Every once in a while, a sermon really sticks with me. I continue to think about it and it just won’t let me go. Usually, there is a convergence of events that go along with the sermon and I realize that God is trying to say something to me. Hopefully, you have experienced something like that. If you have, you know it is a powerful, but frightening experience.
Over the past few weeks, I have seen some horrible things. I have witnessed people, who I had previously thought were reasonable, say terrible things. I have seen somebody say “white lives matter more, we pay your welfare”. I heard somebody say that the Black Lives Matter movement is no different than the KKK. This was in response to criticism that a presidential candidate had to think about it before denouncing a white supremacist. At the same candidate’s rally a few days later, a young African American woman, was pushed, shoved, spit upon, and cursed at, bringing to mind images from force integration. On the other side of the aisle, presidential candidates treat African Americans as if they are a commodity instead of people. They are more than willing to say “Black Lives Matter”, but too often, they act as if they should be saying “Black Votes Matter.”
At the Academy Awards, host Chris Rock pointed out the lack of diversity of the #oscarssowhite, but at the same time, made some terrible, stereotypical jokes at the expense of Asians. Everywhere we turn, people are being marginalized, mistreated, and oppressed due to their race.
During Lent, I have been preaching a sermon series on how Christ transforms us. This is a sermon series that was planned months ago. The past two weeks I preached on how we should use our strength, especially our voice, to serve others and how we should use our power, our influence, to ensure justice, equality, and right relationships with and for all. These sermons wouldn’t let go of me as I reflected on the sheer amount of racial injustice in our society right now. In preparation for another sermon, I was reading theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “Silence in the face of evil is evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
How could I preach on using our strength and our voice to serve others and stay silent while witnessing these events? How could I preach about using our power and our influence for justice and not do anything? I can’t. Something must be said. Something must be done.
As Christians, it is our responsibility to work to ensure all people are treated fairly, no matter their skin color. Genesis teaches us that men and women are created in God’s image. All people, no matter what they look like are created in God’s image. The prophets told us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Paul told us in Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile, no slave or free, no man or woman. We are one in Jesus Christ. It becomes obvious that something must be done. The question is what. What can a church that is mostly white do about the issue of racism and racial equality?
First we have to admit that there is a problem. As the events I listed above, it is easy to see that there are prejudiced people everywhere we look. We have to also admit that there are systems of racism at work in our society. Whether we consider we ourselves racist or not, we participate in this systems and need to examine the role we play.
Next we have to educate ourselves. There are many ways to do this and it is best to take a multipronged approach. We can go join a group, such a SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) that foucss on white allies working towards racial justice.
Another approach is that we can read. Look for prominent bloggers or turn to books. Currently on my reading list is “Between Me and the World”, “The New Jim Crow”, and “killing rage: Ending Racism”. If any of you would like to form a group to read these or similar books together and discuss them, I would welcome the opportunity. Just let me know!
An important approach is to have conversations about race with people of color. During these conversations, it is important to do more listening to talking. I, as a white person, can never know what it is like to live as a person of color who faces discrimination day in and day out. If someone shares this experience with you, that is sacred space. Treat it as such. Do not make assumptions, do not think you can relate. You cannot. I cannot. Do not be dismissive, do not think you know better. You do not, I do not. These conversations may be painful for you. They may be awkward. They could and should make you uncomfortable. That is a small price to pay for the knowledge and perspective you will gain, for the relationships you will build.
There is so much work to be done in our society if we are to work for racial justice in our society. We have to work to eliminate the racism found in people’s hearts, as well as the systematic racism that is found throughout our country. This work must start with educating ourselves and expanding our viewpoints. Then we can begin on the difficult road ahead.
Galatians 3:38 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”