Racism

Not Created for Shame

By Bentley Stewart

“We were not meant to live in shame...” Richard Spencer, white nationalist who popularized the term ‘alt-right.’

I agree.

Let me state that again. I AGREE. We are NOT meant to live in shame.

Notice that I limited Spencer’s quote. There is a very limited amount upon which I can find agreement with him. Even in this limited quote, he and I understand “we” differently.

When he says “we were not meant to live in shame,” he means that white people are not meant to live in shame. His “WE” is white.

I speak as a person of faith. God did not intend for humanity to live in shame. In Genesis 3, God beckons the first human family out of hiding in shame. We are not meant for shame. Humanity, which includes white people, is not meant for shame. Shame robs us of the abundant life that God desires for us and Jesus proclaimed. 

I agree with another thing that Spencer said in this edited clip. Here’s the other comment of Spencer’s with which I (mostly) agree:

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” 

Here’s how I would state it: “America was designed for white people.”   

When I use the term “white supremacy,” this is what I mean. “America was designed for white people.” (Some use the term differently and I have much to learn from those nuances.) 

“White supremacy” is the version of racism that is endemic to the United States. In other places, there are other versions of racism. It is also important to note that white supremacy exists beyond our shores.

Before I explain what I mean that “America was designed for white people,” let me define racism.

One problem is that the term “racism” has become a shaming pejorative. Remember, I profess faith in a God who desires that we leave shame behind. Calling someone a racist does not have a good track record for liberating people from racism. When I am shamed, I have two default responses. Accept the shame and wallow in it or reject the shame by breaking relationship with the messenger. Wallowing in shame is not only miserable for me. Wallowing in shame serves no one. 

My working definition of “racism” is informed by the Reconciliation Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), my ordaining body. 

Racism = Race Prejudice + Misuse of Institutional Power

We, all of humanity, have prejudices and biases. Don’t believe me? Take a test on implicit biases and prove me wrong. We all have prejudices. It is part of the survival strategy of mammals. In any given moment, we are experiencing too much stimuli to make conscious decisions about all of it. We have prejudices. We pre-judge, in part, to filter our experiences. Without these prejudices, we would be overwhelmed by the number of decisions we would be forced to make in any given moment. Part of what it means to be human is that we have the freedom and responsibility to question our prejudices so that we are not limited by preconceived notions. 

Having prejudices based on appearance is not racism. It is part of what it means to be human. 

Instead of unpacking the phrase “misuse of institutional power,” I will return to Spencer’s quote:  

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” 

European settlers claimed the land that Indigenous Peoples had lived on for generations. Their relationship with the land was forged through generations of loving and learning from the land as they struggled to survive and thrive. The First Nations people were claimed by the land as much, if not more, than they claimed the land. 

This week used to be my favorite holiday. For me, there is no greater spiritual discipline than the corporate practice of gratitude. And, it is becoming harder and harder for me to reconcile my appreciation for this holiday and the genocide it sanitizes. 

Please do not stop reading there. Remember, I do not believe that we were created for shame.

A quick distinction between shame and guilt:

Guilt says I did something bad.

Shame says I am bad.

Guilt is about behavior and shame is about the person.

In order to face the legacies of the displacement and genocide of this land’s indigenous people and the enslavement of people from Africa, we need to confront our historic guilt over this behavior. However, we must not wallow in shame. We were not meant for shame. Shame serves no one. In fact, the insidious pathology of shame allows us to avoid our guilt. If I am a bad person, then all I am capable of is bad. I am incapable of anything good. I am not accountable for my behavior. From the place of shame, I bypass my guilt, which means I forfeit my agency to engage in any new behavior. 

When we use the sickness of shame to bypass our guilt, we then seek ways to self-medicate the shame with all sorts of numbing agents to desensitize ourselves from the pain of one another. If I collude with the lie that there is nothing I can do about how racism oppresses people, then I will strive to maintain willful blindness about racism. 

Perhaps, you are thinking. Hey, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t own slaves. Why should I feel guilty? I strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Again, I speak as a person of faith. 

