Progressive Evangelical leader Jim Wallis wants Christians to take on the challenges of racism in the United States. He spoke about race, religion and Black Lives Matter with the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement and Azusa Pacific University’s Transformational Urban Leadership Program program.
Organized by Azusa Pacific University’s Michael Mata, Wallis’ stop at CRCC was part of his West Coast tour for his new book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.
Los Angeles represents the future of the United States, with no single racial group making up a majority of the population, he noted.
Wallis also visited churches in Southern California that are following that trend by creating truly multiracial worship communities.
At the same time that Wallis’ faith gives him hope, the church is confronted with a problem that is foundational to the United States. “Black Lives Matter goes right to the heart of America’s original sin,” he said. Watch him define the problem:
Wallis compared his two sons to Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old shot by a neighborhood watch coordinator in Florida, and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old shot by police in Cleveland, Ohio because he had a toy gun in a playground. His sons’ athleticism and size have always been seen as assets, while in Trayvon’s and Tamir’s cases, these qualities made them seem threatening, Wallis pointed out. He did not have to fear that his boys could be shot by those who are supposed to protect public safety, and that is white privilege, he said.
He challenged the Christian leaders in the room to preach about race, cross each others’ thresholds and worship together.
Participants asked Wallis about the relationship between the church and the Black Lives Matter movement, noting that young activists increasingly are not a part of the church. Wallis proposed that by challenging “white Christianity,” churches might lose some people, but they also might win back this younger generation. He continues:
As a teenager, Wallis got his start in activism working across racial barriers in Detroit. He was troubled to discover that his own church upheld racial segregation and discouraged his activism. His vocation in life, he shared, is to bring faith into the public square and create social change.
“To privatize faith is what to do when you’re in charge, when you’re benefiting from the structures,” he said.
Jim Wallis of @sojogram says his vocation is to make #faith public. “God is personal, but never private. I’ve never been to a black church where God wasn’t personal, but never private. My tradition made God private, and that’s a heresy.” Read about and watch clips of his full speech at http://bit.ly/crcc-wallis.
Megan Sweas is the editor and director of communications with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.