As our nation prepared to bid farewell to its first African-American president in 2016, a public debate had already begun about whether race relations in America had gotten better or worse during his tenure. Leaders within churches and the overall Christian scholarly community were largely silent during those public conversations. This was an important dialogue for both groups to engage in, because some would say that faith in God is evidenced not only by what people say they believe, but in how people do or don’t get along with people who are different from them.
Churches and Christian scholars may have been silent about the spiritual implications of this debate, due to an unspoken understanding of how Obama’s presidency challenged the normality of whiteness and its status as the standard for viewing all things in the United States. According to Drake University professor Jennifer Harvey, the normality of whiteness is “a mindset that assumes whiteness to be normative and superior.” This mindset is found not only in the political realm, but in theological schools, churches, and ministries throughout our nation.
In his new book “Healing Racial Divides: Finding Strength in Our Diversity,” Terrell Carter, a local pastor and professor, challenges the idea of whiteness as the standard by showing how it has negatively affected our nation, as well as the reputation of Christian faith and the church.
“The goal of the book is to provide insight into the idea of the normality of whiteness and the part it plays in facilitating and maintaining tension between certain people groups, primarily African Americans and whites, within the church,” Carter said. “We all know that there is tension surrounding race in our political discussions, but there’s also tension about race in the theological spectrum.”
Carter, a full-time seminary professor, said that tension is evident in the curriculum and books used, and not used, when teaching people how to think about God and ministry.
“What denominations and religious educational institutions think about race is clearly visible through the resources they employ to teach their people about God, God’s character, the Church, and how to do ministry,” Carter said. “If what’s taught is primarily through a lens of whiteness (ideas created by white men and sustained from a position of superiority or their preferred place in God’s kingdom) and from the vantage point of male-centered ideas, that gives you an idea of what they think about the equality of women and minorities. Minorities and women don’t have enough value to be included in the discussion.”
In “Healing Racial Divides,” Carter deals with the tension between what historically white denominations and institutions have taught about what Christian faith looks like versus how they have actually treated minority groups when they have been in relationship with them.
“In general, white evangelical leaders and churches have been willing to partner with minority cultures in order to see tangible improvements in race relations, but these efforts have been executed from a position where whites have been viewed as the experts and facilitators of reconciliation and minorities have been the benefactors of white wisdom and kindness,” Carter said. “We have to recognize that, call it out, and seek to be in relationship in a more equitable way.”
Carter attempts to do this by giving a historic overview of how Christianity has been used as a tool for both good and evil.
“I give an overview of the ways natural science, medicine and medical science, social science, legal systems, and media practices have been used as tools by certain Christian leaders to frame African American lives and culture in ways that were not always true or beneficial,” Carter said.
Carter’s book isn’t simply a criticism of white Christians. He hopes to use historic information to inform improved relationships between all people for the future.
“The underlying goal of this book is to have an open discussion about what has happened in the past, name the things that were wrong, and then start a healing and reconciliation process,” Carter said. “I give multiple suggestions for steps to help us not see those who are different from us as ‘other’ but instead as equally valuable members of God’s family so we can learn to work together for more common good.”
“Healing Racial Divides: Finding Strength in Our Diversity” can be purchased from Chalice Press at https://www.chalicepress.com/HealingRacialDivides or through book sellers. For more information about Carter, visit www.terrellcarter.net or follow him on Twitter @tcarterstl.