Is Racism America’s Original Sin?

February 08, 2016
 
Author Jim Wallis.

Author Jim Wallis.

Courtesy Sojo.net

We’re hearing a lot about what “white privilege” means in America these days. But are we talking about it enough on Sunday morning? That’s the contention New York Times bestselling author Jim Wallis makes in his latest book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.

The evangelical pastor, activist and leader of Sojourners was in Chicago recently to discuss his latest book. We sat down to talk with him about why he calls racism America's original sin, what he's learned from Black Lives Matter activists and why he sees recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland as parables for the modern era.

“We said from the beginning that black lives and black bodies don’t matter here, that’s a founding principle,” says Wallis, who said that’s still reflected today in this country.

Yes, Wallis adds, we have a black president, but we’re not in a post-racial society because politics “haven’t cleansed us.” And Wallis believes it’s not politics that will change American society, but the people themselves.

He wants American churches to be leading this change.

“Until we get over that original sin, and confess it, and repent it - and that just doesn’t mean saying ‘we’re sorry’ - we won’t go in a different direction,” says Wallis, an evangelical minister.

Wallis says going in that different direction means listening to each other’s stories. But that won’t happen until we learn to change our racial geography, especially on Sunday morning, he said, pointing to the lack of diversity not just among our churches, but in our schools and workplaces.

The idea for this book came after Travyon Martin was killed. He would have been the same age as one of Wallis’s sons, Luke.

Wallis, who often writes about the joy of coaching his sons’ Little League teams, says that white parents need to realize the “talk” that all black parents have especially with their sons and daughters about how to deal with the police.

“My son’s going to college this fall, and Travyon’s not,” says Wallis. “White parents have to say ‘that’s not acceptable to us.’"

Wallis points out that churches are uniquely positions to overcome such divisions of race, class and gender, which are not optional but essential Christian tenets.

He’s dismayed by statistics that show that while 72 percent of white Christians see Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others as  “isolated incidents,” 82 percent of black Christians believe they’re “part of a pattern and their lives.”

“It starts by paying attention and listening and not accepting anymore our lack of attention to one another,” says Wallis.