Editor’s Note: The following is one of several interviews we will be sharing from individuals in our church community who have helpful perspectives and vantage points into the issues of race and the gospel.
Dr. Ellis Ingram and his wife Pam (“Granny Pam” of Granny’s House) have been part of our Christian Fellowship family since its inception in the 1970s. Ellis served as a doctor and professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri until his recent retirement. For the four years prior to his retirement, he served as Senior Associate Dean for Diversity & Inclusion in the School of Medicine. Since the 70s, he has been involved in diversity initiatives in the hospital, on the campus, and in the community at large.
- What experiences or roles have you had that have given you a unique vantage point into the issues of discrimination or racism?
As a child growing up in the 50’s, I had the opportunity to experience the dynamics of race relations in Detroit as well as in Southern states. I attended grade school in Florida for a season. And almost every summer, we visited my mother’s hometown in rural Georgia.
I began college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the 60’s during the race riots and college protests that were sweeping across the country. The social climate was challenging because of the turmoil following the deaths of many people who played important roles in the fight for civil rights: the “Freedom Riders” who rode buses from Detroit to help with civil rights boycotts and protests in Mississippi; the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Pres. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.
I graduated from University of Michigan Medical School in 1974 and moved to Missouri to begin my pathology residency where I recall that there were, perhaps, only one or two other doctors in Columbia who looked like me. In 1976, a coworker informed me that they were moving and that their house near the hospital would soon be available to rent. Because she knew we were planning to move, she told me about the availability of their house before she even informed her landlady that she was moving. I immediately phoned the landlady, and she told me that my wife and I could definitely rent the house. After several follow up conversations to go over the details, she insisted that we meet face-to-face before signing the lease. As soon as the landlady took one look at us, the house was suddenly unavailable. It was so very obvious what was happening. I informed the local Human Rights Commission who referred our complaint to the U.S. Justice department, which eventually enabled us to rent the house and move in.
- How do you see God’s heart and the gospel as central to these issues?
God’s heart and passions are clear from the Bible:
- “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
- God’s love is not restricted; He is interested in loving those from “…every tribe, every tongue, every people” (Revelation 14:6).
- In 2 Corinthians 5:16-19, Paul says that because of what God has done in Christ, we are new creations, and “from now on, we recognize no one according to the flesh.” In Christ, all people can be reconciled to God, and we have been given Christ’s “ministry of reconciliation.”
- It also helps me to reflect upon Christ’s interaction with the woman at the well in John 4 (a Samaritan, looked down on by society); the story about the Good Samaritan that Jesus tells in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?;” and Christ’s words in Matthew 25:35-40, “When I was hungry… naked… sick… in prison…To the extent that you did it even to the least of these, you did it unto Me.”
- What do you see as some helpful practical steps toward change?
- Admit that we all are biased.
- Recognize that perhaps we do benefit from a “system” which has been based upon denying certain rights and resources to certain groups of people.
- Ask ourselves questions, such as: Do my friends all look alike? What am I doing to insure that others enjoy the same opportunities that my family and I enjoy? Is there something about my circle (job, community, etc.) that has led to the exclusion of certain types of people.
- Be very intentional about doing SOMETHING. In the Good Samaritan story, the most “religious” ignored the problem.
- Love without hypocrisy. Be authentic. Consider the needs of others as more important than your own. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- What is one particularly helpful thing you’ve learned in your own journey as you’ve wrestled with these issues that you could share with us?
Get close enough to look someone in the eye. The Bible says that the eyes are the light of the body. That gets you close enough to know someone so that you are able to really care. I am talking about authentic relationship, entangled in one another’s lives with mutual respect, genuine trust and caring.