I am deeply saddened, frustrated and outraged at the very idea that these kinds of things still happen in our day and age. I came across this story via Edward Gilbreath’s blog about a church in South Carolina where white members of the church performed in blackfacein blackface — for a Mother’s Day presentation.

Is it really necessary to explain to people why this kind of egregious conduct is so offensive? While it is vital that we educate people on the damaging effects of systemic racism, the fact remains that blatant, overt, hostile racism still exists. This story only spirals further and further downward as we begin to delve deeper into it.

This kind of behavior is unacceptable in any forum, but the fact that these people consider themselves Christians and presented this in church is absolutely dumbfounding. Seriously, what could such a horrible, offensive performance possibly have to do with Mother’s Day? Worse, the pastor of the church tried to pass it off as some kind of tribute to African American people and gospel music. Right, because our natural response to those we admire is to denigrate and dehumanize them. Worse still, the defensiveness, hostility and sarcasm of the pastor’s wife reveals the depth of their ignorance. In her own words,

“A little tiny blonde woman sang Randy Travis. So I guess Randy Travis should be offended,” Teresa Holbrooks said. “My husband pantomimed playing the piano. So I guess the piano should be offended.”

It is difficult for me even to gather a response to such overwhelming ignorance, but let’s go ahead and state what should be obvious to any human being — particularly someone who claims allegiance to Christ. I suppose if Randy Travis had been enslaved, attacked, degraded and oppressed by little blonde women for hundreds of years then, yes, he should be offended by such a performance. And pianos, if they were human beings created in the image of God, intimately known and loved, for whom Christ died then, sure, they should be offended as well.

Even worse than all of this was their “apology.” From their pastor:

Holbrooks gave a two-sentence statement: “Pilgrim Baptist Church and I meant no harm in the blackface skit. However there are those who have been offended and for that I am sorry.”

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with another human being should realize that a conditional apology is not, in reality, a genuine apology. I don’t mean to parse out these sentences too much, but there is a serious problem with this pastor’s words — apparently, he is not sorry that they performed this routine; he is only sorry that they offended people. Or, to put it more cynically, he is only sorry they were caught red-handed.

Ed Gilbreath mentions a very troubling idea in his initial post on this topic that is well worth considering:

I can only speak anecdotally on this, but there seems to be a growing movement of white people—including Christians—who feel so victimized by political correctness (and how it’s robbing them of their rights) that they’ve hardened their hearts to any suggestion that racial injustice is a factor in our society today. And they’ve become cold to how their privileged words and actions might affect others. That defensive mindset and callousness could be the biggest obstacles to true reconciliation in our churches and nation.

It is deeply troubling that many white people seem to consider it their God-given right to use inflammatory, degrading, racist language and then become enraged when someone else calls them out on this. Certainly, there are racial prejudices and sinful attitudes among any and all racial/ethnic groups, but this attitude is uniquely troubling to me in white people. There is a kind of willful ignorance to the past, a bewildering sense of entitlement. People of other racial/ethnic backgrounds are told to “lighten up” because “it’s only a joke” and “I have some real good black friends.”

I know political correctness has almost exclusively negative connotations, and has failed in many ways. I experienced this during my first year in college during our university’s infamous “water buffalo” incident.

I am not advocating PC, but is it really such a terrible thing to have people engage one another in civil, polite discourse? Shouldn’t it be second nature, common sense, for God’s people to treat others with dignity and respect? I refuse to give into the shrill talking heads and shrieking pundits who equate “being real” with rudeness. I am fully aware that altering a person’s vocabulary does almost nothing to change their hearts — genuine transformation can only happen through the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit — but, again, would it really kill people that much to treat others with respect? In particular, followers of Christ who claim to believe what the Bible says cannot simply edit out the parts where God creates all people in His own image, replete with dignity, worth and honor.

And our words do matter. Jesus Himself said it this way in Luke 6:45, “Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Hateful, racist words do not pop up out of nowhere, and they certainly do not flow from a pure, genuine heart for God.

Is there hope for our nation, for the body of Christ? Talking to people who willfully dwell in such ignorance is like beating your head against a wall. And yet, somehow, we are called to be messengers of reconciliation — with God and with one another. Although it is a small step for me personally, I am raising my voice as an Asian American follower of Christ to name this racist offense against the African American community as sin. May God have mercy on us.