The Concordia Publishing House Podcast

Healing Racial Divides with Rev. B. Keith Haney

August 01, 2020 Concordia Publishing House Season 1 Episode 10
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Healing Racial Divides with Rev. B. Keith Haney
Chapters
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Healing Racial Divides with Rev. B. Keith Haney
Aug 01, 2020 Season 1 Episode 10
Concordia Publishing House

The racial divide in America is frustratingly complex and deeply emotional. As we’ve seen it can erupt into protests and violence. Each side approaches the issue from a vastly different perspective and experience. Today we’re joined by the Rev. Keith Haney. We’ll be talking about the issues that divide us and how Scripture points us to a hopeful path forward.   

Rev. Haney is Assistant to the President for Missions, Human Care, and Stewardship for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Iowa District West. He has been an ordained pastor for 27 years, and has served multi-ethnic urban congregations in Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. He is the author, having written numerous devotionals, and the Bible study One Nation Under God: Healing Racial Divides in America.

Show Notes Transcript

The racial divide in America is frustratingly complex and deeply emotional. As we’ve seen it can erupt into protests and violence. Each side approaches the issue from a vastly different perspective and experience. Today we’re joined by the Rev. Keith Haney. We’ll be talking about the issues that divide us and how Scripture points us to a hopeful path forward.   

Rev. Haney is Assistant to the President for Missions, Human Care, and Stewardship for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Iowa District West. He has been an ordained pastor for 27 years, and has served multi-ethnic urban congregations in Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. He is the author, having written numerous devotionals, and the Bible study One Nation Under God: Healing Racial Divides in America.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Welcome to the Concordia Publishing House podcast, where we consider everything in the light of Jesus Christ, who was the same yesterday, today and forever. I'm your host Elizabeth Pittman.

Elizabeth Pittman:

The racial divide in America is frustratingly complex and yet deeply emotional. As we've seen, it can erupt into protests, violence, disbelief, misunderstanding and a host of emotional issues. Each side approaches the issue from a vastly different perspective and experience. Today we're joined by the Reverend Keith Haney. As we talk, he's going to guide us through a conversation to help us identify the issues that are dividing us and how scripture points us to a hopeful path forward.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Pastor Haney is Assistant to the President for Missions, Human Care, and Stewardship for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Iowa West district. He has been an ordained pastor for 27 years and has served multiethnic urban congregations in Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee. He's also an author having written numerous devotionals, and he's also written the Bible study One Nation Under God: Healing Racial Divides In America. Welcome Keith.

Keith Haney:

It's a pleasure to be with you.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Glad to have you here today. This is an important topic that we have to talk about.

Keith Haney:

Yes, it is. I mean, we're seeing around the country just division, we're seeing anger. We're seeing people trying to figure out how do we have this conversation in a positive way? So yeah, it's an important conversation to have.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It absolutely does. In reading your Bible study, which I really appreciated because it's very thought provoking, convicting, and yet very even. It doesn't play favorites for either side, but it definitely calls out the truth and sometimes I think we've let ourselves ignore that truth in favor of our own perspectives.

Elizabeth Pittman:

If we start with our identity, identity has been something that, with the rise of the internet, it's been very easy for people to pick and choose an identity, to put their identity in things that are not lasting. Talk about identity and how that affects this issue.

Keith Haney:

Identity is critical because it shapes who we are. I think the biggest divide I see right now is this idea that there's black versus white and so skin becomes the identifying factor. It's a struggle even for our young people, although it may not be racial identity, it's gender identity for a lot of our kids. I see a lot of our kids, as I talked about going to the national youth gathering, we had so many questions in our district of people asking, "Will my child, who's confused by gender, even be welcomed at the LCMS Youth Gathering?" So identity plays a huge role in who we are and people are constantly trying to shape our identity for us.

Keith Haney:

Your environment impacts that, your parenting skills, where you live, all those things impact identity. But if we only focused on the external part of our identity, we can never have an honest conversation about where we are. So we have to begin [inaudible 00:03:25] about how God has created us in the image of him and our new identity comes in our identity in Christ. And so we have to start there saying we're all in the same place. We're sinners who stand before the cross.

