For several years now, there has been a movement among evangelicals who are concerned about racism (especially on a religious/personal level) and have developing the concept of "race reconciliation". In her piece which appeared in Colorlines, Devil's in the Details, Andrea Smith looks very critically at this "Race Reconciliation" movement and points out their basic limitation:
While progressives generally understand that racism is a set of institutional practices that reinforce racial prejudices and maintain white supremacy, evangelicals generally understand racism as individual prejudices which can be transformed through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is presented as the solution to racism. To quote the Christian Coalition, "We don't have a skin problem in this country, we have a sin problem." Ironically, this failure to acknowledge any sweeping material or ideological basis for racism enables periodicals to print articles on the evils of racial prejudice and then follow them up with calls to repeal affirmative action, support immigration moratoriums, and oppose multicultural curriculums in schools.
I definitely think Andrea Smith's analysis rings true as far as it goes. At the same time, in the context of Michael Lerner's ideas about developing a spiritual left, she comes off a bit harsh. And it might be better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
For example, consider Alexis Spencer-Byers, a white-Asian evangelical Christian and author of Urban Verses. I actually sort of know her. She's the person who first introduced me to the phrase "race reconciliation" (at least in an Christian context) by many years ago giving me a copy of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. After graduating from college, she moved to Jackson, Mississippi and has been there for about ten years, to be part of a multi-racial religious community which lives out the idea of race reconciliation.
So on the one hand, I would say that Andrea Smith is totally justified in criticizing those who would replace a serious understanding of and struggle against institutional racism with easy slogans like "We don't have a skin problem, we have a sin problem". But on the other hand, some evangelicals who wave the banner of "race reconciliation" have definitely demonstrated a real commitment to the idea through the choices they have made in life.
In terms of building a "Spiritual Left", instead of demonizing the "race reconciliation" movement outright, it might be more productive to work constructively with them, tap into their energy, and encourage them to probe more deeply on the causes and effects and manifestations of racial inequality. At the same time, those Leftists who tend to downplay matters of the heart could probably learn a few things from the encounter as well.