My Journey in the Pursuit of Racial Healing

Mark and Jane Ritchie

By Mark Ritchie

When I followed God’s invitation into social justice work fourteen years ago, I began volunteering weekly at Rowan Helping Ministries in their Crisis Assistance Network (C.A.N.) program hearing requests for assistance from those who have less resources than will meet their basic needs. This is very humbling work as I quickly learned that “there but for the grace of God go I” and that just because someone has less doesn’t mean that they are less. It became obvious that no one asking for assistance wanted to be there but they had run out of other options. As an interviewer, I heard stories of hardships brought on by many, many factors for each individual. Yes, there we some bad choices included among the factors but always underneath those decisions was a feeling of desperation originating from failed relationships, both personal and societal. Wanting to assist in a more engaging way, I helped establish a life coaching program within RHM’s C.A.N. program that invited clients into a learning process to restore hope and to build their resources.  What I most learned through my 10 years in this work is how resilient people are in surviving within a social system designed to keep those at the bottom down, especially with black skin, and keep the fortunate up at the top, especially with light skin.  [Lesson 1: The system is designed to favor the powerful.]

This is most obvious when examined through the lens of skin color and its associated lie that skin color explains the difference between people. Skin color and other physical features vary among all of us and are a natural part of God’s love for diversity. We only need to look at all of the diversity in God’s creation to know that God must love diversity. The DNA diversity in all humans is only .1% which means we are all 99.9% genetically the same; truly there is only one human race! Our white European culture has taught the narrative that God created the different races, but I have learned that the idea of different human races is a manmade invention that began in 1444 by the Portuguese slave traders intentionally labeling all people of Africa worthy of enslavement because of their “beastliness” despite the fact that there were many African societies equal to those in Europe. The further designation of the “color-coded” races came in 1735 by a white European who, of course, put white at the top and black at the bottom to further justify the right to enslave Africans, all in the pursuit of economic greed.  [Lesson 2: Those in power determine the narrative that maintains their power.]

Now we’ve all come to know that slavery is a sin and it’s time that we see racism itself as a sin. By racism as a sin, I don’t mean just racist behaviors, I mean the very belief that there are different human races. There is certainly diversity of skin color depending on the amount of melanin present and diversity of other physical features too, but these are all found between every person. My skin tone was the lightest of my family and I was the only blonde child, and our lip thickness and nose shapes varied just as every family’s portraits show. It is our mental bias that has determined our racial thoughts, and it’s time to “turn around” as Jesus says from these beliefs that divide us. [Lesson 3: My beliefs are what get in the way of authentic relationship.]

Cultural differences certainly exist and are abundant in our nation formed by immigrants. Our nation’s history is full of intolerance of cultural difference and even the empowered white immigrants had strong hatred among their different national origins. But our country was founded on the white European belief of superiority and the first step was to drive out the indigenous Americans by labeling them as savages with no right to land or even life. The need for labor and desire for wealth brought enslaved Africans especially to the South for rice, cotton, tobacco, and lumber to meet the commercial desires of Europe. All of these non-indigenous Americans brought elements of their culture with them and depending on where they fell in the power structure, their culture was deemed either favorable or unfavorable. After the end of slavery, the Jim Crow laws protected the white supremacy and created the cultural environment of non-whites that has then been used against them as justification for their continued oppression. [Lesson 4: I have been complicit in maintaining this oppressive system, and I have the responsibility to participate in dismantling it.]

The Vision for Racial Healing adopted by St. John’s has three main components: the Confession that we have been complicit in the sin of racism and acknowledgment of our racial biases, our Commitments to opposing racism and dismantling the system it has created, and our Principles as Christians that hold us accountable to our commitments to form authentic relationships rooted in love. I invite you into your own journey to bring forward God’s vision for loving relationships. [Lession 5: I still have a long way to go in my journey.]

CLICK HERE to read The St. John’s Vision for Racial Healing



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