Friday, July 8, 2016

Race & Racism, The Prophets, & The Church

Every time I turn on the news these days my heart breaks. Oh how it breaks for our racially divided country. This morning, I found myself in tears over what has been happening (the shooting of Dallas police officers, the shooting of Alton Sterling and of Philando Castile). All of this was too much and I cried out like the Psalmist, "How long? How long to sing this song?"

Like the prophet Amos, I long for the day when justice will "roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." This is a time of lament and mourning that must lead to change and the Church must be part of that. We must do more than offer prayer vigils after these kind of tragedies have happened. The Church must be one of the vehicles for social change; after all, if Christ identified himself with the marginalized, with the poor, with those who face daily injustice, then why aren't we?

Christ's Church must be the ones to step up in this racially divided society and love as Christ loved. We must be willing to have honest and open discussions on race, racism, and poverty. These subjects can no longer be taboo from our pulpits and our Sunday school classrooms. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the injustice of a judicial system that is clearly on the side of the wealthy and the white. Both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would not be dead if they had been white.

One only has to look at how an upper-class, white Standford student (Brock Turner) was only given a sentence of 6 months for rape to know this would not have been the case if he'd been African American (Corey Batey was sentenced to 15 years). We cannot deny that we do live in a society of white privilege. We cannot vote for anyone who would divide us further and fuel racial fears because it will ultimately lead to more outbreaks of violence and hatred.

I can't help but think of what Pastor Tony Merida tweeted, "On a plane pondering what I should say to my 11 year old black son when I get home & how I should prepare him for this world. #grieving."

Like many who have adopted children of another ethnicity, Merida is faced with teaching his child about the harsh realities of race relations in this country. How many other adoptive parents face that hard discussion?

In 1970, on a stage in New York City, James Baldwin and Margaret Mead had a discussion on race, identity and immigration. During this public conversation, Baldwin said, "The police in this country make no distinction between a Black Panther or a black lawyer or my brother or me. The cops aren't going to ask my name before they pull the trigger. I'm part of this society and I'm in exactly the same situation as anybody else - any other black person - in it. If I don't know that, then I'm fairly self-deluded . . ."

It's sad to think that we have not made more progress, that his words still ring true over 30 years later. That we see this time and time again all over this country. 

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, wrote the book America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to New America. In discussing his latest work, Wallis said:

Our original sin of racism is still the chief contradiction of the American
life - and of the gospel in our country. When privilege and punishment are
the result of skin color, our stated values and culturally captive religion are
revealed as our greatest hypocrisies. And the marginalization of people of 
color in our society, including millions of children who remain our poorest
in the world's richest nation, would still make the biblical prophets scream.

What would Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos or Ezekiel say about what is happening in our country today? 

What would Jesus say, not only to our culture, but to his Bride? He wept over Jerusalem, but do we weep for our own country? Christ was about community and connection to others. He went out of his way to love someone who was unloved by the religious leaders and by his own culture. Jesus embraced the Samaritans, those who were on the lowest rung of the social ladder, who were at the far edges of marginalized in his day. But do we? 

As Christians, we are his hands and feet, but do we go where he would go and love those whom he would love if he were here now among us?  Do we go to the poorer areas of our cities and towns? Are we the ones who, like the good Samaritan, help the man in the ditch or do we move to the other side of the road? Are we moving away from those who we would rather pretend to not see?  Do we respond to those in the "Black Lives Matter" movement with, "Yes, yes you do matter. You are beloved of God, made in His image, and you do matter and we will stand with you"? We must stand up and with our very lives show that all their lives do matter. 

Do we mentor young African American men who need father figures because their fathers aren't there to do so?

Do we go to the poorer schools to tend the grounds, paint the walls, to clean up, and to help those students who are falling further and further behind?

Wherever there are Christians, there should not be substandard housing. There should not be substandard schools. We must realize that what these protesters want is what all of us want: a good education, a job, and a family. They want their kids to have the same opportunities as white kids. To live in a society that is faced with such fundamental and social contradictions as ours does is immoral. We must make solving the problems of poverty and race a priority within our churches. We muse be leaders in the call for social justice just does as the prophets of God have always been. Just as Jesus was. 

Like Isaiah, we must call out:

Woe to those who enact unjust statutes,
who write oppressive decrees,
Depriving the needy of judgment,
robbing my people's poor of justice,
Making widows their plunder,
and orphans their prey! (10:1-2).

We must be a light in a darkened world. We must offer hope to the hopeless - and not just of a future salvation. We must be a voice for the voiceless. We must offer our power to the powerless. We must denounce those in power who would take advantage of the poor and marginalized. We must identify ourselves with them in their struggle. As Ezekiel did, we must call out those who oppress and be the ones who gives our bread to the hungry. We must speak up for those who fall further and further down the social ladders and call out those who would widen that gap. We must put a stop to those who, in their striving for material wealth, would do so at the cost of the poor, who take advantage of their plight. 

As Christians, for us to not do so is to mock our Maker.

We must work to end all social and racial inequity in our country. We must sow love where others would sow hate. We must offer mercy, compassion, grace, and love. We must not hold an allegiance to any system that would perpetrate inequality but only to that of the kingdom of God where all men are truly equal and the same in the eyes of a loving Creator. The prophets understood this. Why don't we?

We must speak up. We must act. We must work towards the day when, "The tyrant shall be no more . . .all those alert to do evil shall be cut off - those who . . . deny justice to the one who is right" (Isaiah 29:20-21). We must be, as Isaiah calls for us to be, "repairers of the breach."

Right now, we must go to the hurting and embrace them and love them. We must mourn and lament with them. We must weep with those who weep. We must share in their loss, their grief and then we must, as Proverbs tells us, "Open our mouths, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." 

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