Editor’s note: If you’ve ever visited our Staff page, you’ll know that Lanie is pursuing a Master’s in Christian apologetics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She also writes and edits for Be the Bridge, a nonprofit that provides resources for Christians pursuing racial unity in their churches and communities.
This series was first published exclusively via the Faithfully Magazine newsletter. Each of the six parts, in addition to the introduction, were made available on faithfullymagazine.com and appear as they did in the newsletter, unless specifically noted. Jump to the bottom to access other parts of this series.
I grew up 30 minutes from Shiloh, Tennessee, the location of the Civil War’s famous Battle of Shiloh.
As a child, I remember attending a couple of the battle’s reenactments at Shiloh National Military Park.
Actors depicted scenes of gaiety, as if “a good time was had by all” during the war.
Before the annual reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh, I remember ambling around Confederate campsites and even playing poker (as best as a child knows how to play poker) with Confederate soldiers. White women in hoop skirts floated between tents with fans in hand, waving away summer’s humidity.
The reenactment seemed more like an attempt to glorify the Civil War and preserve “Southern heritage.”
However, as a Southerner from Mississippi, I feel now that this is not the “heritage” we should want to preserve but instead lament as a reminder of former sins.
This raises the question of how we learn about our history and heritage. Who are the storytellers and heroes of history?
It is likely you received a whitewashed view of history from grade school and through college. By “whitewashed,” I mean that you mainly learned about the history of White Americans as told through the perspectives of White Americans.
That’s a lot of whiteness.
For example, I always learned that the Civil War began over states’ rights and the economy. You could state its motivations in those terms, but my home state of Mississippi’s “Declaration of Succession” leaves little room for nuance:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product… by an imperious law of nature, none but the [B]lack race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”
This is why we should expand our knowledge of history. We should read history from the perspectives and narratives of ethnicities outside of our own, and we should scrutinize the angles from which we receive history and the heroes they exalt.
Furthermore, it is equally important to learn about the history of our context.
The Christian in America does not have to look far in his or her context to notice the divide that still exists between races on Sunday mornings. A great place to start in order to understand why the church seems segregated is Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson.
Another of my personal contexts as a church member and seminary student is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a denomination founded in 1845 after splitting from Northern Baptists over the latter’s refusal to support missionaries who were slaveholders.
An awareness of this history makes me more empathetic toward my Black brother’s or sister’s hesitancy to attend anything related to the SBC.
Think about your own context. Have you ever questioned why people, when asked about racial disparities in your community, respond with “that’s just the way things are?”
Do “White flight” schools exist? Does the company you work for only have White leadership, yet many people of color are employees? Do children of color sit separately from White children in the cafeteria? Is your city a major city for refugee resettlement? What are the stories of indigenous people where you live? Does your university have a history of discrimination based on race?
We do not often think of grasping a fuller picture of history as a practical way of loving our neighbors.
Becoming aware of the history of our country contexts helps us better understand our Christian brothers’ and sisters’ experiences and perspectives, and advocate for change where needed.
Some questions to consider…
- Reflect on how you learned about history as a child. Did you read books or attend events about history that only told one side of history’s story?
- Do you know about your community’s racial past? How can you learn more about the history of your context?
- In what ways is your community divided? Have you ever questioned why?
- Make a list of historical topics about your country or community of which you know very little. Begin to look for books and other resources that can help you gain a fuller understanding of history and its effects today.
Share your responses with us using the hashtag #FMfieldnotes!
Field Notes on Racial Reconciliation:
- #FMFieldNotes: Introducing ‘Field Notes on Racial Reconciliation’ Series
- #FMFieldNotes 1: Confronting Our Sins of Racism, Prejudice and Bias
- #FMFieldNotes 2: Doing Our History Homework
- #FMFieldNotes 3: Listening and Learning from People of Other Ethnicities
- #FMFieldNotes 4: Embracing Racial Reconciliation as a Gospel Issue
- #FMFieldNotes 5: Resisting a False Dilemma Between Systemic Problems and Poor Choices
- #FMFieldNotes Part 6: Starting or Joining the Conversation of Race
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