“Christians have no option. In the face of racism they must stand up and be counted as part of a determined and passionate opposition. Not to oppose this evil is indeed to disobey God.”
From the 1994 speech “Why, As Christians, We Must Oppose Racism” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Photo by Sandra Seitamaa via Unsplash
The Summer of 2020 is poised to be an historic time of momentum for growing anti-racist sentiment in the United States. The First Parish Truro community has long been concerned with the ways in which majority-white Christian churches have been complicit in the marginalization of black and brown people. The “othering” of those of different faiths and skin tones led to the horrors of the medieval Crusades. The enslavement of Africans for economic gain was justified with biblical references and carried out by “God-fearing” whites. While some white clergy marched for Civil Rights in the 1960’s, many more of them openly criticized the non-violent demonstrations toward equality as “unwise and untimely.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to these white clergymen, saying:
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
This summer the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and too many others, have occurred during a global Covid-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected communities of color. These truths have further exposed the structural racism that has been there all along. Though arguably too long in coming, for many of us white people there is now an urgency to become actively involved in the cause of anti-racism.
White churches can and should be leaders in this anti-racism work. This is a centuries-old need for us to become intimately and consistently involved in this movement. It is a movement that mirrors Jesus’ own political goals. And yet it is tiring and difficult work. We will mess up. We will feel inadequate. We will feel angered and surprised at all we weren’t taught and don’t know. We will feel emotional and perhaps even culpable as we face the realities of white supremacy. And we will never “get there.” We will never, once-and-for-always be the perfect ally.
All of that is hard but okay. We will grow more resilient, knowledgeable, and capable of anti-racist action with time. But it takes time. And the way we can still remain engaged in this work, in this self-examination and societal disruption, is to make anti-racism part of your spiritual practice. Just like prayer, or reading scripture, or walking in nature, or talking with a spiritual guide, or attending worship – anti-racism is a way to open us up beyond ourselves to a wider reality. It is not just intellectual or emotional work. It’s spiritual work.
White Christians, please do not do this work for the sake of “fixing” the problem of racism for black and brown people. Unfortunately, the insidiousness of racism and white supremacy are so ingrained in humanity that this task will go beyond most of our lifetimes. To think otherwise is to either misunderstand or underestimate the depths of the oppression faced by people of color.
No, white Christians must enter the difficult work of anti-racism because our black and brown siblings should not be forced to bear it alone. We have to do better than we have done in the past. We have to be uncomfortable every day that racism exists, just as they are. To not do this – to find the work of anti-racism too difficult, too uncomfortable, or too tiring to sustain – is to rest in complacent white supremacy.
To become an anti-racist is to love neighbor as ourselves and to love the God who created us and imbued us all with equal dignity.