Fred Luter on Race Relations in America

Pastor Fred Luter, who will probably be the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention, spoke to PBS recently on race relations in America. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Watch Rev. Fred Luter on Race in America on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

I have not heard the whole interview, but will offer some thoughts on the above excerpt.

I agree with brother Luter that America still has a long way to go in race relations. However, he has couched his insight into the need for racial reconciliation based on the way President Obama is treated by some. I disagree with Luter’s blanket premise as presented in this excerpt.

I do not doubt that there are those who do not respect Obama because he is (considered) black. Yet, the examples Luter gives are not necessarily racially motivated. It is not clear that someone shouted during Obama’s speech that he is a liar because he is black. It is not clear that some idiot put up a ridiculous picture of Obama with a hole in his head because he is black. It is not clear that the ridiculous comment to imagine Obama as one of the shooting targets was made because he is black.

Everything is not about race.

As difficult as it can be for some conservatives, the office of President of the United States does deserve respect. Those whom I know personally that oppose Obama do so based on ideological, rather than racial, reasons.

There is certainly a racial divide in America, but blaming what seems to be every disagreement or disrespectful attitude toward President Obama on race does little to mend the racial divide.

What do you think?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 BDW April 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm

“Everything is not about race”

When a conservative white man makes this statement, the common take-away is that the person believes that race does not matter. That statement is necessarily going to be received as an attempt to downplay race.

Right or wrong, that’s how it is received. History is relevant here. Conservative white men have gone to great lengths to downplay the role of race. That’s just a fact.

I get that many oppose President Obama due to ideological differences and not because he’s black. But try to step in Luter’s shoes. Step in McKissic’s shoes. Both men have said the EXACT same thing. The African-Americans that I’m around, that I’m friends with regularly express the exact same sentiment.

Yea, we might not be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the motivation behind a statement (person who hollered at Santorum to pretend its Obama). But if we let history and experience inform our analysis, it’s hard to deny that race matters greatly and that there has been a racial element at play in *some* of the disrespect toward President Obama.

The fact remains that African-Americans – conservative and liberal alike – have very strong opinions and speak with a level of certainty on this subject. If Southern Baptist leaders truly wish to pursue racial reconciliation, it would be a great benefit to spend some time trying to better understand the perspective of African-Americans.

Richard Land’s rant and Rev. Meeks response is a good example of this divide. Hard to have reconciliation when there’s no real understanding.

Also, what do you mean when you wrote – “because he is (considered) black” ? You don’t think President Obama is black? I don’t know what you’re trying to convey. But that’s an off-putting statement.

2 Mark April 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

BDW,

I do want to note that I hope Brother Luter becomes the next SBC President.

I care about whether or not racism is the motivation or not. As a Christian, I prefer not to pre-judge and apply race as the cause to those issues Luter named, for example. As a Christian, Luter ought to be more thoughtful and not broadbrush, IMO.

As I see it, the more blacks, whites, ect. default to race as the cause and motivation for disrespect and the like, the harder it will be to reconcile. I want to understand more clearly from the perspective of black Americans though I know I will never fully grasp their perspective. On the other hand, I should be able to disagree with someone like President Obama without my disagreement being judged as having racial motivations.

Richard Land? I disagree with him and should say no more right now.

I wrote that President Obama is “(considered) black)” because despite being multi-racial, he is considered a black man. Is this false?

Thanks for stopping by.

3 Robert I Masters April 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I think it should be noted I hope Dr Luter is not defending wickedness just because the the President is a black man!
In my opinion saying you disagree with the President is not the same thing as saying you stand firmly against a position.

I disagree that peas taste good……. but I stand firmly against the inherently racist application of the abortion platform of the democratic party in America.

4 Robert I Masters April 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

BDW,
Richard Land is a Dr, and calling his comments “a rant” is disrespectful to both him and the people of the SBC who continue to allow him to lead the ERLC.
He is also a Reverend so you could have hidden your bias by calling both of your examples Reverend……you did not though!

BTW—–all the polls I have seen seem to indicate he was accurate in his statements.

