This past Sunday in my message at Markey Church, I spoke about racism, love, and repentance.
I asked the question "Who is my neighbor?", and did my best to answer it with vulnerability and honesty. You can listen to that message here: http://markeychurch.org/sermons_it…/the-way-its-always-been/
After sitting with this teaching for several days, both before and after I delivered it publicly, I have a few thoughts on how it relates to where we are as a country/culture, and the role of people of faith in our national conversation:
1. I think many of us have a difficult time distinguishing between an evil act or attitude, and an evil person. For the most part, people are complex in our actions, relationships and experiences. We show a huge capacity for love and goodness, and an equally large capacity to hurt each other. I think many well-meaning people get confused and defensive when they are faced with their own actions that may have aligned themselves with the work of Evil in the world, and the good, honorable, or decent person they see in the mirror. We are all susceptible to aligning ourselves with Evil on a daily basis. It is human nature, at this juncture. And yet we are also created good, by a good and loving Father, who wants the best for us. We need to learn to hold that tension much better.
2. When it comes to race and racism in America, most folks who identify as "white" have been the primary movers when it comes to holding power, and therefore are the most to blame when it comes to racial injustice or unrest in our society at large. White folks have always held the keys to culture power and control. Many white folks I know are really good, decent people, AND they have benefitted from the systems and structures in our society that are predicated on racism, either currently, or historically. Access to wealth, to education, to jobs, to housing, and to so many other things that have benefitted me and my family have been available to me and my family first.
3. For a white person to begin to acknowledge their role in this and see clearly the powers and structures that are motivated by Evil does not mean that every white person IS evil. Acknowledgment of Evil in the world, and how Evil may have actually impacted me, is a very Christian posture. We are meant to be people of repentance. We are meant to be people of reconciliation. We are meant to be the first movers in acknowledging how we have been complicit in the work of Evil in our culture. To acknowledge our complicity is NOT to say we are equal to Evil. It is simply to speak the truth, that Evil has a hold on parts of our lives. To continue to pretend otherwise only strengthens the grip of Evil in our culture.
4. Too many people of faith, particularly conservatives, and particularly Evangelicals, and more and more Progressives, are trading the cruciform posture of Christianity that Jesus displayed, and the Apostle Paul wrote of, for a version of Christianity that is at once consumed with maintaining cultural power, cultural victory, and and an endless parade of belief in God mixed with the politics of nationalism. To be American is NOT to be Christian. To go to church is NOT to be Christian. Christians don't vote for a particular political ideology - the evidence shows this every cycle. When we confuse our voting record or our political ideology with the Way of Jesus, we bastardize the Gospel and turn it into a vehicle where we are saved by our ideological purity. In many ways, this is the opposite of what Jesus taught, and what the early church looked like.
5. The early church, as evidenced by the book of Galatians, and others, was made up of people who were both Jews AND Greeks, Slaves AND Freedmen, Women AND Men - basically, people who were DRAMATICALLY different from each other, people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic classes, all sorts of ideologies. If people in the ancient Roman world could find common ground under the banner "Jesus is Lord", then surely we can today, for our task is not nearly as daunting as theirs was.
6. To repent means to not only turn away from (metanoia, in Greek) but to also change our behavior, or turn toward something new (teshuva, in Hebrew). It is an active, outward change in our posture, behavior, and stance toward others. It is not simply an internal confession, but an external one that has deep implications for how we will live our lives.
7. I can honestly say that, as a white, straight, Christian pastor, that I'm a racist. I could tell you stories of growing up in a small, homogenous town, of watching the tv show Cops as a kid, of substitute teaching in the Fort Wayne school system, or living in the most diverse zip code in the country, etc. But I'll simply tell you this: my racism isn't signified by a flag, by nasty words, or by an outward hatred toward others, but it is simply a seed in my heart that was unintentionally planted there by my culture, and has slowly grown, unbeknownst to me, for many years. Now that I'm aware of it (I have been for at least a decade now) my work is to continually repent of it. To bring that seed before God, like a cancer patient in remission going to their six-month check up. I don't say this with abundant guilt, or shame, nor do I say it with a high-road mindset. It simply is. It is mine to bring before God, and to actively work against.
8. Love is not a feeling. Love is not an emotion. Love is a Rugged Commitment, as Scot McKnight says. It is an active choice to be WITH and FOR someone else, to pursue their benefit and blessing, at times instead of my own. Love is all we need, but it is not a sentimental feeling. It is a posture, and it looks different depending on your story, and who you are attempting to show love towards.
9. For my friends who consider themselves Christians, and yet say things like, "I don't have a racists bone in my body", I would simply say this: Self-deception is the most sinister of all sins. I know it well, and I'm sure I will continue to learn more of it while I continue to breathe. It is our time to own the injustice in our world, to see the role that we play in it, to repent of it in every way we can. Christians do this. You can still be a Conservative, a Democrat, a Liberal, a Republican, a Libertarian, etc. AND do this work. Acknowledging the racism both in your own heart AND at play in our culture should not be a partisan issue. Those who are telling you it should be that are peddlers of their own Self-deception.
This will cost you something. It may cost you a lot. But it is the beginning of setting things right. Little by little, bit by bit, this is how (one of many ways) we begin to partner with God in making all things new in the world. This is how we actively pray that God's Kingdom come here on earth just as it is in heaven.
This is what Christianity looks like - self-giving, working on behalf of others, setting our self-interests aside, and having a Rugged Commitment (Love) for those around us. Even those we don't know, don't see, and don't like.
10. I'm laying all this out, and inviting you into this part of my story, because I genuinely believe there is goodness here for you. Repentance ALWAYS begins the process of restoration. Without that beginning, we're living hollowed out lives, built on our own achievements and egos. This is not Christianity. Christians believe, and therefore act as if it were true, that repentance brings healing, restoration, and forgiveness. This works is hard, you will have to dig deep, it is not a quick fix, but it is the best way to live. Promise.
May we own our stories of racism.
May we learn to repent, to turn away from, and to turn toward something new.
May we do the hard work of reconciliation.
May we learn to listen to those we disagree with.
May we learn to listen to those who are hurting, rather than telling them "how it is".
May we have patience with each other.
And may the sin of nationalism, that potent and fiery mixture of faith and politics (and often, race), begin to subside, and quickly die in the pit of hell, where it belongs.
If you need some help walking into or through any of this, DM me, and I can point you toward some good resources.
Generally speaking, when you have a strong reaction to something, it usually means that there's something there for you to learn about or grow into. From one who struggles with this to another, I'm here to help, if help is what you want or need.
I'm just scratching the surface with my own racists tendencies, so if you see something in me and I'm not aware of, I need to know. I only ask that you would be kind in letting me know. That's the best way for me to hear you, and I want to hear you.
p.s.s.s.s (this is getting ridiculous)
The cross in this photo is called a palm cross. I use it to pray in the morning. For a tactile guy like me, it's really helpful. The book Liturgy of the Ordinary is really good. You should read it.
Grace & Peace,