"The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.” ~ Numbers 14:18

God loves us. God did not create us for shame. And, God loves justice. God loves us so much that God cares about our behavior. God wants us to love as we have been loved. 

The verse above has been used by some to talk about “generational curses” and by others as way to talk about “systemic sin.” Whatever your preferred nomenclature, our country’s original sin is racism. The soil of our land, from sea to shining sea, is soaked in the blood of racism. We still eat the poisonous fruit from this blood-soaked soil.

For this reason, I try to avoid referring to people as “racist.” Again, it is a shaming pejorative. Shame serves no one and God never meant us for shame.

Rather, I say that we live in a country struggling with the insidious systemic evil of racism. We all suffer from how racism misshapes our God-given identities as beings of dignity and sacred worth. God wants to liberate us, ALL of us, white people too, from racism. We are meant for so much more. We are meant for the abundant life of becoming the beloved community.

As a citizen of this nation, I am confronted daily, multiple times a day, with the choice to resist racism or to collude with the powers and principalities. Other citizens, such as Spencer and other white nationalists, have decided to publicly profess their allegiance to this evil. 

The temptation is to think that just because I am not professing white supremacy that I am somehow free from racism. In my analysis, we are all confronted with choices daily that present opportunities to collude with or resist racism. I mess up all the time. I refuse to let my missteps to be the end of my journey towards liberation from racism. 

If you have read this far, I want to thank you. I want to leave you with a word of hope. Before that, I offer an invitation and a practice: begin to examine your known world for the vestiges of racism. Freed from shame, examine the ways in which you resist the powers of racism and the places where you collude with those powers and principalities.  Every morning, ask yourself how will I resist racism today? How will I be an agent of liberation from racism?

From Romans 8: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

The soil of our land is soaked in the blood of racism. Our land was subjected to the evil of racism. Creation itself is rooting for us, the children of God, to be revealed. Our liberation will be discovered in celebrating our interconnectedness and seeking justice for all.

May we seek to be better caretakers of the interconnected web of creation and by the grace of God, when we stumble on our way to becoming the beloved community, may we fall forward towards love and justice. 


Rev. J. Bentley Stewart is the Director of Student Life for Disciples Seminary Foundation in Northern California. He is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has standing in the Northern California/Nevada Region, for whom he serves as one of the anti-racism trainers. He is endorsed as a hospital chaplain by Disciples Home Mission. In his decade of hospital ministry, he specialized in pediatrics, palliative care, clinical ethics, interprofessional communication, and cultural bridging. He holds a B.A. degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, and a M.Div. degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Currently, he is organizing the core team to begin a new Disciples worshiping community in Marin County, gathering-desire, where he resides with his wife, their two sons, and their beloved 95 lb. lapdog, Norman. 

 

"Meeting the Challenge of this Decisive Hour" --Honoring MLK's Legacy

By Rev. Mindi

I never knew Martin Luther King, Jr. was controversial until my senior year of high school. Until that point, all I had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. was that he was a civil rights leader, that he had called for the end of segregation, that he had spoken up for blacks in the South and that he was assassinated and when I was in elementary school in the 1980’s he was given a holiday. That was what I knew.

What changed during my senior year? In our Government class, we were asked to name some of our heroes of the United States, and I raised my hand and said, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” Other students scoffed, some said, “he’s not my hero.” I explained that he had led a peaceful revolution and my teacher corrected me: “they weren’t exactly peaceful.” I still remember those exact words.

I was taken aback at the age of seventeen because what I had learned in school so far was a tidy, very white viewpoint of Martin Luther King, Jr. I had read the “I Have A Dream” speech. I had read about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I did not know about the March to Selma, or the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, or the violence that erupted in the South at polling locations when African-Americans showed up to vote. I also didn’t know that people could still be racist. I knew of a few people who were, but overall, I thought we were in a post-racial America. I had believed it, until that day, when I realized that either we bought the version taught in school of a gentle, meek and mild Martin Luther King, Jr. who had a dream for all children, or we bought into the racist view that MLK had started violence and riots because people were equal and that if you talked about race, you were the racist. While many of us reject the latter, we have swallowed the pill of the former.

