Friday, September 30, 2011

Race matters

A few weeks ago the film The Help hit American movie theaters. It's the story of a young, intelligent, unprejudiced, Caucasian woman in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60's who becomes a voice for the many disenfranchised African-American housekeepers in the South by writing an expose of their lives and oppressive culture. One thoughtful, critical review of the film can be found here.

In spite of The Help's valiant attempt to promote positive race relations by bringing us up close and personal with the plight of mid-century, Southern, African-American housekeepers, the film ultimately falls short of its fence-mending aspirations as it seeks to weave in Disneyesque, cutsey moments and humor which detract from the film's serious content. Also, numerous aspects of the film are simply historically implausible, like a book critiquing Southern white culture ever being carried and promoted in Jackson bookstores in 1964 (as the film displays). The Help also comes off as very two-dimensional, portraying the lead character as a freedom fighter who has completely left her racial prejudices behind (or never had any). Yet, as Christians we know too well the baggage, racial and otherwise, we all carry and use to subvert racial harmony. This film lacks the depth, complexity and seriousness which American race relations actually entails. Sadly, the result, I fear, is that many of my Southern, Christian friends who may need to apply the gospel more deeply to their racial prejudice, will see this film as just another attempt of ignorant, Northern, Hollywood-types trying to stick their noses in an issue they know little about. In that way, The Help, may in the long run do more harm than good.
Rather than a superficial, entertainment-driven film about race, what we need is a thoroughly biblical, honest and theologically robust treatment of racism from a Southern born and bred Christian who's been surrounded by bigotry, felt it in his own heart and stood on the other side as the white father of an African-American daughter. That's exactly what John Piper gives us in Bloodlines. In this just released book, Piper tells his own story of growing up in a Christian home in South Carolina in the 50's and 60's. He also takes us into the pages of Scripture to see how God's great story to create for Himself a pan-racial church from every tribe, tongue, people and nation has the gracious power both to expose our hidden (or not so hidden) racism, and redeem our racially prejudiced private stories. Whether you were born in Scandinavian Minot and think you have no racial prejudice or come from the deep South and think you're beyond it, if you're a Christian in America, you need this book. So do I.

1 comment:

desert rat of Morgan said...

Being a dedicated "Piperian" (heard that term for the first time last summer), I planned on reading "Bloodlines" soon. I'm pretty passionate about racism's damage to the Gospel, keeping in mind the accusation Paul levels against Peter: "...they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14, N.A.S.). However, I bristle at the suggestion by some (not you, Pastor), that EVERYONE is racist. I attended the Promise Keeper's Pastor's Conference in Phoenix in 2003, and struggled with representatives of African-American, Native American, Asian, Jewish, and Hispanic ethnicities describing the racism that lies in EVERY heart. I am hoping Piper doesn't go this route.

Also, do you think Piper wrote the book to add his voice to the race discussion in the Church in partial reaction to how much the New Perspective folks make abolishment of racism the centerpiece of the Gospel? Is Piper in part trying to take a stand against racism while strongly opposing a theology that makes much of opposing racism by re-defining traditional theological terms such as "justification"? Just curious about your thoughts on this.