Keith Haney:

If we start there, then we don't see each other as black or white. We see each other, but as sinners in need of God's grace and forgiveness and that's where we have to begin the race discussion. That way we're not judging people, but we're looking at people that were all trying to figure out this thing called life together and we all need the savior to kind of give us forgiveness and grace and mercy when we fall short of our goals and his goals for us.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Such a critical place to start and if we fail to do that, it's far too easy for group characterizations to become a blanket identity for a group of people. Talk about how that is a dangerous place to be.

Keith Haney:

Well, I did a word study one day of the words black and white and if you look them up in the dictionary, it's very telling. So black means, of course, absence of color, but it's also associated with evil and violence and fear. So when you label a whole group of people as black Americans, you've labeled them as dangerous, as people would be feared, as evil, and we see that play out on television. We talk about the crime rates, we talk about bad neighborhoods and we talk about black people being dangerous and people to be afraid of.

Keith Haney:

When you look at the word white in the dictionary, it means holy and pure and all those nice things. So you have a whole group of people who are labeled as beautiful, wonderful, holy people versus the evil black people and you see that playing out in race today. You see people identifying and saying, "You know what? I talked to someone black, but I'm afraid." And so you hear those words coming out in the definitions.

Keith Haney:

I look at it when I named my kids, I wanted to make sure my kids had a name that reflected who I wanted them to be and so all their names come from the Bible. My oldest sons name is Mitchell, and so it means who is like God. I really wanted to make sure that their name gave them an identity in Christ and they could ground it in that, not in something else.

Elizabeth Pittman:

How has loss of identity affected the black community?

Keith Haney:

You see that now, because if you look back at our history and it's really difficult because when I thought about this Bible study, and I always love watching the ancestry.com thing. But I resisted going back and tracing my history because I'm going, "Where's it going to lead me? To a place that I want to say I began with or where it's been forced on me?" And so when I did, my kids gave me a gift as a present for father's day just a couple of years ago and I discovered that my ancestry goes back to Nigeria. And then as slavery happened, we were brought to Virginia where most of the slave ships came. And then from there, once slavery was broken up, we migrated down... Well, actually, as slavery happened, we would migrate down to Louisiana and my family stayed down South. We never moved away from down South once slavery ended.

Keith Haney:

But it was that fear of where does my identity take me? And the realization that part of our identity is so tied to slavery that it's hard to get beyond your beginnings. How that plays out for African Americans too, is we don't tend to have, as a whole, not just a generalization, we don't have generational wealth to pass down to our kids typically. So what that means is you have an entire group of people who are still trapped in poverty because they don't have generational wealth. So if you don't pass down the family farm or pass down a family estate, then you don't have that starting point for your kids to go and make away from themselves and go to college. I mean, all those avenues of success, as the world would view them, are cut off from you. And so you have this loss of who am I and where do I really begin that really affects education, it affects economics, it affects every aspect of the black American life.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It's hard for me to relate to that. And we've done the ancestry.com things, but again, I'm coming from a different perspective.

Keith Haney:

Sure.

Elizabeth Pittman:

My family immigrated over from Germany and Ireland and we can fairly well trace all that. And I think once we pull away all those external things, being able to hang onto the fact that our identity is grounded in Christ, as children of God created by him, it's a more hopeful place to start. I think, correct me if I'm wrong, but does it give us a better perspective to address those extra factors that we're facing?

Keith Haney:

Sure, because what we start with was the hope that we have in Christ. If you start with where you are in life, I mean, most people would probably say that they're not happy with their life. There are things they would want to improve with their life. But the hopefulness that we need to have is found in our identity, that this is just... I'm just a traveler here. This is not my final destination, this is not my end. That when this is all said and done, I have waiting for me this glorious mansion from God where I have what I really desire, as Paul talked about, that hunger to be in the presence of the almighty. So if my hope comes in my future time with God versus my pain here in the world, I can be hopeful in my situation, my circumstances.

Elizabeth Pittman:

And as Christians, we have a special duty to help share that message, correct?

