of us have a propensity to make bad decisions. In fact, even more than bad decisions, we all have a propensity to sin. That's the bad news. But the good news is that it makes the central problem understandable. Through Christ's sacrifice, the main problem we all face is dealt with. Going forward, we all have issues we need help with, but if the biggest problem is dealt with, the others are managable.

All those who belong to Christ have a duty to share this good news. All of us are thankful for the progress which has been made towards racial equality in the last 50 years. A simple respect for the dignity God has invested in all mankind makes us grateful. But those who are seen as leaders, and particularly those who are called to be church leaders must not lose their focus on dealing with mankind's biggest problem. And for all mankind, all races, all nationalities that problem is the same; sin. Take your stand for racial equality and preach the Gospel with all the strength God gives.

"I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men" - Richard Baxter

Anonymous said...