5 Bobby Capps April 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I host a race relations roundtable and may bring this blog for a conversation starter. I’ve been doing it for four years now and I am familiar with most of the players. My guess is they would answer your “what do you think?” question with three words, “You are white.” If you listen to Luter you will hear how a black man processes events from his background and perspective, and your response is a typical white response. He makes note that no white president has been publicly disrespected and takes that as a racial issue, you postulate it ‘could’ be something else, but that’s what we whites always do, instead of listening we grade the black mans response deciding whether or not his response is appropriate or even legitimate. It may have been that we are just plain old disrespectful now and never in the history of our country have been before. Yes… that’s true. But isn’t it easier to say, “Man, I hate it that the first black president was disrespected and how that makes you black guys feel. Have you felt disrespected in your life also?”

6 Mark April 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I should change the question to “How should a Christian respond?” So far, Bobby and BDW state a one-sided look which unfairly characterizes all white people who may be critical of Obama. That is not a Christian response.

Imagine the Christian life if we guided all of our observations and rationality by our feelings? We may never get to a place of grace and forgiveness in our lives.

7 BDW April 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I thought to say Obama is “considered” black to be awkward. He is black. I understand his multi-racial background but he has lived his life as an African-American and – like Luter – knows the Black Experience.

A number of sociologists of religion – evangelical sociologists such as Christian Smith & Michael Emerson included – have demonstrated that conservative whites often do not recognize racial elements and racial implications of various issues and just the average day-to-day experience.

And excuse me Mark, but how have I did I “unfairly characterize all white people”?

You might ought to re-read what I wrote, particularly the part where I said, “It’s hard to deny that race matters greatly and there has been a racial element at play in *SOME* of the disrespect toward President Obama”

Also, Robert Masters, “rant” is actually the word that The Tennessean used in the title of their article. “Rant” is not a common descriptor used in a headline. That they chose to use that term says something about the tone of Land’s rhetoric. As to his Dr. and Rev. titles, I actually didn’t intend to slight Land. Most people know Richard Land. Many don’t know Meeks. I’m not sure if “bias” is the word. I certainly don’t have anything positive to say about Richard Land. I think that he has embodied and represented over the last two decades much that is wrong with evangelicalism, the Baptist tradition and Christianity in general.

8 Robert I Masters April 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm

BDW,
The Tennessean is a Gannett owned newspaper. It is a liberal organization.Period!
See it is about ideology and not about race.

The people of Tennessee stand with Dr Land along with Maury Davis and Allen Jackson.

9 Job April 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Mark:

The truth is that a whole lot of people use politics as a way to make their racial hostilities socially acceptable. Now truthfully, this happens more on the left than the right, where it is taken for granted that it is perfectly OK to resent individual whites because whites collectively control the vast majority of the wealth and power, or to hold all whites accountable today for what some whites did in the past. But it does happen on the right also. Conservatives do a lot of vicious racial things and then claim that it is really about partisan politics or ideology, not race.

That is why I really wish that Christians would be as disengaged from politics as is practically possible. That way, they wouldn’t be tainted with the garbage of either side, no matter what the issue is.

10 Andrea Francine April 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm

As both a woman and a Latino, I am bone-weary of the accusations of racism that fly for holding an opposing view of President Obama’s positions and policies. I was not a supporter of George W. Bush either, which had nothing to do with his being white, and neither does my lack of support for the current administration have anything to do with the President’s Obama’s race.

President Obama’s policies and actions (see, for example, this timeline of the affects the Obama Administration has had on religious freedoms:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=95854) are what I oppose, not his skin color.

Political discourse, already a depressing spectacle, is made only the more of a grotesque farce when we cannot disagree with someone’s (even the POTUS’s) views of what constitutes sound public policy without the attempts to drown out legitimate questions and concerns with cries of “Racist! That’s racist! You’re racist!” (The accusatory cries come from all directions on the political spectrum, of course.)

This is not to suggest that racial vainglory and racial hatred does not animate the words and deeds of some of the President’s critics, nor is it to suggest that we can ignore the reality of racism, past and present. Today I happened to come across a quote by First Things’ R.R. Reno which was made in an unrelated context but I think his words are applicable in this context as well: “Repentance cauterizes; it does not erase.” Even if non-white men, women and children were not daily submitted to slights and indignities (to say nothing of grave injustices) that are often imperceptible to those belonging to the majority culture, the strides that have been made do not erase the reality of the past nor its ongoing impacts on the present.

