Three boys born to low-income U.S. veterans just after World War II began life with several things in common.
Similarly, they were born to two-parent families in rental or public housing, and their fathers all had high school diplomas, served in WWII and applied for low-interest home loans under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (G.I. Bill). But their stories, LifeWay Christian Resources executive Mark Croston shared, unfolded differently.
Croston told the example of what he termed “embedded racial inequity” at the National African American Fellowship’s (NAAF) spring symposium March 2 in Memphis, Tenn. Croston would go on to offer concise steps toward “Racial reconciliation and Beyond: Breaking the Barriers.”
Photo courtesy of Kenecia S. Harris, Life Through Lens Photography.
LifeWay executive Mark Croston at National African American Fellowship spring symposium in Memphis.
He noted the boys’ lives were starkly different in that the father of Philip, white, was approved for the loan, moved to segregated suburban housing, and borrowed from his home equity to send Philip to college. In turn, Philip got a professional job, bought a home and upon his father’s death, inherited the family home that had appreciated in value.
On the other hand were Thomas, black, and Juan, Latino. Their fathers were denied the loan because of racially restrictive underwriting criteria; their families remained in rental housing; they earned high school diplomas from under-resourced, segregated schools, and their families could not afford to send them to college.
They both worked in minimum-wage jobs and continued to live at home. Thomas had to borrow money when his father died to give him a decent funeral. After Juan married a Latina recently emigrated from Mexico, he began sending part of his earnings to her extended family there.
The story, Croston said, is based on real-life examples and taken from the book When Affirmative Action was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America, by Ira Katznelson from Columbia University Press. It is an example of “how this social legislation from 60 years ago continues to impact their families,” Croston said, and “about how advantage and disadvantage accumulate because of the unequal opportunities embedded in the GI Bill.”
In the comparison, Philip was able to leave his children his father’s home, pay for his children’s college education with home equity, and establish a trust fund for his grandchildren. Conversely, Thomas and Juan completed college on work study and college loans, and had few personal assets to leave their grandchildren.
Croston, who in 2013 left a 26-year pastorate in Suffolk, Va. to head LifeWay’s Black Church Partnerships, urged the cross-cultural NAAF gathering of Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders to recognize such embedded inequities that come from what he called “white privilege,” and to be intentional and active in securing and embracing racial reconciliation.
“We have passed a lot of resolutions. We’ve had a lot of reports and task forces,” Croston said. “So you can’t just keep doing the same stuff over and over again. You can’t just keep voting and voting and voting on the same thing, over and over again, and think that they mean anything. You actually have to come to a point where you just do it.”
“We’re going to talk about it one more time here today,” he said, “but our conversation won’t mean anything, unless somebody gets up from this place when we are finished and goes and just does something like what we’ve talked about.”
Among other examples of “white privilege,” Croston said a white man with a criminal record is more likely to get a job over a man of color with a clean record, and that while blacks use less drugs than whites, blacks are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs.
Croston suggested several steps toward achieving racial reconciliation.
Leaders should “stop fearing,” he said, referencing 2 Timothy 1:7, and should speak up against both black and white racism.
“Judge Paul Pressler shared in his book, A Hill on Which to Die,“ Croston quoted Pressler, “In any great movement are individuals who sit back and watch to see which way the battle will go. When they see which side will prevail, they attach themselves to that side. These people disturb me, because they seem to be self-serving individuals who are more interested in their own advancement than they are in basic principles. They are more concerned with their own future than they are with the cause itself.”
Leaders should “step forward,” Croston said. He offered eight practical ways to practice multicultural leadership:
Learn more about history, including African-American history;
think “we” and not “I,”
practice generosity instead of greed,
flatten the leadership structure,
teach people to work together,
create a sense of “family,”
foster a culture that accepts spirituality, and
focus employees on a company vision.
Croston also suggested that pastors and denominational leaders:
Hire diverse executives.
Citing the article, “The Diversity Divide,” Croston noted that several of the leading technology companies have workforces resembling current societal diversity.
“When we look at our SBC entities, their workforces match neither the society in general, nor the population of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) itself,” Croston said. “The easiest thing for each of us to do is to hire someone just like us. Remember, removing stain is intentional.”
Pastors and leaders should be partners instead of patriarchs, Croston said, explaining that patriarchs make the decisions for the minority constituents, whereas partners “sit at the table” and give their perspectives and insights “before the decisions are made.”
“Often people in power want to hand pick the ‘leaders’ for the minority group,” Croston said. “It is clear to the minority groups that this is just a patronizing, paternalistic gesture when the ‘leaders’ they pick are people who are more like them than the masses of minority people they are called to serve.”
Persevere, Croston advised, using an adage his mother told him early in his pastorate, “Son, it’s not the speed boat of Zion, it’s the old ship of Zion.”
Even when the ship is steered in a new direction, “it takes a while before the action of the rudder in the ocean has enough force to change the momentum of the ship and [to] begin to move it in a new direction.”
“The SBC is not new, nor are the stains of racism,” Croston said. “At every point of progress (within the SBC) there was a brave person at his/her own helm who stood up by the power of the Spirit and said, ‘Some things are going to change around here.’ And for doing this, some paid a price.”
Untie from political parties, he urged, pointing out that when a group aligns with a party, that group is viewed as an ally to everything the party does.
“Ours is to be a prophetic voice, not merely a political one,” Croston said.
“The Republicans are not always right and the Democrats not always wrong. You cannot eat at the King’s table and still declare like Nathan, ‘Thou art the man,’“ he said, referencing when the biblical prophet pointed out King David’s sins of adultery and murder.
Put your church on track by seeing the cultures in the church’s community, Croston said, pointing out that black flight has replaced white flight, using Washington, D.C. as an example of blacks moving to the suburbs.
He advised a commitment to hands-on international missions projects, loving the church culture without seeing other church cultures as inferior, and celebrating every congregational member.
Embrace and obey God’s commandment to love one another, Croston said, referencing Matthew 22:37-40, John 13:35 and 1 Peter 4:7-8.
“One thing I have always appreciated and admired about the SBC is our wholehearted and unfaltering commitment to missions and evangelism,” Croston said. “But if we are going to remove the stain of racism we must elevate the Great Commandment to the same level as the Great Commission.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)