If people do not regularly hear the truth that whiteness does not define the American norm, then it should come as no surprise when the sheep in our own flocks feel odd and even wrong to address racial sin as part of our reasonable acts of worship. Avoiding awkwardness has become more important than revealing truth. If our children do not regularly hear the truth that Jesus was man of color, we may be mortified to discover they believe Jesus was white. That’s our fault.
Many in the activist community call this month Black August. It is used as a time to strategize for what we will do about the history of our people, to remember and reflect for the purpose of taking action. I thought I’d started out Black August with a bang. I helped strategize for a support system for people abused by the criminalization of poverty. I saw my son complete his first summer at a Freedom School. I remembered the grief of Michael Brown’s murder, the pain and determination of the Ferguson Uprising. But the Holy Spirit has disrupted my arrogance in presumed faithful action, and I’ve been grieving more than strategizing ever since.
I am grieved by the tendency of our well-meaning friends to repeat the phrases: “Racists are no representation of the United States of America …” and “Recent displays of hatred and fear are not a real picture of America, this is not what our country was built for.” As we attempt to respond to claims that “removing confederate monuments will re-write American history,” I am ill at ease with the assumption that “America the Beautiful” has dealt with all of her sinful stains.
I grieve the arrogance and presumption of “racial reconciliation” work among the diverse peoples of the United States. I believe that the terminology of racial reconciliation is bankrupt. When, in the history of this country, have racial relationships been conciliatory? We need racial righteousness, racial repentance. In this country and many others, we have worked harder to hide the truth about our history than we have to amplify the stories of people who’ve been wounded by historical lies. Above all, I am grieved by our churches and widespread hypocritical hesitation. We cry out and tell each other, “Call this evil what it is!!” or “The president’s flip-flopping is so disturbing!”
But I am no longer certain that the actions of the current president differ from those of our largest academic and religious institutions. Churches, ministries, Christian universities and training programs take pride in their commitment to shepherding and supporting new students of color. But who among them have anti-racism and racial unity training for white students and leaders? So the Church wants to see healing in America? Let the Church repent of the wounds we have made.
In the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, The Lord tells Ezekiel the priest to prophesy against the spiritual leaders of his day. God says, “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” and so their fate is to lose the flocks they had used for profit: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”
Jesus fulfills this promise and warning. He is intolerant of the self-centeredness and oppressive practices among the shepherds of his people. He is the Good Shepherd, the Word of Life and the True Vine.
I fear the atrophy of the Church that does the outward work of prophetic boldness, but is hesitant to search itself. Only arrogance ignores how easy it is to denounce white supremacy in the community, in history, and even in the capital, while boldness breaks into silence as we look upon our own stained glass. Halfway free is still in chains.
In order to fight faithfully against the oppressions of our day, we must reclaim the definition of freedom as evidenced by the life of Jesus.
Everyone of non-native descent who is capable of basic comprehension already knows the truth about the United States: This land is not our land. Racial terror in the U.S. must be traced to its roots, to the stories we are trying to silence. God’s truth frees us from guilt and shame. We no longer need to hide our failures because Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit to teach us how to live in repentance of them.
White supremacy and its covert corollaries of fragility, privilege, self-centeredness and hard-headedness have found a home in the our church pews. The people bound in these chains are not always wealthy, and they are not always white. We have to stop the cover up.
If we do not actively speak and live out God’s truth, we are participating in a lie.
Devastating proof of the deadliness of white supremacy surrounds us. If we cannot see it, it is past time to ask why. It is time to reckon with this selective sight that we play off as innocent, ignorant blindness. “Open the eyes of my heart Lord!” but not to the sins of my white-centered church. What will the saints who worship white Jesus do when they see a brown-skinned savior lifted up above creation. What will we do when He tells us His dwelling place was with the poor all this time, that His gospel—as He told us—was good news for them. When the last become first, what will we do? The time is now (and the time was a while ago) to grapple with chains that we have laid in gold, with the log we’ve set in our own eye. It is time to confess that America’s addiction to a seemingly comfortable deception is keeping us from the truth that would set us free. The church’s refusal to de-center whiteness is the primary reason we have failed to address its cultural impact. More plainly: American churches are often the benefactors of America’s sins.
I offer what I hope is some encouragement, some comfort and prayerfully some truth. It’s raw today and rarely easy, but by the Holy Spirit, it always nourishes the body.