But as a minority woman I also see the reality of something else: a grievance culture that is just as animated by racial vainglory and racial hatred, and whose proponents have no real interest in reconciliation or harmony between fellow image bearers of God who reflect His glory through our diverse races and cultures.

Barack Obama deserves to be treated with dignity not because he is President but because before he is anything else, he is a human being created in the image of God. He has unique worth merely because he lives and breathes.

Note well though that my God-given obligation toward President Obama (or former President Bush for that matter, no stranger himself to rabid hate-filled speech and images directed at his person) does not extend to suppressing my convictions and/or conscience. I will support him when I can, and I will oppose him when I must.

11 Cathy M. April 13, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Are you kidding me? President Obama is getting the same ration of hate filled vitriol that every public office holder gets these days (without the added scourge of hostile media persecution reserved for conservatives.)

If we apply Luter’s logic, I guess it was “racist” when “in July 2003, the Los Angeles Times published a Sunday editorial cartoon by conservative Michael Ramirez that depicted a man pointing a gun at President Bush’s head; … In 2005, a teacher instructed her senior civics and economics class to take photographs to illustrate the rights contained in the United States Bill of Rights. One student ‘had taken a photo of George Bush out of a magazine and tacked the picture to a wall with a red thumb tack through his head. Then he made a thumb’s-down sign with his own hand next to the President’s picture, and he had a photo taken of that, and he pasted it on a poster.'” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threatening_the_President_of_the_United_States)

It’s not always about race, its about fallen people doing what fallen people do.

12 Peter L April 14, 2012 at 8:28 am

BDW says of President Obama: “… he has lived his life as an African-American and – like Luter – knows the Black Experience.”
Excuse me? He was raised in Indonesia by a Muslim stepfather. Then he went to Hawaii and lived with his white grandparents, who sent him to a private high school. Is that the “Black Experience” you mean? How is that supposed to help him know the experience of living in an urban ghetto in high rise government projects, wondering where your next meal will come form? How does that “experience” help him understand the blacks in the South who had to endure Jim Crow laws? Yes, Mr. Obama can call himself “African-American” since his father was a citizen of an African nation, but to say he grew up as a typical black in impoverished circumstances is an outright deception.

I, as a fair-skinned Puerto Rican, must say that every person in this country has the opportunity to achieve whatever he puts his mind to, regardless of the color of his skin or the nationality of his parents. Just don’t make race the issue!

13 BDW April 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

Hey Peter L,

How about not putting words in my mouth? I said rather simply that he has lived his life as an African-American and knows the Black Experience. One need not grow up in a poor, urban neighborhood have that experience. Although – last I checked – community organizers don’t generally organize in affluent neighborhoods….

Certainly spending a few years in Indonesia and growing up (through high school) in Hawaii is not a “typical” experience for the overwhelming majority of Americans – white, black, hispanic, etc.

You write that Obama “CAN call himself African-American.” WOW. Thankfully, he doesn’t need your permission.

As to the comparisons with other Presidents who endured all kinds of accusations, etc. – Obama’s experience has been different in that previous presidents did not have their citizenship questions. Previous presidents were not accused of being a Muslim.

It’s IMPOSSIBLE to remove race/ethnicity from the birtherism and “Obama is a Muslim” crap. So, yea, there’s a racial element that’s always been in play among *some*

14 Andrea Francine April 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

Hi BDW – I wanted to remark on your comment “Previous presidents were not accused of being a Muslim.”

Other black men have run for president without being accused of being a Muslim. I think the accusations have less to do with President Obama’s race than with his name and background, including (erroneous) claims that the school he attended as a child in Indonesia was a Muslim madrassah. The school’s officials disputed that, saying it was a public school, not a religious school, though classes in Islam were reportedly offered. Also, the rumor of PBO as a stealth Muslim was given a great big push by his one of his cabinet members and former political rivals – Hilary Clinton. Her campaign circulated photos of him in traditional dress while he was visiting a Muslim area of Kenya. And his step-father was Muslim.

