The Church needs an epistle on race

“Christianity has been almost sentimental in its efforts to deal with hatred in human life.  It has sought to get read of hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous judgments.  It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the lives of the people possessed by it.  This reluctance to examine hatred has taken on the character of a superstition.  It is a subject that is taboo unless there is some extraordinary social crisis– such as war– involving the mobilization of all the national resources of the common life to meet it.  There is a conspiracy of silence about hatred, its function and meaning.”

~ Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited

On August 11 and 12, a Unite the Right rally was held, which resulted in persons viewing images gut- wrenchingly similar to the Ku Klux Klan rallies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Images found only in history books and in black and white photos are now in full color.  We could see and hear expressions of hatred on wide screens and with high definition.  (Today, I am watching video that has surfaced of the attack of counter- protesters that resulted in the death of Ms. Heather Heyer and more than a dozen injured.)

With torches burning bright, persons who identify as socially colored white, walked the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, exchanging sheets and hoods for baseball caps, t- shirts and stonewashed jeans.  The image was jarring and disorienting.  I wondered, “So, this is what a hate group looks like now?”  Ironically, it is the torches alone that show me who they are.  Without them, they can fall back in line and into the shadows of society.

Hate has gotten a makeover and while the results are not surprising, this display of bravado causes concern.  I, along with many others, have seen hate in plainclothes but the appearance has never been televised.  Still, this transformation is an external remodel, namely a new wardrobe and name.  This attempt to rebrand does not change the ideology, which is deep- seated, historical and violently protective of a belief in the superiority of socially colored white people and consequently, their domination of the world.

The torch is a symbol much like the Confederate one persons at the Unite the Right protest rallied around that tells me not only what they believe in but what they believe about persons who are not socially colored white.  And the sentiments are not warm and fuzzy.  With the irrational fear of loss of personhood, position and property, of being replaced by persons from other countries and different cultures being repeated among them, these persons feel emboldened to take back their country and take lives in the process.  For them, sharing is not a possibility; it is all mine or nothing.

Believing that the world belongs to socially colored white people and that they are all- powerful, what is the Church’s response to white supremacy?  Because God is the only Supreme Being, the only One who can claim to be all- powerful, right?  How then shall the Church preach after the rally in Charlottesville?  Will the Church denounce white supremacy?  Will it remind followers of Jesus of the community- building efforts of God’s love and Christ’s cross?  Will the Church demonstrate the Spirit poured out on the church in Acts who had all things in common (cf. Acts 2.44; 4.32).  Can we not believe this together?

Will a discussion of racially- motivated domestic terrorism be placed on the liturgical calendar?  Will it be placed on the agenda in our business meetings or will it be business as usual?  Where in the biblical story do we find ourselves and where is Jesus?  Is he in Charlottesville protecting the Confederate statue or does he stand with those who want it removed?

Divided by politics and along socially constructed racial lines, the Church in America is largely divided.  We may worship well together on Sunday morning.  But, on Monday, we put down our cross and pull up our bootstraps.  We return to our worldly ways of rugged individualism, cultural isolation and self- segregation.  We enter shouting matches about the God of love but whisper in our corners of the world about our hatred. Because “good Christian people” don’t talk about that.

So then, I must ask what purpose does the Church serve if it does not speak to injustice?  What does the Church have to say if it falls silent here?  Where can it stand if not with the marginalized, poor and oppressed?  Where does it find its footing if not in places of persecution– unless we deny Christ’s cross?  What books, what letters of the Bible is the Church reading that enable this silence, the absence of introspection and an excused absence when it comes to social engagement and protest?  Because if the Church can’t say that white supremacy is wrong and disavow the social construct of race as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ and a supreme heresy to our shared conviction that people are made in God’s image, then perhaps the Church needs an epistle on race.

But, I’m not looking for words; I am looking for living epistles (Second Corinthians 3.2).

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