New Christian initiatives to reconcile whites and blacks are 50 years too late and outdated. Pioneers like John Perkins and J. Deotis Roberts should be applauded for their work during the 1970s in the area of racial reconciliation among whites and blacks in the aftermath of the civil rights movement. However, in light of today's differentiated multi-ethnic America, reconciliation initiatives focused primarily on past tensions between whites and blacks are as useful as new initiatives attempting to reconcile colonial tensions between Roman Catholics in Maryland and Anglicans in Virginia. Having conferences where the goal is to get whites and blacks to share stories and hug each other remain impotent to address new tensions in America along the axis of race and class.
Perhaps for those born prior to 1960, the same racial tensions they witnessed in childhood may still need space to work out those problems of the past. However, for most of us born after 1970, we simply do not have the same experiential racial history and need to be challenged in ways beyond black and white.
America's current demographic reality---14.4 percent Hispanic/Latino, 12.8 percent black, 4.3 percent Asian---calls for ethnic initiatives that move the culture forward. For example, for a church to have a racial mix of whites and blacks in 2010 is as impressive as having whites and blacks play football together at the University of Alabama. Big deal. In 1960, when white and black Christians should have been seen as leaders on race relations, a congregation of blacks and whites together would have been radical, but today it doesn't even raise an eyebrow except for those operating in a demographic past.
New tensions that the church has an opportunity to challenge in our culture require creativity and innovation. After moving into a mostly Dominican neighborhood in New York, I have learned about the massive tensions between Dominicans and blacks, Dominicans and Haitians, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, and so on. Growing up in Atlanta in 1970s and '80s, the nasty and persistent tensions between blacks and immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and the West Indies are still not addressed. A church mixed with Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, or a church mix of Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans mixed with Vietnamese, and the like, would be impressive. A neighborhood and church with all of above cultures mixed together in various manifestations would be amazing. The only other place in our culture one would see this type of voluntary mixing is the audience at a popular hip-hop concert.
Black and white racial reconciliation efforts also distract us from tensions among classes within ethnic groups. A white middle-class church will " reach out" to blacks in the "inner city" or Mexican immigrants but will ignore white welfare recipients in trailer park communities. Will white middle-class Christians ever have huggy reconciliation conferences with the "white trash" people they often despise and ignore? The black middle-class' disdain for "ghetto" blacks is unconscionable and remains unaddressed. The animus that upper-class Dominicans have for "hick" Dominicans is simply inhumane.
In the end, if American Christians really want show our culture what it means for the nations to come together (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 5:9) we must put the 1970s racial playbook on the shelf and speak to problems within and among races, ethnic groups, and classes however they manifest themselves in our communities, because group isolationism and conflict are not simply black and white.