Garner was an example of the unlikely heroes racism called forth in the middle of the twentieth century. Palmer Garner was a prophet. He captured what the theologian Abraham J. Heschel calls “the divine pathos.” He invited us all to be in sympathy with the feelings of God. In sympathy with God “the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us,” Walter Brueggemann writes. Garner, like Elijah, was a man under a word. He knew that he must do things, foolish things.

The breaking of the endless cycle of need and poverty is broken by the intervention of God. The prophetic ministry to which Elijah is called shatters the tired world of hopelessness. And the point of preaching is to affirm that such deeply obedient risk-taking, speech-bearing folks can function to make the world new. it is the deception of the kin to make us believe the world is fixed and must stay the drought-ridden way it is. The king wants people to be and stay hopeless, because hopeless people will never challenge. That shell of hopelessness is now broken by a concrete act of powerful compassion.

Garner was trying to take us out of the web of hopelessness into which racism has gotten us. However, America remains race obsessed. While class and ethnicity might be overcome, race is not–unless race is blended by miscegenation. Miscegenation, as we have seen, between whites and blacks, and, to a lesser degree, between whites and Asians, has been anathema since the first blacks came to Jamestown in 1619. So, miscegenation itself will not bring racial reconciliation.

American’s love affair with racial divisiveness will not change until the human heart changes–beginning with the Christian heart. Critical to genuine reconciliation is an admission of past sins by whites and a commitment to personal engagement among the races. Blending races, intentionally or unintentionally, through transracial adoption or interracial marriage, while it is certainly theologically acceptable, will not really matter until white American hearts are changed.

It is much more. “Becoming friends” will not remove three hundred years of injustice and anger. Reconciliation is more than a relationship problem; it is a matter of justice. Or as John Perkins so directly states, “Black folks just don’t trust white folks.” Outgoing National Association of Evangelical president David Rambo says that blacks “are properly skeptical that evangelical commitment will not get us beyond affectionate embraces and politically correct jargon.” It is necessary for white Americans to disown white privilege and intentionally set out to live lives of justice. This is one way systemic racism can be overcome.

In spite of past white Christian mistakes, however, some African-American Christians feel that Christianity is the key to racial reconciliation. They, in fact, claim that there is a natural marriage between Christianity and African-American heritage.

Nonetheless, for the last thirty years, there was little evidence that white Evangelicalism participated in discerning racial relations social analysis. An editorial appeared in Christianity Today Magazine during the urban riots of the late sixties that blamed blacks for their own problems. In its April 26, 1968 issue, the magazine blamed the black community for King’s assassination! This viewpoint did not endear white Evangelicalism to the African-American community.

Thankfully that situation is changing rapidly. In fact, the white Evangelical community–through Promise Keepers and other Conservative groups–has taken the leadership in racial reconciliation. More than one thousand Minnesota churches representing sixty denomination and including strong African-American leadership spent a year preparing for the late-June 1996 Billy Graham Crusade. This well attended, racially mixed crusade, called the church to unity. It did much to advance racial reconciliation.

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