OXFORD – Two ministers and two academics agreed Thursday that opposition to racism is an active effort.
Their discussion was “Reconciliation in Mind, Body and Spirit,” hosted by the University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
“There’s no such thing as passive anti-racism,” said Stephen Haynes, professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Memphis. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Others on the programs were Nate Northington, the first black athlete in the Southeastern Conference; the Rev. Eric Hankins, pastor of Oxford’s First Baptist Church; and moderator Michele Alexandre, professor of law at Ole Miss.
Panelists agreed that much progress has been made in race relations, but not nearly enough.
“Obviously we’ve come many, many miles down the road. Look at our president: Who would have thought that would happen? But we still have a long way to go,” Northington said.
Oxford First Baptist recently apologized for FBC’s historic racism, including a 1968 vote to exclude blacks. It has begun to partner with black congregations on education, child care and other needs in those churches. Panelists acknowledged, however, that their congregations are still mostly racially segregated.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘Our doors are open and everyone is welcome,’” Hankins said. “There was an impulse for Jews and Gentiles to worship separately, but the Apostle Paul said, ‘No, that’s not an option. You’re going to have to make it work.’”
Haynes said most ecclesial apologies have happened “at a very high church level and usually unrelated to individual congregations,” noting Oxford FBC and Memphis Second Presbyterian as rare exceptions. Economics cannot be separated from racial reconciliation, panelists said.
“There’s this myth in America that if you work hard, study hard and act right, you’ll be successful, but generational poverty … is a huge problem,” Haynes said. “If the lens through which you see people is that myth, you’re going to miss a lot of truth.”
Hankins agreed that whites “benefit from a society that’s tilted toward us.”
Noting Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, he added, “We just don’t have a right to pass by someone in need.”
Northington, also an ordained minister, said, “Jesus said … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If your neighbor needs some action, take it.”
Alexandre added her own religious perspective.
“Grace is the idea is that you can look at your fellow person and say, ‘But for the grace of God, there go I,’” she said. “If we think about grace and purpose in our meaning, we will always question our actions.”