June 4, 2020by Reverend Dan on June 4, 2020
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is a hard devotional to write. Any mia culpa is hard. But it’s time. In fact, it’s past time. Way past time.
A local pastor’s group is working on a statement of support for George Floyd and the African American community. They are trying to get as many pastors as possible to sign the statement. While a noble idea, I can’t do it this time. You see, white people have been signing statements of support for years, and the systemic racism in our country continues to exist.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954; Browder v. Gayle in 1956; The Civil Rights Act of 1964; The Voting Rights Act of 1965. These are all statements of support that had the full power and authority of the federal government behind them, and yet racism is as virulent as ever. It may be more covert now, better hidden at times, but make no mistake it exists.
In lieu of signed statements that are worth no more than the paper they are written on, it is time to turn statements into action. Years of statements didn’t help George Floyd one bit. Only when people turn words into actions will changes be made. And I’m not talking about rioting and looting. That is the most counter-productive response to race relations there is because it perpetuates erroneous stereotypes racists have and gives them fuel for the fire.
I was born white in the 20th century in the south and have lived here all my life. I was in the third grade when schools desegregated. Two of my best friends are pastors who are African American. And the truth is, I have no idea what it is like to be a black man (or woman) in today’s world. I have been pulled over three times in my life by police, but never once did I fear for my life. When I am walking down the street, people don’t drift away from me to create a separation. I’ve never had to discuss with my children how to act in public to avoid undue attention. (I’m thinking here of all the lynching’s that took place because an African American man “looked” at a white person “wrong”.)
For all the statements I may sign, if that’s all I do I’m more a part of the problem than the solution. 400 years and reams of statements have gone by and while the façade may have changed, the structure of systemic racism remains intact. Nothing substantive will change in this world unless and until I move from signing a statement to being willing to take action. My sense of moral justice must move my response beyond the pen in my hand into my heart and my mind and my voice and my feet to stand up and be heard through what I do.
It is time to hear some hard truths. I need to sit down with my African American brothers and sisters and hear the pain as they tell their stories. I need to try and understand the fear they have simply stepping outside their homes. I need to listen to what years of economic disenfranchisement has done to them. I need to listen to how an unbalanced justice system routinely differentiates their cases simply because of their ethnic heritage.
I am going to make my first action a challenge to the church to be the catalyst of social change for human rights and dignity that it is called to be. I am going to offer a joint book study with our church and with African Americans from other churches. I encourage you to read “The Strange Career of Jim Crow” by C. Van Woodward, and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Then together we will sit down with our black brothers and sisters and have open and honest and painful dialogue that will open our eyes to the reality of a life we cannot know. And hopefully that will light a spark in the fires of change.
No one is born racist. It is learned. So, this centuries old problem won’t be changed overnight. But it won’t be changed at all if we do not take action to compel the change. We may not be able to change the world, but we can be the harbingers of change in our little community by taking the first tiny step. Then if every community would do that, the world could change.
We can no longer rely on statements. We can no longer hide from the problem. We can no longer ignore it. We can no longer convince ourselves “it’s getting better”. And we can no longer turn a blind eye to a problem we hope will one day go away. Hoping is no more effective than a signature on a paper.
And through all of this, I realize the first change has to be inside me. And each one of us. The outside won’t change until the inside does.
“Father, forgive us for all the times we have not been the loving person you created us to be. Guide us to become the true disciples you have called us to be, loving all of our neighbors as we love ourselves. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”