Note: This is a copy of an email I sent to my church family following the viral picture of five Creston High School football players posing in a racially offensive manner.
Crest Baptist Church family and friends,
You have to have been totally disconnected from media and public engagement to not have heard about the picture that has circulated on local and international social, print and broadcast media of five Creston High School students with replicas of KKK hoods, a burning cross, Confederate flag and rifle. It is a shocking and embarrassing image, knowing that it originated in Creston. These are young men who serve as role models and representatives of their school and our community. The school has initiated disciplinary action against these young men and my prayer is that any further action (if necessary) will be appropriate and yet, understanding and merciful.
I spoke very pointedly to the church in the wake of the Charleston protests a few weeks ago and our response to racism (go to 5:34 for that relevant portion: Our Witness in a Hostile World (1 Peter 3:8-17)
Regarding the minors who posed for this photo, I would surmise that they had no idea of how inflammatory their action would be. Regarding the families of these young men that I know, they are upstanding community leaders, who do not espouse and encourage racism in their children. If any of us were to be honest with ourselves and others, we would admit that adolescence was a time of trying out new thoughts and activities that previously were off-limits due to the nature of parental oversight. Even as a kid growing up in a Christian home, I failed in ways that were not in keeping with my training and out of bounds with my upbringing as I navigated the path of adolescence in the 60s-70s. Some of my actions are embarrassing to think about today. I would hate to be trying to navigate the teen years in today’s culture. All of this is to say…yes, what was done was wrong, but we need to exercise love and mercy, knowing that many of us did stupid things, and “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
Let me address two sides of prejudice from my own family’s perspective. Most would say, “Pastor Chuck is not prejudiced.” Indeed, my daughter is married to an African-American, and I love my son-in-law and my two bi-racial grandchildren (and the one in heaven waiting to see Papa). However, because I grew up in the “dirty South,” I am amazed at how the observation of a black/white couple can resurrect feelings of prejudice and demeaning stereotypes. CRAZY! I did not have a family that taught me to be prejudice, but I grew up in a culture that was highly prejudicial. Some of that is still in me and raises its ugly head occasionally. I have to deal with that and confess that to God.
Secondly, those who have not been engaged in meaningful relationships with people from other cultures have no sensitivity to how it is to live as a Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc., in our culture. My son-in-law looks in the mirror everyday with the realization that he is a black man living in a white culture. I don’t think about my whiteness, but those of color feel racism explicitly and implicitly every day. My son-in-law is on staff at a private Texas university and working on his PhD. He is well-respected by his colleagues and is a sought after conference speaker. However, because of his minority status, it is not uncommon for white people on campus to ask if he is a student athlete. Now, a white man might think that is a great way to be identified. But, to my son-in-law it speaks of a system in which the first assumption is that the only reason a black man would be on such a elite campus is for his ability to perform before an audience of sports-crazed white people.
I write this first to say, keep your conversations loving and understanding. Don’t judge or condemn. Take the position of a peacemaker and not a flame thrower. Secondly, be in prayer! Pray for these young men (even if you don’t know their names). Pray for their emotional well-being as people take sides for and against them. Pray for their families to exercise continued wisdom and guidance. Pray for the school and community to know how to handle the topic of racism in our midst. Pray for yourself, knowing that even as much as we would deny it, there may be some resident prejudice that influences our interaction with those different than ourselves. Pray for our church, that we will be a beacon for racial harmony.
I love you, Crest family!