by Tobin Miller Shearer
2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NRSV): In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
The author of 2 Timothy can sound harsh to those of us trained to be kind. Yet in a world filled with drive-by racial epithets, racial profiling by white business owners and police officers, and the assumption that people of color are outsiders in many neighborhoods, these verses deserve a second look. Why? Because kindness can be a problem.
The reason that kindness can be a problem is that it is the only way most members of the white community know how to respond to issues of racial injustice. White people have been too often taught in schools, congregations, and community organizations that the way forward is simply to be nice to people who are different.
Being nice and friendly is a good thing. The problem is that kindness does not equip us to deal with the complexities that emerge in racial crisis situations like the one that gripped Ferguson for months and the others that have been too frequent visitors in many other communities throughout the country.
On the morning after the grand jury announced that they would not be indicting Darren Wilson for the shooting death of the unarmed Michael Brown, I told my students that the real lesson from Ferguson is that our country values white life more than it does black life. That is what needs to change. And, unfortunately for us in the white Christian community, kindness won’t get us there.
Dear God, may we, like the author of this letter to Timothy, also find ways to “convince, rebuke and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” as we educate those around us about the realities of white privilege and ongoing racial oppression. Amen.
Tobin Miller Shearer is an associate professor of History at the University of Montana where he also directs the African-American Studies Program. A prolific author, his most recent book is Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries (Johns Hopkins: 2010). He is a co-founder of ROJ’s Damascus Road Antiracism Process.