Keith Haney:

Correct. Because what you're seeing in the world right now, and I just wrote a blog post for CPH on this, what I look out and I see in the world, and especially through the protests, is a sea of broken dreams. You have people who really are feeling as though there is no American dream for them and there's a lot of pain behind that. Some of that pain is from violence that's happened in their neighborhoods. They all know someone who's been shot or their life been shortened by violence. So there's a lack of hope. What can the church do best is give people the hope that only the Bible can give through faith in Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth Pittman:

That hope is so powerful. And when we step back and think about that Christ dying on the cross for us was over 2000 years ago, how does that impact us today as we talk about having hopeful conversations with our neighbors?

Keith Haney:

For me as a pastor, one of my goals in preaching was to give people a real Jesus. Not the Jesus that died on the cross for your sins and that's all, and it doesn't impact your day to day life. For me, it was how does me having a savior impact how I interact in my world today? How does that give me hope when I'm not sure where my next meal is coming from? We had to give people an understanding that there's still a God out there who cares for you and provides for your daily needs. We had to make Jesus real for people, especially in the city, because there wasn't a great deal of hope. So we really wanted to make sure when we left church on Sunday morning, if you got hit by a car, I wanted to make sure people understood that your salvation was because of your faith in Christ. Jesus was there in [soller 00:10:55] for you and you had something to look forward to.

Keith Haney:

But he also has got to take care of making sure that you have what you needed to survive. You may not have what you need to be prosperous, as the world would see prosperity, but you won't go in need because you have Jesus and he cares for you. So it's important that we give people a concrete hands and feet carrying Jesus in our proclamation.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So as we're out in the world and there's hostility and resentment and we're pointing fingers and we're talking past each other, no one's benefiting from this, correct?

Keith Haney:

Correct.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So who's stirring it all up? Who is who's at the root of all of this?

Keith Haney:

At the root of all this is Satan. He's in the background and you can almost hear him laughing at us as we sit and fight with each other. As he gives us half truths about what's really happening in the world. I go back, and one of my favorite passages is the story of Gob because in Gob, he of course goes to God and said, "Hey God, you have this servant Gob. Can I have him for a while and see if I can break him?" And he does everything possible. He takes away all of his family, all of his wealth, he gives him disease. And Gob is sitting there with a bunch of so-called friends who are saying, "Why don't you just curse god? Obviously you've done something to anger God. Why are you there?"

Keith Haney:

And I love when Gob asks God for an audience. He's like, "God, I want to plead my case before you," kind of in a court of law. And the way God responds is beautiful. He says, "All right, I want you to take up your robe and I want you to tuck it in the front of your front of your clothes like a gunslinger would and be ready. So brace yourself because I'm going to answer your questions." And then God begins to fire at Gob these questions of, "Were you there when I put the foundations in the world in place and stopped the seas?"

Keith Haney:

And God's point was you can't possibly understand all the complexities of this world because you weren't there to help create those foundations. The message for us is we don't understand the complexities and the foundations of God. We have to trust God in all of this. But what Satan would have us do is to question God, to want to be God, to want to solve the things that only God can solve. And so he gives us just enough truth so that we see the other person that we're in conflict with as the enemy. I see it in congregations, and I always told my congregational leaders when we're having a congregational fight, "You're not fighting with that individual. You're fighting against Satan and Satan is pushing and moving in this direction so that we, as a church, can't accomplish the mission of God."

Keith Haney:

Satan is making sure that this nation is divided and we're not going to be on the same page. We're not going to be able to work together, we're not going to be able to solve our problems. The police are not being lifted up and saved in a situation, they're being attacked. We're seeing anarchy and destruction all around us and we can't believe that this is good for our nation and for our relationships. Satan is just sitting back going, "Isn't as wonderful? I've got them fighting with each other and they're tearing up their own streets and their own stores and are destroying connection with each other. There is no way they'll ever come together and seek God to solve this problem," because we're not looking for God like answers. We're not hearing people say, "Let's look for reconciliation," we're hearing, "Let's seek retribution."

