Pastor Dave Beelen of Madison Square CRC who recently taught Theological Education for Formation in Ministry to many first year students wrote an article titled, “Radical Depravity.” In this article, excerpted from a longer essay, he talks about some of his experiences and reflections on racism and the church’s role in addressing it. Pastor Beelen read Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s book The Heart of Racial Justice in which she writes about “The Hip White Person Identity.” Beelen took her description and tailored it to his own experience. This is how he would describe that false, depraved identity:
“In our day of political correctness and racial tolerance, some of us white folk base our identity on being the white person who ‘gets it.’ We would like to be perceived as hip, cool folks who can be trusted by people of color. We occasionally order food from Sandmann’s and if we voted, we probably voted for Barack Obama mostly because he was black. Through our language, clothing, mannerisms and social networks, we suggest to others that we have understood our white privilege, rejected it and now are committed to giving our lives to serve people of color in their quest for justice and equality. We know institutional racism when we see it and we fight it.
We have black friends and want people to know that. It proves that we are not as bad as ‘them;’ the white ones who don’t get it. This bends our relationships to people of color. You see, deep down, we know our hearts and we know our shameful national history of racism and we want black people to resolve our deep unspoken guilt. Now they have to bear two burdens: the burden of living in a society that has, for centuries, treated their race as if it were a disease, and now they also have to carry the burden of the white person’s guilt. And since we are susceptible to ‘guilt by association,’ we don’t associate with those unwashed sinners who go to all-white churches out in the suburbs. We are better than that. Too much of our sense of worth is based on our acceptance we receive from people of color. Truth be told, too much of our reason for coming to an ethnically mixed church is to prove to whoever is watching that we are hip, racially ‘with it.’ We would do nothing that would jeopardize that standing.
Being wrapped up in that identity means trying to distance yourself from whatever European heritage may be left in your family. If you have a Dutch heritage, like myself, you hate the phrase “if you’re not Dutch you’re not much” more than any other ethnically based phrase you have ever heard. Whiteness has become, for us, only a symbol of injustice and unearned privilege.
People of color know something is wrong. After all, they have had to struggle for generations with the culture telling them that God made a mistake in making them of color. [At the same time,] the hearts of black folks are as in need of radical grace as white hearts are, […]
This was a devastating critique for me. It pointed out three truths for me: First, I had not grappled deeply enough with the effects of sin and pride in my own life and second, and so very related to that first revelation, I saw how much I needed a Savior and third, people of color have as much of a need for a Savior as I do; the truth of radical depravity for all ethnic groups is essential to a life lived in touch with reality.” […]
Racism is first a heart matter.
Racism is sin.
It is deepest depravity.
And every society is racist until it comes into contact with the gospel.
Not religion, gospel.
Religion can actually make racism worse.
It often does.
That’s because religion is about trying to improve our already “pretty good” lives.
Religion is good advice
But we don’t just need good advice.
Good advice is for people who, morally and spiritually speaking, have caught the common cold.
But we have cancer.
If fact, we are worse; we are dead in our sins.
That takes more than a little medicine, or education.
It takes resurrection; it takes being born again.”
By Pastor David Beelen