John Turner of George Mason University is teaching a course this semester on race and American Christianity. Over at The Anxious Bench he tells a great story about his own encounter with these issues. Here is a taste:
Jesus and I were the only white people in the room.
After my freshman year of college, I spent the summer on an uncompensated internship in the Washington, DC, area. (The experience gave me a lasting desire to be compensated for work performed). The internship did come with one perk — free housing in a cottage in the backyard of a suburban couple’s home. Being from up north, the cottage without air-conditioning was not exactly paradisiacal. It was a hot and somewhat lonely summer away from family and friends.
Nearly across the street was a small Baptist church, which I decided to visit that first weekend. If I had known it was a black church, I probably would have walked farther. It was an intimidating experience to be the only white person in a church building. At this church, there were four elders who sat in front, looking out at the congregation. I was certain they were thinking that I should not be there. I noticed a painting of a white Jesus on the wall, which I even then found somewhat odd. (It was Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, I later realized).
As it turns out, and as you could imagine, the congregants and elders made me feel quite welcome. I worshiped there all summer.
One week, the couple who owned the cottage went out of town. They let me drive their van to work each day (much more pleasant than the usual bus route), and they told me to feel free to drink the alcoholic beverages in the fridge. So one Saturday night, I drank a lot of them.
I was half an hour late to church the next morning. That day, the minister had invited me to lunch at Red Lobster. Over lunch, he told me about his decades-long struggle with alcoholism. The reason for my tardiness must have been obvious. I don’t think I was headed toward a decades-long struggle with the bottle, but I did feel God’s protective hand.
One week, I attended the church’s Wednesday night Bible study. I don’t remember very much about it, but I thought about it earlier this year when Dylan Roof attended a Bible study at an African American class and murdered nearly all of those in attendance.
This fall, I’m teaching a seminar on “Race and Religion in U.S. History.” I wanted to develop this seminar to enable me (and my students) to reflect many of the subjects within American history I find of enduring fascination: missions (ranging from early European-Indian interactions to African American missions to Africa), slavery, the civil rights movement, and Mormonism. I’m beginning the course with the Civil Rights Movement, then moving back in time and proceeding from white-native encounters to slavery to nineteenth-century Mormonism to contemporary Latino Catholicism. I’m also going to try to use InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a case study of how evangelical approaches to race have changed over the past four decades. Despite the title, it’s really a course about “Race and American Christianities.”
Read the rest here.