Tag Archives: Jesus and the Disinherited

After Charlottesville: Doing our hate homework

Image result for unite the right rally in charlottesville va with tiki torches

God is love and we, as Christians, are known by it (First John 4.16).  It is God’s character and our expected response for we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15).  It is the principle identifier, proof that we are not only in a relationship with but related to God—not abilities, culture, education, gifts, social status or wealth.  It is not proven by church attendance or even committee participation.  Because the Christian life is more than showing up and doing.  Our Christian faith is about being—being and behaving as the body of Christ.

The apostle Paul reminds us that none of these external markers matter anyway.  Often used at weddings and referred to as the love chapter, First Corinthians 13, along with Psalm 23, are the most recognizable, often quoted but poorly practiced truths of Scripture.  There are portions that read like the job description of love but how many of us apply it to our lives when it matters and is needed most?  And John is crystal clear that this is not an easy kind of love.  He writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. … Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (First John 4.18, 20-21, NRSV).

It is against God’s law to hate.  You shall have no other gods.  You shall not steal.  You shall kill.  You shall not hate.

John says this is not about warm and fuzzy feelings.  This is not a matter of sharing a smile but in the suffering of our siblings.  He writes, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (First John 3.18, NRSV).  Because it is not enough to say that we are Christians, to suggest that our identity speaks for itself and requires no action.  God forbid.

What purpose does the Church’s mouth serve if it does not speak to injustice?  And if the Church cannot say, “God is love” when hatred is expressed in Charlottesville, Virginia or closer to home, then what are we talking about?  Because hatred is not foreign, a product shipped in or smuggled across borders.  Hatred is personal, local and homegrown.  And the Church has often made is sacred.  The Church in North America has hated “in Jesus’ name.”

I find that it is easier to talk about the God of love but what are we to say about the people who hate and closer still, the people we hate?  The Unite the Right rally that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia should remind the Church that we have work to do.  Anxiety, discomfort and ignorance are not valid excuses to not attend to the matter.  We cannot stay in the nurse’s office because this wound will not heal without us.

But, before we attempt to teach others, we have our own homework to do.  Let the words of Howard Thurman serve as the introduction to this course.  He writes in Jesus and the Disinherited:

Christianity has been almost sentimental in its effort to deal with hatred in human life.  It has sought to get rid of hatreds 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.  The 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 penned these truths in 1976.  Clearly, we have a lot of homework to do.

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).