Keith Haney:

So we're hearing part of the message of God, which is we need repentance, which means to turn from what we're doing and go a different direction. But we're not hearing what repentance should lead us to, which is back to God, which is reconciliation. So no one's talking in this whole race riot thing and racial division about how do I reconcile with my brother or sister who is different from me? That's what's missing in... because Satan doesn't want reconciliation, he wants retribution. He wants revenge, he wants destruction and we're hearing the words of Satan, which is destruction, retribution, payback. You owe me for all the past sins that you committed, not how can we put aside our paths and through forgiveness say, how can we now walk together and figure out a better future for us?

Elizabeth Pittman:

So how can we get started on that path to reconciliation?

Keith Haney:

One of the things I talked about is we need to be able to have a honest conversation, and that means willing to be vulnerable, willing to listen. And listening is hard because listening means to sit back and hear the other person's side of the story and not jump in and try and fix it.

Keith Haney:

As a man who's married to a wonderful woman, when she wants to tell me something, my first response is, "Okay, I'm going to listen so I can give back my defense of why I didn't do this."

Elizabeth Pittman:

I'm thinking my husband wants to jump in and just fix it without hearing me out.

Keith Haney:

You want to fix it right away. He's like, "I need to fix this problem." But in the race thing, that's the worst thing they could do. So for example, with the whole black lives matter slogan, not the organization, but the slogan. When people hear that, they want to jump in right away and go, "No. Stop. Don't say that. All lives matter." And so instead of listening to what black lives matter, that idea or concept means, that we need to focus on those people who are left behind in the American dream right now. Not the movement, again, I want us to distinguish between the organization and those words. We miss out on, okay, what does that mean then to bring restoration to a community or people who feel left out?

Keith Haney:

So instead of asking clarifying questions, how can we, as a people work to repair what's been done? We typically tend to jump and go, "Well, let me fix it." Well, you can't fix it if you're not sure what the problem is yet. So we have to listen to hear what the problem is.

Elizabeth Pittman:

What do you think, when someone jumps back in and retorts with all lives matter, what do you think the person who is coming from the position of black lives matter hears?

Keith Haney:

The person from black lives matter hears whatever I just said, you just invalidated. You're not paying attention to yes, of course, all lives matter, they're thinking. But we're talking right now about the specific thing that's tearing our country apart. And to say that means you don't want to get into a deep conversation about how we fix the problems, you just want to not feel bad about the fact that we said that. And so I think that's what happens. As opposed to saying, "So what are some areas that we can work on together to make those situations better, or the problem get resolved sooner?"

Elizabeth Pittman:

It almost seems as though we've forgotten how to treat our neighbor as a neighbor. I think that starts with listening, and you see it play out a lot, especially on social media. People are talking past each other. They don't really want to have a true dialogue, they want to throw out their point of view and if you don't agree with me, I'm going to block you, I'm going to mute you, I'm going to unfriend you, I'm going to go complain. And we lose all perspective and we lose the ability to have a healthy dialogue, to help us find a way forward.

Keith Haney:

Right. And I think social media has probably done more to create harm than actual create conversation because we don't actually post oftentimes our opinion. We post a article that someone else wrote, which inflames somebody else. They post a counterargument and we never actually get to how do we fix it?

Keith Haney:

I'm giving congregations really three areas that are really critical, I think, to fix it. Education is a huge part of what's missing right now in African American community. If you don't have a potential to change your current trajectory by having a better paying job that will help care for your family through education, you're still trapped in the same place. We need to figure out, again, the idea of generational wealth. How do we help African Americans create generational wealth?

Keith Haney:

What I mean by that is for us it's as simple as most of our members didn't even have life insurance. So if they died, you left your family with a $30,000 funeral bill that they can't afford to pay. So not only was your deaths tragic, but now the debt of your death is also tragic because you don't have $30,000 sitting around to pay for the funeral. So now your family's got 10 years to pay off a funeral debt.

