I’ve seen numerous calls on Facebook for white Christian pastors to speak out against white supremacy and Nazism. I suspect the call comes largely out of anger that our President is not speaking out. Or out of frustration that fundamentalist Christian pastors aren’t speaking out and, in some cases, are offering support of the alt right.
As a white Christian pastor, I hear those cries of “Speak out!” and think, Have we really gotten no farther than this? Has Christianity gone so far down the rabbit hole that people aren’t sure where the faith of Jesus stands in relation to overt racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia? Is all people want from Christian pastors that they “speak out?”
So, let me speak out. Racism is sin. White supremacy is sin. Anti-Semitism is sin. Islamophobia is sin.
What is sin? Sin is whatever diminishes human beings or creation, whatever prevents someone or creation from becoming who God is creating them to be. Sin is whatever ignores or diminishes that bit of God inside every single person and everything God created.
Was marching with torches chanting Nazi slogans sin? Yes, it was sin. Was lashing out with violence sin? Yes, it was sin. Was intentionally speeding into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 sin? Yes, it was sin. That act could not be accomplished without seeing the human beings in front of you as less than human. Is failing to denounce the events in Charlottesville (or to do so consistently) sin? Yes, it is sin.
In many respects, denouncing the sin of racism is the easy part. Dealing with it–or seeking to transform it–is a whole other story.
If racism in our country is to be transformed, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Racism–like all the other “isms”–is systemic. Each of us changing our individual behavior is important, but focusing only on one’s own behavior is kind of like spitting in the ocean–it feels good to you, but doesn’t really change the ocean at all. If we are to transform racism in our country, we must work on changing systems.
The first step for white people in working to transform systemic racism is to recognize our complicity in the system. As a woman, I have struggled hard against systemic sexism. For most of my life, that struggle has defined me. In light of that struggle, it’s been difficult to acknowledge my white privilege, to recognize that some things have come to me–or come easily to me–because I am light skinned. Acknowledging my white privilege floods me with shame. In truth, it makes me a little sick to my stomach.
In February, I attended a gathering of Muslim scholars and others at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Norcross. One of the speakers–a historian–talked about how Islam came to the United States initially. It was slaves who brought their faith with them. Many of those who came were well-educated and tried as best they could to practice their faith in their new circumstances.
The lecturer quoted an African proverb that addressed how important it is for people to know their histories. He was speaking, of course, to African Americans, helping them to reclaim an uplifting part of their history.
As the great, great, great granddaughter of slave owners, reclaiming my history is not uplifting. It’s excruciating. And necessary. For a time, my family thrived on the backs of human beings they thought they had a right to purchase. What those family members did in that time would be unthinkable for anyone in my family now…
…but tracing racism from slavery through reconstruction, Jim Crow, and now mass incarcerations (please watch “13th”), I have to ask what it means for me, a 21st century white woman, to be descended from slave owners. How did the vile practice of slavery shape my family? What vestiges of that history still reside in my DNA?
I share a song I wrote while wrestling some with this painful heritage. It is a first step, only a first step…but the first step all white people must take–locating ourselves in the insidious web of racism.