The End of Racism?
<image: Dietrich Bonhoeffer>
I vividly remember being instructed to stay in the car with my brother while my father went into Rich’s department store at the Greenbriar shopping mall, so that he could buy mom a gift for Mother’s Day unrestricted. As a parent I realize why he wanted to leave us in the car to complete his task. In the past forty-three years, that neighborhood and social understanding have changed drastically. First, in present day, my Dad would have been charged with neglect and abuse for leaving minors in the car. Thankfully we had hand cracking windows to lower the window and we were not accustomed to air-conditioned comforts. While my brother had domain of the back seat. I had charge of the front. I recall it as an enjoyable alternative to shopping.
While playing in the car, I watched, as a man, much older than my father, was handing out newspapers. He wore a white dress shirt, a black pencil tie and black pants. He had a name tag with a funny red cross pinned to his shirt. He reached through the car window and handed me a copy of his newspaper and commanded, “Make sure your Daddy reads this. We have important news he needs to know. Will you make sure he reads it?” I dutifully replied I would. I began to read the paper myself. The paper was easy enough for a ten-year-old to read.
This was my first personal awareness of the Klan, through this man and his eight-page newspaper. The lead story was about a list of groups and organizations that opposed the work of the Klan and urged members to boycott, intimidate and suppress the work of various folks on the Klan’s list. The fourth group named in the list was the Methodist church. Based on the hateful things the newspaper, I was proud the church was working in opposition of this group.
In the past twenty years, the score on racism has changed in legal ways but not as much in other ways. Later working on my dissertation on dealing with racism through worship, my advisor at a historically black seminary asked, “What is a white boy go’na teach us about racism?” I was not so proud of the Methodist seminary I was attending.
Later in my ministry I served a community that grew from 1,500 to 15,000 residents, 98% of these new neighbors were black. Our white UMC had the opportunity to partner with a black United Methodist congregation who was meeting in a store front to share they building at a time not used by the large congregation. The chair of the SPRC said to the Administrative Council, “there is no way those n@gers will get this church, we will spend every last cent before they do.” Again not a proud day to be a Methodist.
The most recent events in South Carolina show how evil and twisted people can be. Racism has become more than a flawed matter of the heart, more than a spiritual problem, more than a sin. It has become an incendiary instrument that is thrown around by people who want or need attention or diversion. If you don’t like someone or their behavior call them racist, fascist or the devil him/herself. As if demeaning someone based on culture and skin color is not bad enough, add two cups of guilt, two tablespoons of shame, and dash of historical leverage- like ghost peppers and you have a recipe to inflame a conversation, a rally or a media audience. If racism is to come to an end, it cannot be used as a weapon and it must be seen for what it is and vividly express God’s goodness to be planted in the void it creates.
First, racism is learned and can be unlearned without guilt, shame or washing of history. As in with any sin, it is vital to remember we are sinners, even so, God is read to forgive. Racism is a spiritual matter and the grace of God in Jesus Christ is our hope and salvation. Our society will not change if it continues only as a social problem.
Further, getting even seems logical to make things right, but it does not assure health, connected relationships and respect. Retribution creates the case for a cycle of retaliation. Love is thrown around as the answer, but that is only part of the answer. It is when we love as God loves and not only loving those we want to love.
We are empowered and commanded love our enemies. When we learn to love those filled with evil and not just those who love like we love, then love is Godly and powerful enough to move the mountain of racial divides.
No news coverage, rally, march, legislation or demand will stop racism, but God can. We are fully aware of the hurt of Racism. Without God, racism will never be solved. It is a spiritual brokenness. The machine that produces it can be operated by anyone and it always produces waste that is never good. To dismantle that machine is a work for the people of God for the world.
So the challenge for us this very day is to confront evil with grace rather than fear, hate or revenge. If you see racism, name it and model a better way in Christ. Teach ways to value all persons in your own daily life while modeling the values of Christ. Most importantly share the power and love of Jesus Christ who died and rose for us all. If we are in the love of Christ nothing will separate us.
Without living out this core of our faith we can expect more pain and more signs of hate. It is given to us in Christ to pass on a heritage of life or heritage of ignorance and hate. I choose Christ!
See you Sunday