We Are Family

Through a quirk of fate I am tasked with writing the piece that posts on Spectrum on Thanksgiving. I am sure that I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy Thanksgiving. It is by far my favorite holiday of the year. Not only does it have the best food but, for me, this holiday is the one that I most closely connect with the concept of family. I have vivid memories of my childhood and teenage years, when the family would descend on my house like a swarm and we would spend the day laughing and eating and watching football. I take solace in the fact that my parents don’t live far away from my budding family even now, and so we make the drive almost every year to spend this time with my parents. These next few days will be a joy for me and Thanksgiving is one of those rare moments when we all share the same space for a while. I absolutely love it.

Yet as good as I feel about my blood family at this time of year, I find myself distressed about my spiritual family. Both in real life and online, I have found my church’s response to the racially-tinged events of the past couple of years to be sorely lacking.[1] More than a few of my posts in this space over the last few years focused on racial issues. This is not because I’m seeking to fulfill the stereotype of the “angry Black man” or because I have some great desire to overly fixate on race.[2] I wrote because I wanted my family to know what it felt like to experience these things. I wanted to give a sense of what thoughts exist when these events happen, and why the pain and suffering feels so real even when the people most directly affected are not tied to me by blood.

These unjustified deaths of Black men and women affect me so viscerally because of the fictive kinship I feel with each victim. So many Black people see each other as family. I think we create these bonds for a couple of reasons. Because Black people are in the minority, the bonds of family that we create in social spaces exist simply for commonality, comfort, and caring. We want to look out for each other because we share the similar experience of being Black in this society. But I think fictive kinship amongst Black people goes a little further than just that. The legacy of slavery means that Black people from across the diaspora do not know the extent of their family.[3] Therefore there is fictive kinship amongst many Black people because in an unconscious way we realize that we might actually be related and that slavery and racism stripped the knowledge of that relation from us. This understanding makes every Black person my brother, sister, uncle, aunt, or cousin.

But the fictive kinship I feel with each Christian (and especially with each Adventist) is just as real and important to me as the relational feeling I have for other Black people. The familial bond that I have with each follower of Christ is also based in blood. We treat this bond as real too. We call each other brother and sister at least partially in recognition of the truth that every believer in Christ is family. I take that reality and the pursuant title seriously. Calling me brother means I have the responsibility to each member of the family to treat them as I would want to be treated and to always remember that we are family under the auspices of Christ first. What has shocked me most about some of the responses to my pieces the last couple of years is not that people disagreed. I expect that. What has shocked me is how unloving the criticism has been.[4] I continue to be amazed at how many of these types of responses lacked compassion.[5]

My prayer this Thanksgiving is that we see the family that extends beyond the dinner tables so many of us will sit around today. I pray that the Friend that sticks closer than a brother may cause us to treat each other like the family His sacrifice allowed us to be.

[1]By racially-tinged events I mean the rash of African-Americans shot by the police, the election of Trump, and the rise of the alt-right, specifically the riot in Charlottesville, to name a few.

[2]Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. My official research interest is religious liberty and I would prefer to focus on that.

[3]As an aside this point always hits me whenever I watch Black people in ancestry.com commercials.

[4]Both of me and the deceased.

[5]For example, one person in a private message accused me of seeking pity when I mentioned the idea of compassion. Another person, after explaining to me that you can’t have a good relationship with Christ if you have a criminal record, told me that he wasn’t concerned for any of the victims because they were not Christian.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/jason-hines.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8402
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if we pray—Our Father which art in Heaven, We are saying we all are kin.

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@tjzwemer Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall
enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth
the will of my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 7:21

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sister sledge’s We Are Family is one of my favorite songs from way back…the original version was very big in the gay bars in Worcester, Boston and Provincetown in the early 80’s…

one of my favorite more recent versions of We Are Family is by the disco fries, teaming up with reigns (the disco fries are originally from boston)…this is the version, and others like it, that you’ll often hear at pride and new year’s festivals now…

I hope your thanksgiving was a joyful and pleasurable one (burp!).

But this paragraph shows why there is a chasm between some blacks and whites. You do have a bond with one another that you do not have with white folks. I have black members that were and are very dear to me. I am close to them, respect and love them, even caring for some of their needs, even needs that their own families have refused to care for. But I do not share the thing you talk about in this paragraph. I never can. Therefore, there is a separation between us that in a certain sense can never be bridged. It is not racism, but that you have a shared experience that I have not had. And an experience that you share because you were treated in a certain fashion by the white race.

I had nothing to do with slavery, or any other black oppression, but because I am white, I am “other”.

I don’t really see an answer to this.

I enjoy observing the fellowship and openness that some of you have with one another, the different hand greetings and all, and even envy it. Whites deal with each other differently than you do with each other, because we do not share this thing you have, and have different cultural norms. And it is not that we do not want to share but cannot: we are not black. And some whites that attempt to share it, look clumsy and even offensive, sort of trying too hard.

