By Erin Hylen ’17
Arts & Life Editor
On September 30th, Vice President for Student Life, Jennifer Jukanovich, mediated a panel discussion on racial reconciliation entitled “Racial Justice Post-Charlottesville: Where Do We Go from Here?” featuring special guests Michael Emerson, Reverend Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, and Dr. Alvin Padilla.
“Jesus came to reconcile us back to God, and that’s why we say things like Jesus is my personal savior, or Jesus came into my heart. So we all heard that message. The problem is, that’s only one axis of the cross. That’s the vertical reality of the cross. Jesus died to reconcile us to God and in that same act to reconcile us to each other. If we only preach this without that, we are not preaching the Gospel,” Salter McNeil said.
Salter McNeil continued to say that she first became interested in racial reconciliation when working as the chaplain’s assistant at Occidental College, and, upon on attending an Intervarsity worship service, saw that out of 200 students in the room, only two were people of color.
“I wasn’t trying to get called to reconciliation, but a question started in my stomach that day. It was, what is it about race that people who love God seem to get other things right, but this just doesn’t seem to change? What is it about the issue of race that always seems to be an issue of division for us?” she said.
The group stressed the importance of racial reconciliation, which Emerson defined as “an ongoing spiritual process [that] involves forgiveness, repentance, and justice.”
“And what is the purpose of that? To restore broken relationships and broken systems,” he added.
The three agreed that in order to achieve this reconciliation and make steps towards a better future for all, people of all races need to have conversations with each other about what is happening in the United States.
However, Jukanovich pointed out that “for those of us who are white, 75% of our network is made up of only people who look like us, only people with similar experiences… and it’s the same with the African-American community, 65% of the population.”
When asked about how this can change, Padilla said, “I think that there has to be a sort of intentionality to break out of those groups. I, too, like to be comfortable around people who think like me, who look like me, who joke like me, but very early on I decided that if I’m going to have a broad network of friends, I have to step out.”
He added, “I have white people say, ‘well, I feel a little uncomfortable’ and I say, ‘welcome to my daily living.’”
Salter McNeil said that the college campus is the perfect place to develop these relationships and have these conversations.
“If we don’t learn to do it here, we’re not going to learn to do it at church. This is a training ground,” she said.
When speaking about the Church’s responsibility in actively pursuing reconciliation, Salter McNeil said that the church needs to do more.
“There’s a whole generation of young people who don’t believe in us, because our words and our deeds are way too far apart. Our silence, our inactivity, our complicity with all of the social ills that are going on and our inability to lead them, made them almost feel like they can’t wait for us anymore,” she said, specifically referencing an encounter with young black activists who said “they were no longer waiting for the Church.”
The conversation next turned to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a group of white supremacists protesting the removal of confederate statues chanted slogans such as “blood and soil,” referencing a phrase used by Nazis, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-black statements.
“I think that part of that sense of alienation that many feel, you know—‘I want my country back, you will not replace us’—those kind of words that we hear, are the voices of people that have been sold this idea of the American individual, not community, to think that they must fight for themselves,” Padilla said.
“I think that’s something we need to do as a nation, to start thinking that together we move forward, or we will sink,” he added.
Towards the end of the talk, Emerson gave an illustration of this idea.
“You’ve all seen geese flying when they fly in that v-formation, and I’ve been doing some research on that to understand why. Turns out it isn’t instinct. They actually have to learn and as they’re studying that they fumble around trying to figure it out,” he said.
“They do it, of course, because they’re reducing the drag they feel… when they fly in that formation, they go 71% further than they would if they flew by themselves. That v-formation is quite effective for them, and I would say that the v-formation for us as Christians is authentic biblical reconciliation. It will get us far, far further than we could ever go on our own.”