You may have heard that the United Church of Christ has invited its pastors, members, other Christians, and the nation to participate in a ‘sacred conversation on race.’ This was announced about a month ago, in the middle of the whole Jeremiah Wright/Barack Obama thing. Part of the deal is that ministers will be kicking off the conversation this Sunday by preaching on the subject of race.

We’ll be posting an article on DisciplesWorld’s website tomorrow about the UCC and their hopes for this conversation.

Meanwhile, I came across an interesting blog post from Dennis Sanders, an African-American Disciples pastor in Minneapolis. Frankly, Dennis says well what I (and maybe others) are thinking: let’s have a ‘real’ conversation on race.

Maybe Dennis and I are just feeling more than a little post-liberal crankiness these days (hey, he didnt’call his blog “Oscar the Pastor” for no reason), but it seems like all our conversations about race are short, because they seem to be aimed at identifying systems (and people) that are racist. Not that that is bad…but does it really lead to change? What if we had a different kind of conversation, as Dennis suggests? One where people could just speak their minds.

As a white person, I know that I participate in racism. I know that I can’t always see it and I want to help eliminate it. But white guilt is a dead-end street and I gave up living there a long time ago. [Note: there’s a great book called The Heart of Racial Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson which, as a step toward reconciliation, calls for renouncing our false identities, including the “hip white person” identity.]

Now this may seem to contradict some things I’ve said/written in the past, but in my mind it doesn’t. I wish more white people understood more about black liberation theology, but the fact is, most have never heard of it. And most have never participated in anti-racism training. And probably never will. But a real conversation on race, the one we keep on not having in public but having all over the place in private or semi-private, in email and on blogs but NEVER in the church, is the one where whites are allowed to say something like “Jeremiah Wright makes me mad,” without someone looking at them like they’re an unenlightened jack***.  And black people need to be able to say what they need to say too. The conversation might be heated, but it need not devolve into death threats. People do need to be able to be real.

And that’s what I LIKE about Jeremiah Wright, and why I don’t find him offensive. It’s not just that I’ve read James Cone. It’s that at least Wright, for all his brashness, is speaking honestly what he believes (even if many people don’t agree).

My son, who is 18, tells me these conversations we ‘old folks’ (i.e. mostly well-meaning liberal Boomers and X-ers) are having about race are irrelevant to his generation. He agrees that racism exists (as do I, don’t get me wrong) and that it is still a problem. The difference is that his peers talk about race in a different (and possibly more authentic) way. Maybe he’s right.