I wonder if you can understand that and not attribute it to racism.

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I don’t understand the difference. I could say the same with White, Asian, Black and Native Americans.

When God made man out of the dust of the ground–this potentially included different soil colors. All skin colors, facial and physical differences–were built into the DNA original code from earths soils. Although more limited in shape then the plant or animal kingdom, humanity was created for diversity. In this diversity we all have one Father and Creator. Perhaps the Sabbath worship was given to bring humanity–male, female and all races into a family connection. Sadly we all chose to worship apart–mostly white, Asian, Hispanic, English or black churches. It seems to me that what we say, we love and tolerate each other, yet we still choose our separateness. Overall we gravitate toward that.

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I hope your Thanksgiving was a happy one. I have spent a couple of days considering a response to you. Much of what you wrote in your reply evidences a staggering amount of ignorance of race, racism, and race relations. Unfortunately I am not surprised. I was prepared today to write a much longer response unpacking that last sentence, but to be quite candid, going through that again makes me tired just thinking about it. (I think in general White people do not understand how draining and soul-wrenching these conversations are for Black people. I often find that for White people this is an intellectual exercise, while for me it is literally my life.) If you want to know more about it, just read my previous posts, both here and on my personal blog.

A much simpler task would be to answer the question implied in your response (but which you interestingly, and I think tellingly, did not actually ask). You seem to accept that you will always be the other, and that the chasm that you describe between the races cannot be bridged. Nothing could be further from the truth. As you imply, there are “some” White people who bridge the gap. What are they doing that “some” White people are not? As with many things in life, the answer is simple, but not easy. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things White people could do to bridge the racial divide -

  1. Do some homework - absorb the experiences of the oppressed from the mouths and pens of the oppressed. Not just the stories but also the ideas. Immerse yourself in the thought process of those for whom racism is a real and painful part of everyday life. Try to reach out with your heart as well as your brain.

  2. Don’t be defensive - In a conversation about race, there will be many things said that will rub White people the wrong way. In fact, I’m pretty sure I said one in the 1st paragraph. Instead of being upset about it, try and figure out why that Black person (in this case me) said what he said, and what he might mean. What research will you need to do in order to find the answers? What is he saying behind his words? What can I learn and take responsibility for in what he’s saying?

  3. Admit your privilege - Privilege has become a dirty word but all it means is that regardless of whether you are involved in the active oppression of Black people, there are ways in which you benefit from being White. Some of those ways are small, some are big, but they do exist. Be cognizant of that and willing to admit its truth. Here’s a helpful article - https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black_us_578c0770e4b0b107a2415b89

  4. Listen and believe - Don’t just hear the oppressed. Believe them. Esteem their analysis of racism as better than your own, as I think Paul would say. Put your ego to the side. Put your perspective to the side. See life as they see it. It just might be possible that their vantage point allows them to see things that you don’t see. (If your first thought after that sentence was, “But my vantage point allows me to see things that they don’t see,” then you’re on the wrong track.)

I could say more, but like I said, this work is exhausting. I hope you prayerfully consider what I’ve written here. I think these are good first steps in the process. I know White people who do this work painstakingly, checking themselves and correcting themselves along the way. I don’t doubt that it’s difficult as I have to engage in it myself in the areas of life where I hold privilege (specifically gender and sexuality), but I find the process worth it.

God Bless,

Jason

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After:

and,

only a mea culpa would suffice as appropriate behavior…

So here is what I did: .

  1. I read in part Ta-Nehisi Coates’: “The Case for Reparations”, Coates is an excellent writer (I have read some of his columns before, but found them rather biased, and even racist. This was a well written well reasoned essay) who makes a good case, but paints a pretty dark picture of America, And in his assessment of previous reparations, fails to mention the most significant one, that laid on Germany after WWI that lead to the rise of Hitler. German resentment brought the Nazi revolution.

Here is another quote from his piece: "The Early America economy was built on slave labor."
This is partially true. But there was a part of it that was not. And many early Americas opposed slavery.
It is just not a fact that all whites were or are guilty of such things, then or now.

  1. I read the link to the post on white privilege.

I admit my white privilege; there are advantages to being white However,I don’t feel I have to apologize for it. I recognize that I have something that my tenants, for instance, do not have. Instead of walking around with my head down as if I am guilty, I treat them with the kindness and respect that I know they do not get elsewhere, etc.

I considered giving some homework etc., but such an act by a white man would be considered, you know, insensitive.

You actually did not get the thrust of my first post. It had nothing to with race, but life experience, something another cannot really fully enter.


I had a hard time with the post I just wrote last noc. And it was not enough

Coates description of the terrible tribulations of blacks during and after slavery is almost beyond description. A horrible episode in American history. A dark blot. And the link about white privilege notes that slights continue to this day, though nothing like the past.

So, I think the last post was too glib, with not enough depth.

I would say a few more things but will wait to think a bit more on the matter.