How the church should address prejudice
SIM International Director Dr Joshua Bogunjoko addressed the reality of racism as abuse in an interview with long-time friend and Prairie College President Mark Maxwell.
Mark was eager to know how the school could confront the evil of prejudice and what the global church could be doing to improve in neighbourly love.
Joshua said: “I think my journey is a little different from my brothers and sisters, particularly in the US … But all the same, wherever acts of racism exist, it impacts people in the same way because it degrades the humanity of another.
“Racism is a relationship of abuse. It’s a relationship in which … their dignity is taken away … For many, it’s just part of daily life. It’s part of the way they have to experience life because somehow, someone carries a prejudice against their human characteristics, against the colour of their skin and against things that they can do nothing about.”
"Racism is a relationship of abuse. It's a relationship in which ... their dignity is taken away."
Joshua shared about a time where he and his wife Dr Joanna Bogunjoko encountered racial profiling during their travels. Customs officers submitted the Bogunjokos to excessive scrutiny based on their appearance.
He said: “The two of us were pulled out of the exit line and made to go through what amounts to almost an hour of search. Basically, out in the open, they took our luggage and laid out every single item in every bag, every carry-on, every small bag …
“The only reason we were pulled out that we could see was the colour of our skin … We were pulled aside and searched like we were known criminals. It’s a very shameful experience to be singled out. Because as a Black person when you are singled out like that, you already know the label that people put on you.”
Joshua also explained that his children, who have been raised in the US, have experienced overt racism. Although they have enjoyed immense blessings living in the US, their family have also endured disappointment and pain due to unequal treatment.
He said, “When she [his daughter] was in high school, preparing for college, she applied to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. And a teacher told her, ‘Oh you can’t make it to such a place,’ even though she was in the top eight per cent of her whole class.
“And when she made it into that school and was accepted, then another student said to her, ‘You only made it to that school because of the colour of your skin and because you are poor. I wish I was poor and Black so that I could make it to that school, as well.’
“This is a girl that works so hard – it’s incredible. When she was in high school, I used to tell her to go to bed because she would have worked so long, until midnight. And I said, ‘No, you have to stop and get some rest.’ She is still a very hard worker.
“And yet somebody will tell her that the only reason she succeeded was because somehow they lowered the bar because of the colour of her skin and because she’s poor. It was painful. It was very, very sad.”
As Mark sought Joshua’s advice on the future, Joshua pointed out that hidden, internal sins must be exposed and rooted out by the Spirit’s power.
He said: “The first thing that I will suggest is that we recognize that prejudice and racism exist. Some people are not necessarily overtly or intentionally racist.
“There are many people who do not realize they’re prejudice against another. The only time it manifests is when they react to the presence of that person, and they don’t even think through it.
“Most of us are not necessarily reflective on our character and responses … we don’t process how we treat others because it’s so normal for us. When you live in a situation of normal, you don’t see yourself as abnormal.”
Joshua challenged the church to pursue intentional listening and empathy modelled after Christ. He said: “So, for us to deal with this, both in the church and in the public, I think we need to walk in one another’s shoes. See, God didn’t ask Jesus to stay in heaven and wipe out our sins. He sent his only begotten Son.
“He could have presented Jesus to us in any form. … I think we forget that God’s intention is beyond just the death [of Christ]. If all God cared about was Jesus dying on the cross, he didn’t have to send him as a baby … He could have achieved that goal in so many other ways than sending his only begotten Son as a helpless baby.
“But the great story of the incarnation is that the all-powerful, eternal Son of God, who created all things – ‘by him were all things made and without him nothing was made that was made’ – became the most helpless person on earth: a baby.
“Why would God do that? Because God wanted his Son to walk in our very own shoes. God wanted his Son to experience life as we experience it, to grow up like human babies grow up, to journey as human beings journey, to experience the degradation of the human experience.
“I believe that is the only path for the church and for the people of God that have really addressed this issue. It cannot be addressed by each of us staying in cubicles and pointing hands. It can only be addressed when we choose a life of mutuality, a willingness to listen to the story of others and then walk in their shoes with them.
“That life of mutuality, that incarnation of relationship, that takes us into the life of another. I believe that is where the reconciliation begins to happen.”
• Many to repent of the sin of racism, prejudice and stereotyping of all kinds and actively empathize with their brothers and sisters of a different colour.
• The church to lead the way as an example of racial and community reconciliation.
• The Lord to bring justice, righteousness and peace to nations grappling with racial division.