Category Archives: Race and the Church

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).

Books can take you places

Image result for ruth haley barton life together in christAs many of us gear up for summer vacations with flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen, I want to remind us of the journey offered in books.  Words can take us places.  Within their pages are invitations to journey not just to distant and magical lands but to places closer to home, to undiscovered holy sites within us.  Dependent upon our imagination, openness and receptivity to the Spirit, books offer more than an escape but a way in to the deeper places.

Recently, a book offered just that for me.  I was looking for a spiritual locale but not sure how to get there or if there was a guide.  The words of Ruth Haley Barton provided the transportation.  She writes in Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, “Community is the most ‘overpromised and underdelivered’ aspect of the church today. … There is another overpromised, underdelivered aspect of the church today that is equally disillusioning, and that is the promise of spiritual transformation. … I made the disheartening discovery that it is possible to hang around other Christians a lot, meet regularly for worship, study our Bibles, join a church and even call ourselves a community but not change at all in ways that count.”

She was not putting words in my mouth.  She was speaking for me, repeating what I had been saying to myself.  The disappointment and disillusionment were palpable and I was not alone in this feeling.  What a relief!  Because the work of Christ must not be confused with Christ’s witness in us.  Church attendance should not be confused with Christ’s being present and tending to us.

The disconnect between Christ and transformation that causes me to groan most is that of the social construct of race.  That we, as Christians, continue to color in his body, that we allow the social construct of race to segregate his members brings deep grief and disappointment.  The power of Christ’s resurrection and our baptism into his new life is mocked here.

Still it must be said and said again, there is no community as ‘races.’  No one holy race.  No one human race.  For race cancels out community and gets in the way of our seeing all as humans.  The social construct of race says that there is no transformation.  We are only and always socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white people.  The stereotypes speak for us.

And to make believing harder, we have no faith that God can change us when it comes to the social construct of race.  The reach of Christ’s cross falls short here.  But, it is simply impossible to be God’s people and colored people.

***

I have a deep longing for transformation in community.  I want very much to experience life in Christ in ways previously unexplored and unexpressed.  I want to be a new creature, changed by my travels with Christ.  Returning home not with trinkets from my daily walk but testimonies of the difference that Christ has made in my life.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I want my heart to burn when Christ speaks (c.f. Luke 24.32).

I carry a collection of what I refer to as journey words.  These are words that I have met along the way, that I have run into or have been introduced to, that speak to where I am supposed to be.  Not only are they a source of encouragement but they keep me on track.  These journey words remind me of my identity and place in the world.

Barton’s book has affirmed the aim of my life.  More than the trip of a lifetime, I believe that I will have arrived where I belong when I am in a community that is transformed, with me as its first member.

Now carrying journey books in addition to journey words, my bag will be much heavier but the load will be lighter.  Knowing that there are persons walking ahead of me, who have not only been there but remain has taken my spiritual life to new heights.  I will not return the same.

 

 

Charleston Syllabus

51Y8E43MSEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It is the title of a new book that offers readings on race, racism and racial violence.  Professors Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain, its authors, offer this collection of writings in hopes of strengthening our conversations about race after the Charleston massacre on June 17, 2015.  On this terrible day, twenty- one year old white supremacist Dylann Roof entered Emaneul AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine of its members, including of its pastor.  What began as a hash tag on Twitter with thousands of responses has become a publication.

I must confess that I wish that the course were not an offering.  I am still lamenting the loss of those church members and am in no way prepared to learn lessons from their bowed and bloodied heads.  It is just too soon for me.  So, if you are able to turn the pages of this book, I will give you extra credit.

Remember Me?

jesus-and-criminals-on-the-cross-300x199As believers, we are described as the Body of Christ.  Many members and abilities, different cultures and languages, various talents and interests, still we are called the Body.  It does not matter the interpretation, denomination or lack thereof.  It makes no difference how many ministries, members, locations and services we have, we remain one Body.

In fact, our ability to operate as one Body is used as Jesus’ evidence.  He uses us as part of his case and claim.  Jesus says that it is in our ability to be one as he and the Father are one that proves that he was sent by God and that God loves us just as He loves him (John 17.23).   Our unity demonstrates this.

So why then, the separation?  Though called to be indivisible and inseparable, having the same Lord, faith and baptism (Ephesians 4.5), we continue to allow race to come between us and at the cost of Christ’s image and credibility.  Does it not matter that we are to show God’s love to the world?

