Isaac Adams, lead pastor of Iron City Church Birmingham, spoke recently about how Christians can pray for and think about racial strife.
During a TAB Amplify podcast, Adams recalled a memorable childhood experience when he realized color really matters.
“In fourth grade it didn’t matter,” he reflected. “But in fifth grade something changed. And I remember it.”
Adams, author of “Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations” and founder of United? We Pray, a ministry devoted to praying about racial strife, is comfortable talking about the subject.
The book, he explained, relays many experiences — not all his. But one in particular does belong to “Little Isaac.”
“This young black boy is looking at his classroom door,” Adams recalled. “It’s an election year, and some kid made a sign that said, ‘Who are you voting for?’ and put it on the door.
“All his white friends were on the Republican side, and most of his black friends were on the Democrat side.
“I remember that so clearly. It was Bush and Gore. It [happened] all of a sudden. In fourth grade we were all cool. In fifth grade it was like, ‘You hang out with your own. Black kids hang with [black kids], white kids hang with [white kids.]’
“And I was kind of caught between because my friends were white and I was like, ‘What’s happening all of a sudden?’”
Adams said he didn’t want to sign the paper, not wishing to choose between his friends. That’s the moment he realized colors and race make a difference.
People learn early in life, Adams noted. Friendship, dating and friend groups invade early on, and children encounter barriers that are a product of their parents’ past experiences.
“Racial hierarchy and categorizing are just the way our minds work,” Adams asserted. “It’s just a part of the American psyche, how we think about organizing ourselves.”
Progress has been made since the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation, Adams acknowledged, but the impact lingers in predominantly white or black neighborhoods, schools and even churches.
‘House is burning’
“The match (of segregation) has been blown out, but the house is still on fire,” he lamented. “And regardless of whether or not you put the match to the house, the house is burning. We’ve just gotten so accustomed to seeing things on fire. It’s just kind of normal to us.
“We need to keep talking about this because we never are exempt from the call to love our neighbors,” Adams declared. “It’s something our church very imperfectly is trying to think about — that lots of churches are trying to think about. If we could fix it overnight, it would have been fixed already.”
According to Adams, striving not to be racist can actually become a “me-oriented” goal.
‘Christ over comfort’
Instead, he said, a more positive, other-oriented goal is to seek to be “a Christian who pursues justice and mercy and love.”
Some believers, and often the Church, avoid open conversations about race to avoid appearing racist, Adams noted — but healing can only begin when the masks come off.
“As Christians, what we need to do is pick Christ over comfort,” he declared. “It’s not that comforts are wrong, but Jesus said, ‘You will pick up a cross daily’ and crosses are uncomfortable.
“My preference is to be in a Christ-displaying community. There’s more going on in and through church than what kind of coffee you like.”
For more of the Amplify podcast series visit alabamabaptist.org/podcasts.