Keith Haney:

So those are issues. We got to get families out of those situations. What I'm amazed with our church with, especially doing this pandemic, is the LCMS is still doing really well financially, which tells me that we have been blessed by God with tremendous resources. So my thought is how can we help other people who are in need to create an opportunity for them to actually get those kinds of resources so they can be a blessing to their family? Not give it away to people, but teach people how to care for themselves. That was one of my big goals in our church, was how do we help you to be able to care for your family in a way that's positive?

Keith Haney:

And the last one is really social justice and what I mean by that is a lot of the things that are happening in the African American community are because the policing has been focusing on marijuana and crack cocaine as drug charges. Those are the two drugs that are really prominent in the African American community because those are the ones that people could afford. And so our justice department focuses on those kinds of crimes so it's disproportionately affecting black America. So while we, as Christians, pray to God to give us guidance, we also have to get involved in working with our local officials to pass laws that help those communities that are in need.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Social divide has two sides. We've talked a little bit about how we need to stop and listen, and for those of us that are not African American, put ourselves in the shoes and intentionally listen to our brothers and sisters who have had a different upbringing and a different history than we have had.

Elizabeth Pittman:

On the flip side, you've talked about a false presumption in the black community that it's not possible for African Americans to be racist. Can you talk a little bit about that? There's issues on both sides that we need to be willing to have an honest conversation about.

Keith Haney:

And I would say that word probably is we can't be prejudice because the way you define prejudice is prejudging someone based on stereotypes. It is deeper than that. Really it comes down to can blacks discriminate, which is are they in a position of power so that they can use their prejudices to impact or oppress another race of people? In the minds of most black people, because we don't have the power that white America has in terms of position, historical positions, we don't have the ability to oppress particularly white people. So that almost gives you an excuse to say whatever I think or feel is okay because I can't impact your life by my prejudice, which I do have. I may admit that, but I can't impact your life because I don't control whether you get a job or not.

Keith Haney:

You can, as a white American who has the jobs and the generational wealth, you can suppress and oppress black people because you are the ones doing the hiring and the education and you're in charge of all the schools systems and colleges. In minds of black people, because I can't do that, it almost gives you a permission to say, "However I feel is justified."

Keith Haney:

The danger of that, of course, is that it's still a sin and to prejudge people or to want to discriminate against people because of the color of their skin is still wrong. That's not godly. God has this beautiful view and he had it in the scripture, "I don't see the outward appearance of a man. So I don't judge Greek or Jew or male or female or free or slave." In God's eyes, all are the same, they're all in need of God's grace and salvation. So God sees the heart, he doesn't see the outward appearance.

Elizabeth Pittman:

First of all, I think we have to be willing to admit when we're in the wrong, no matter where we fall on it. I think we have to be honest with ourselves that we're sinful and we have probably fallen short at some points, whichever side we're on. What are some things that we can do to help close the racial divide?

Keith Haney:

Well, we can do really, to me, I think the biggest thing Christians can do is not do this as a committee in your congregation because we know how committees work. It needs to be the view of the church that we are sending out, every Sunday, missionaries into the field and asking our members and equipping our members to connect with people of color, no matter what side of the coin you're on, and to create authentic connections with people to learn to listen to people. To hear their pain, to know how you can come alongside and partner with them and do that in an organic way and imagine if the church every week is sending out billions of Christians into the world to create relationships. Then you have a movement. If you have a committee to do this, it never gets out of committee. It's like Congress. It never goes anywhere.

Elizabeth Pittman:

We're going to have a meeting to have a meeting to have a meeting about when we might fix [crosstalk 00:24:52].

Keith Haney:

Right. We might actually do something. Right.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Relationships really are so critical and sometimes we can struggle with wanting to have relationships with people that we might deem unlovable. How can we get over that?

Keith Haney:

I love the parable of the good Samaritan because that parable, Jesus really gets at the heart of who neighbor is. And he says, "Neighbor is not just the ones you agree with," and we see that happening right now in the divide. Politically, all my friends are going to be Republicans or Democrats because that's where my political stance are. Well, that's not necessarily good because it skews your opinion of the world. So to be a good neighbor means to look at the other person, whether you agree with them or not, and do what Jesus says. What do you require a me, Lord? He says, "Be merciful."