I have no doubt that if a previous white president had the middle name of Hussein and had a Muslim step-father and had attended an elementary school where classes in Islam had been offered, he, too, would be accused of being a Muslim. Especially if this hypothetical (white) president’s Administration had reportedly directed NASA personnel to conduct Muslim outreach and if his Administration had been thought to spend a fair amount of time trying to bring various communions of the Christian Faith unto submission with this or that federal law or regulation. (See Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and Roman Catholic Church, for example.)

None of that justifies the false accusations that continue even to this day, but it does put them in context. It is not always and only about race. Cultural and religious antipathies also play a part. Or as better put by Cathy M. upthread, “It’s not always about race, its about fallen people doing what fallen people do.”

15 Peter L April 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm

You write that Obama “CAN call himself African-American.” WOW. Thankfully, he doesn’t need your permission.

No he doesn’t, and my statement wasn’t intended to be such permission I only want to point to the fact that most who call themselves “African-American” have no ties to the continent other than ancestry. And that he was not raised in the black community, so how can he know the “Black Experience”, other than his time working on South Chicago?

We are all Americans. Let’s do away with the hyphenations and perhaps we’ll begin to fulfill Martin Luther King Junior’s dream of a colorless society.

16 Andrea Francine April 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

P.S. I should add that I do not dismiss race as a factor in some disrespectful attitudes or willingness to believe demonstrable falsehoods about PBO, just as the only factor, which it is often presented as being.

Also, I do think that President Obama has a unique burden from that of his predecessors, and that it is related to race. Take for example the reaction to his comments regarding Trayvon Martin. He was accused of not saying enough to help the cause for justice and of failing to address the reality of the Black experience in the U.S….and he also was accused of saying enough to intentionally stoke racial strife. Simultaneously an appeaser and an agitator. No matter the situation, I think his response will likely always be measured by a different standard, and will likely always be accompanied by such opposite reactions.

17 Mark April 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

A black friend of mine who happens to be an elder in a PCA church pointed out something to me about the liberal double-standard. First, he mentioned, as someone did above, that terrible things were said about Bush. Furthermore, terrible things have been said about black conservatives like Condi Rice and Clarence Thomas which people seem to overlook. Even brother Luter, who is a conservative (as far as I know), did not bring up how black conservatives are treated by the left.

18 S.A. Croft June 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I pray for Pres. Obama to be saved or moved. As a Christian I cannot support anyone Democratic or Republican, or Independent who believes it is ok to abort human babies up to and including the day before they would be born naturally. I cannot support anyone who voted against a doctor giving care to an infant born alive after a failed abortion and is thrown in a bucket and left to die. There are many other reasons I do not and could not support Obama. None of them have to do with his race. All of them have to do with his core beliefs. Don’t be mad that I would dare to question his salvation, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” If someone loves the Lord Jesus he will obey His commands.” John 14:21-24.

19 William Hudson March 28, 2013 at 9:45 am

I just came across this blog and had to respond regardless of its outdated nature. Quote from BDW: “A number of sociologists of religion – evangelical sociologists such as Christian Smith & Michael Emerson included – have demonstrated that conservative whites often do not recognize racial elements and racial implications of various issues and just the average day-to-day experience.” Actually the inverse is true. I do not need the opinions of evangelical sociologists such as Christian Smith & Michael Emerson to demonstrate reality. Like most “white conservatives” I have the ability to see what is right in front of my nose and to think for myself rather than make excuses for those, black or white who are obviously dedicated to the destruction of Godly American values. The fact is that black and white progressives, President Obama included, “recognize” racism in every comment that does not coincide with their point of view, and this “recognition” is nothing more than a disingenuous, contrived strategy out of the President’s handbook, “Rules for Radicals”. Today we understand that Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” comment was merely a statement of fact. And yes, it was something that had never happened before, but no President had ever before admonished the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, sitting in his presence, in a State of the Union Address or had ever made a concerted effort to “fundamentally change” all that is Godly and all that is of moral decency in America. Maybe my post isn’t a year late. We now have real men of integrity to hear from such as former Congressman Allen West and famed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.

20 Mark March 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thanks, William. Well said.

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