Jim Wallis speaks on race in America

Photo+by+Julia+McKee
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Jim Wallis speaks on race in America

Photo by Julia McKee

Photo by Julia McKee

Photo by Julia McKee

Photo by Julia McKee

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On Monday, Sept. 12, Rev. Dr. Jim Wallis opened Calvin’s Center for Faith & Writing fall 2016 series with a speech about his new book, “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” The bestselling author, activist, preacher and theologian drew a large crowd to the CFAC. All seats were full, and some visitors had to park in overflow lots near the Seminary and science building.

Wallis discussed topics like poverty, racial segregation, white privilege and social injustices. The 20 arrests on his record proves that he believes in the power of nonviolent protest.

Wallis opened up his hour-long speech declaring that Christians need to “change the narrative” that exists around ideas like white privilege and racism.

“I’m a Christian,” stated Wallis, “but Christians have got to tell the truth of what Christians have done in the past that is wrong.”

He made no effort to hide the persecution minorities face due to systematic racism. He challenged white people numerous times to come to terms with their privilege and treat their black brothers and sisters with respect.

“If white Christians acted more Christian than white, then black parents would be less fearful for their black children,” Wallis said.

During his speech, Wallis stated that he decided to write his newest book after the infamous shooting of African American high school student Trayvon Martin. Wallis compared the lives and deaths of innocent black men at the hands of police brutality with the lives of his two sons. He concluded that if his white, middle class son was in an altercation with the police, he would walk away unharmed.

He concluded this idea by making an analogy. He stated that white privilege is like a moving sidewalk. The person on the runway is just standing, but they are still moving and advancing.

Wallis believes that Christians have a special call to change the racism that is deeply rooted in the United States. The church specifically needs to deal with these sorts of issues and should not be afraid of bringing them to light.

“If you benefit from oppression, then you are responsible for changing it,” Wallis then went on to say. “It’s not admirable to be a multi-cultural church; it’s expected.”

Wallis ended his speech with a few words of encouragement to young people, and specifically Calvin College students.

“I think there is a new generation that wants to build a bridge to a new America,” stated Wallis. “Remember, all lives don’t matter until black lives matter.”

Calvin professor of sociology Elisha Marr followed Wallis. She related these issues back to Calvin and challenged the student body.

She revealed that in 2009, a survey conducted by Calvin found that 62 percent of students felt racially discriminated against at some point during their time at Calvin.

Luckily, Calvin has grown over the years. In a more recent survey conducted in 2015, 64 percent of white faculty and staff and 47 percent of minority faculty and staff felt that Calvin values race.

Sydney Barcey, a junior, felt that Wallis’ speech was a breath of fresh air.

“To hear someone that is passionate about equal rights on a college campus is inspiring,” said Barcey. “It made me realize that it’s not embarrassing to challenge people to refrain from saying racist comments, even on social media or in joking matters because it is really a serious issue that people should not joke about.”

Marr encouraged students to get involved in groups on campus that deal with these issues. These groups and events include We are Calvin Too, attending campus led teach-ins and taking the newly offered interdisciplinary course titled “Black Lives Matter.”