How can Christian Science help me address racism as a non-Black person?
Q: How can Christian Science help me when it comes to talking about race and addressing racism as a non-Black person?
A: During and after college I worked as a production assistant for a very successful traveling choir of primarily young Black men and boys. I got to know them well and developed a friendly rapport with some of the young men who were the leaders of the group and close to my age. I was one of only a handful of white people associated with the group.
Over time I had picked up some of the words and phrases I’d heard used casually among the choir members. One night, when one of the leaders was the last one to line up to go onstage, I half-jokingly called out, “Boy, you better hurry up!”
With an expression that was part amusement and part shock, he looked at me and said, “Yes, master!” Mortified, I immediately recognized how inappropriate it was for me, a white person, to address him as “boy”—which was how masters commonly addressed male slaves a century earlier. While my mistake hadn’t come out of malice, I saw how important it was for me to be more careful about the words I used in my interactions going forward. I was very grateful when my friend laughed and assured me he wasn’t offended, but I was also glad he had gently pointed out my foolish slip.
We may feel defensive when confronted with similar or less generous responses if we, even unknowingly, communicate or act in ways that can lead to misunderstanding and conflict on the topics of race and racism. But if we are open to receiving constructive feedback, we’ll find ourselves growing and progressing in meaningful ways.
While my mistake hadn’t come out of malice, I saw how important it was for me to be more careful about the words I used going forward.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science and a woman who cared deeply about social justice, wrote: “We should examine ourselves and learn what is the affection and purpose of the heart, for in this way only can we learn what we honestly are. If a friend informs us of a fault, do we listen patiently to the rebuke and credit what is said? Do we not rather give thanks that we are ‘not as other men’? During many years the author has been most grateful for merited rebuke” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 8–9 ).
The “not as other men” phrase is a reference to a story Jesus told as an “illustration to certain people who were confident of their own goodness and looked down on others” (Luke 18:9, J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English). The conclusion of the story, according to one translation of the Bible, is, “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself” (Luke 18:14, Eugene H. Peterson, The Message).
A loving God would never create anyone capable of acting in oppressive ways toward another. So our truest sense of simply being ourselves would not include hurtful speaking or behavior toward others. As each of us prays to live more in line with that true “self” that God created, our prayers may lead us to become more aware of the ways we might inadvertently be participating in oppressive behavior, and then compel us to leave that behavior behind so we can work toward a more just society.
With the recognition that God created each of us as inherently good, inherently loving, we’re empowered to move toward redemption and change.
If we learn, through our own discovery or through another’s “merited rebuke,” that our words or actions are less than loving toward anyone, we can find the spiritual strength to listen openly and make adjustments in our ways of thinking and living. And with the recognition that God created each of us as inherently good, inherently loving, we’re empowered to move toward redemption and change without attaching the misguided actions to ourselves, or being overwhelmed with guilt about our past mistakes.
Jesus spoke of the need to be childlike in order to enter “the kingdom of God” (see Mark 10:15 )—which we could think of from a spiritual perspective as a recognition of God’s spiritual creation, where we can find true unity. Cultivating this childlike attitude helps us let go more quickly of things that we’ve outgrown, even if initially we feel regret or shame over them. This approach frees us to learn more about how to work together to discover God’s kingdom, where everyone is equally embraced and valued.