Today, I am wondering how the house of God, the very temple of the Holy Spirit justifies its participation in relating to persons according to the social construct of race.  How do people of faith explain being bound by the flesh?  What of Christ’s words do we remember or have we forgotten him altogether?

When we practice racism, judge persons based on stereotypes or justify Sunday morning segregation, is Christ waving his arms wildly and saying, “Hey!  Remember me?”

The Double- Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

27029_360054929042_83975054042_3430697_4705708_nThe conversation I entered into with the attendees of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks this week picks back up and concludes here:

I suppose that it is a matter of pride and it’s a mind game. James uses the descriptor “double- minded” when speaking of the doubter who prays[i] but this two-ness is found both in the Old and New Testaments. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah.[ii] Isaiah recorded the voice of the Lord saying, “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.”[iii] Jesus spoke of Pharisees who were clean on the outside but inside were “full of greed and self- indulgence.”[iv] He asked them, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?[v]

Great question, Jesus. God made the outside as well as the inside, flesh and spirit.[vi] So, God knows the spirit and while we have a hand in our formation, our nature is a sight unseen by us. And the outside of us does not fool God. He sees everything.

In fact, God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb,[vii] before texture of hair or eye color, before shape of nose or size of lips, before the social coloring of skin. God beheld a form that we cannot see and that no label can attach itself to.

And Paul echoes this spiritual reality and ends the culture war by waving this white flag at the Galatians and Colossians, who are now in the Body of Christ, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek.”[viii] Consequently, race does not form us spiritually but socially and should not inform us spiritually but assist us in understanding our society. Therefore, we must retell the story of our spiritual formation, our Christian identity without it, beginning with God.

Race has nothing to do with it. It is our idolatrous belief in the social construct of race, our support of its prejudices, our use of its stereotypical lens that has made the Church unstable. We waver between two opinions behave as if there are two gospels, two sets of commandments, two segregated heavens and hells. But, we forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and race. [ix]

Therefore, Christian education must challenge social realities and subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture. Christian educators must keep race in its place— out of the pulpit and pews, out of our hymnals and Bibles, out of our fellowship and worship. Christians must serve the Lord with their minds, not merely repeating after society but examining ourselves, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”[x]

We must change our minds about race as it does not renew us.[xi] We must learn about race in order to unlearn it. We must see race for what it is so that we can see our selves and our neighbors as they are. We must speak up about race in order to take its voice and find our own.

Because our faith and race do not agree. Race is not a partner in our becoming. It says that God creates no one new, that God is a Copycat, that we are all members of a boxed cultural set.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that it is a part of God’s plan, that God makes some persons better than others, that God decides who is best according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God judges and prejudices our physical features.

Race also says that we can put God on our side— the side of the oppressed or privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses.  Race teaches us that God racially segregates us.

But, race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, made up as we go along.  We must stop singing and teaching about race as it is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.

Believing in race changes our confession of faith, compromises our witness and confuses our allegiance, fighting for flesh instead of standing in the solidarity of God’s Spirit. The theology of race both deifies and demonizes our flesh. Calling us to worship whiteness, one color becomes our symbol of righteousness and the other of social condemnation.

Suggesting that we are saved by our skin, it becomes our social messiah. Race says that our standing with God and in society is determined by our epidermis. Race says that it knows who we are and that the inside of us, our inner being, our spirit cannot change that.

So, how did we come to believe this, support and endorse it? How did we, spiritual people, get stuck on the surface? How did the Church of the living God submit its mind and members to the power of the flesh? When did we change our minds about the God who loves us all and sent His Son to die for us all in order to support a divided and double- minded Church, a color- coded and dismembered Body? What were we thinking when we began to categorize God’s love, to divide the image of God—all for us and none for them? And what of our witness to the little children, to the next generation?

Do we really believe that Jesus loves us and that he can love us without race? What do you think now? Where do you stand?

________________________

[i] James 1.8

[ii] First Kings 18.21, NRSV

[iii] Isaiah 29.13, NRSV

Also, the writer of Proverbs speaks of a “double heart” (Proverb 25.26).

[iv] Matthew 23.25, NRSV

[v] Luke 11.40, NRSV

[vi] Job 33.4

[vii] Jeremiah 1.5

[viii] Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11

[ix] Matthew 6.24

[x] Second Corinthians 10.5

[xi] Romans 12.1-2