Keith Haney:

And how I define mercy is compassion plus action because the good Samaritan looked at the guy, and the Bible says, "He had compassion on him." Now he could have said, "That poor guy, he looks like he's in bad shape. He's a Jew. I'm going to keep walking." But I had compassion. Is that all that God requires? No. He had compassion, which moved him to get off of his donkey to get some oil and bind up his wounds and put him on his donkey, take him to the end. At great cost to him personally, give him two days wages to care for him and say, "When I come back, I'll take care of any other expenses." So mercy was, he had compassion, it moved him to action, and it was at great personal cost that mercy was. So for us, mercy means to be willing to take great personal costs to get involved in a situation to help someone.

Elizabeth Pittman:

If we wanted to dig deeper, where can we find your writing and your work?

Keith Haney:

My blog is alightbreaksthrough.org. And I write about a lot of things, but race is one of the things I write about because I think it is vital for our times to be able to have the conversation. So I talk about some tough things like are statues really the biggest problem in America? And talk about it from both sides. The danger of tearing down statues is you're tearing down your history. The other danger of statues is worshiping those statues where the statues become our God and their like little idols. And so we have to balance out why are we saving statues, but also realizing that we also don't want to destroy our past. So there's a balance there.

Keith Haney:

But in the midst of it, we have to go back and go beyond what is the pain? Why are people so angry about some things? And some of it's justified, some of it's not. Some people see those as symbols and even celebrating racial tensions in the past or racial oppression in the past. Some people identify those statues with the pain of the past. But that pain of the past does not... You don't want to erase that because you still want to know how did we get to that point so we don't get to that point again?

Keith Haney:

I'm going to be probably, coming up soon, be talking about this whole issue of how do you pass down generational wealth? Because I think that's an important piece of how do we change the tide of the black American community experience. And it's not going to be giving people 40 acres, probably. But how do you teach people how to look for better jobs, look for opportunities to care for their families in a way that they can be prosperous too? I still believe the American dream is a wonderful dream founded on a wonderful idea of everybody seeks prosperity. But we should give people the opportunity to go and seek that and support that as a nation.

Elizabeth Pittman:

We should support each other and that comes back to our identity and not the identity that it can be stripped away or that it's superficial, but the identity that God has given us.

Keith Haney:

Right.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So starting there and letting that be a starting point for relationships. Short of on this side of heaven, we may never get there. Hopefully we'll get closer because as you talked about, Satan is the real issue. But we need to continue to strive to close that divide as best we can.

Keith Haney:

Yeah. I think that if you go back to the idea of social justice, I discovered it's a Catholic idea that was formed with a really great purpose in mind. It was to bring together the best and the brightest minds in the community with one common purpose; how do we promote the common good? And I think if churches get back to the idea of how do we bring together our best and our brightest people in our congregation, and there are a lot of gifted people in our churches, and say, "You know what? We can solve some of the problems in our communities because we have some amazing people, talented and gifted by God with some really neat ideas and some great resources. How do we come together with the community and figure out how can we be a blessing to this community?" If the church does that, I think you will see amazing impact and change in our communities.

Keith Haney:

We have turned that over to the government and that's not the government's responsibility. It's the church's responsibility to be merciful because the government doesn't understand mercy.

Elizabeth Pittman:

No, the government doesn't understand mercy and at the end of the day, healing has to begin with Jesus. So we appreciate your taking the time to be with us today to help us start to have this conversation and start to understand how we can get onto a pathway to peace with our neighbors.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Listeners, if you'd like to learn more about pastor Haney's Bible study, visit cph.org/healingracialdivides. That's cph.org/healingracialdivides. There you'll be able to learn more about the Bible study and I recommend it for your small group or your church Bible class because it is very, very thought provoking and will help us get to a point where we can show mercy to our neighbors. Pastor Haney, thank you so much.

Keith Haney:

It's been my pleasure.

Elizabeth Pittman:

All right, we'll talk to everyone soon.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Concordia Publishing House podcast. I pray that this time was valuable to your walk with Christ. We'd love to connect with listeners on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter at concordiapub. Visit cph.org for more resources to grow deeper in the gospel.