When asked in 1944 to give an assessment of America’s progress, Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal offered a startling conclusion: America faced a dilemma “derived from the conflict between the high-sounding Christian concepts embodied in the American creed as compared to the way Americans really behaved.” The fact that this dilemma still exists was made painfully clear by the controversial Rodney King verdict. While our founding creeds proclaim that all are created equal, the dehumanizing treatment that King experienced symbolizes the injustice that continues for all African-Americans.
I was not surprised by the verdict; not many African-Americans were. But I had hoped that things would be different this time. I believed that the white America of the civil-rights era—with its hoses, dogs, and bombed-out black churches—had been defeated by the principles of liberty and justice for all. The verdict, however, rekindled my awareness of the pervasive nature of racism in our country—a schism that extends even to the Christian community. Though God has called us all to the ministry of reconciliation, first to himself, then to one another (Matt. 22:37–39), the King affair reveals how little attention the church has given to the latter portion of Christ’s command.
Following the verdict, I took note of the reactions of whites, particularly Christians. Was it guilt that caused many to avert their eyes from mine? Even among my white friends, the subtle denial of the racial implications of the incident cut deeper than the verdict itself. “I’m glad I’m not in Los Angeles,” one woman said to me. I thought to myself, I wish I had the luxury of being able to move away from the threat of hatred and violence. There is no escape from the ...1
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