The problem is, almost twenty-one years after I have graduated high school, white churches for the most part still buy into the first viewpoint. Especially on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, in the liberal-leaning traditional congregations, we read quotes here and there from MLK about peace and justice that doesn’t challenge us, but makes us feel better about ourselves. We sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or “We Shall Overcome” only on this Sunday and no others. We join in community celebrations and we say we are working for racial justice, but are we just swallowing the pill we have been giving ourselves since his assassination almost fifty years ago?

My white kindred, I urge you to read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I urge you to take seriously the challenges that MLK lays out, in a very Pauline way, of how we have acted towards our kindred of color. And we must examine ourselves—are we putting ourselves in the same position as many of the white clergy leaders MLK was writing to? “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” writes King in his letter. White leaders condemned the actions of King and others, despite them being peaceful, but “because they precipitate violence.” Because white supremacy still exists, and the reaction to black lives protesting, even peacefully, is violence. However, over the past year, since the protests in Ferguson began, and in later New York and Baltimore condemning police brutality, the silence of white church leaders has been louder than the condemnation. 

We need to read all of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, especially the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and remember Dr. King’s call. It is all too easy for those of us in the white church to pick a quote here and there, to sing the songs and believe that it’s all better now, but it is not. We must not only speak but act for racial justice, and most of all, we must listen to our African-American kindred who are still struggling for equality and justice, and listen to their call, all of it, even the parts that make us uncomfortable. 

#MissionSummit2015

By Rev. Mindi

That’s an awfully a long hashtag. American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in using social media effectively.

American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in including our marginalized folks.

However, there was progress made at our biennial gathering in Kansas City last weekend. Besides more people tweeting this time, three out of the four general worship service preachers mentioned inclusion of LGBTQ folks. The first praised the SCOTUS ruling as a just and right ruling. The second said for far too long we have pushed LGBTQ folks out. The third said “If you have a problem with someone’s sexual orientation, go talk to Jesus.”

I know it made some people uncomfortable. I saw the walkouts. But I also recall sitting in far too many American Baptist biennial meetings and walking out with my lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender friends as they were told, from the pulpit, that they were an abomination, full of sin and bound for hell. I have walked out to comfort so many with tears from the pain and violence of exclusion. So for those who felt they had to walk out, I didn’t have much sympathy. As another friend said, “For now, we get to stay.”

For now.

We still have a long way to go. As Baptists, we believe in Soul Freedom, and that means that I cannot tell you what to believe, and you cannot tell me what to believe. It means that you and your church are free to determine your theology and your stances on issues, and me and my church are free to determine our theology and stances. That is how it should be. And at times it may be uncomfortable when we express our Soul Freedom in ways that bump up against each other.

But will this progress continue? Will the ending of exclusion actually happen? Will our LGBTQ friends feel safe in attending a Biennial gathering without worrying about the threat of vitriol from the pulpit?

We still have a long way to go. We claimed #BlackLivesMatter from the pulpit but have yet to come out with a unified voice to work on racism within our own congregations and communities. Many of us signed a statement pledging to work on anti-racism but met resistance from some who felt it didn’t do anything. Thank goodness our outgoing President viewed this as an opportunity and read the letter from the pulpit, and we can continue the work long beyond our Mission Summit. You can read the Epistle of Metanoia from the 2015 Mission Summit here.

We still have a long way to go. We have fabulous young preachers who shared their gifts in the Festival of Young Preachers and young seminarians getting ready to enter the search process, but so many churches are cutting back salaries and opportunities. There are pastors retiring but then staying on or taking another church in their retirement instead of encouraging congregations to take the opportunity to call a young pastor. And as I’ve shared before, our definition of “young” sometimes stretches well into middle-ages, leaving the truly young pastors still looking for a call.

We have made progress. I believe it. I left with a lot of hope for our future and actual excitement about attending our next Biennial “Mission Summit” Gathering as American Baptists. But until we call younger pastors, have younger leadership represented at our national gatherings and in our national leadership, and work to include those who have been pushed to the margins because it makes some of us uncomfortable, we still have a long way to go.

Peace vs. Justice

By Rev. Mindi

Recognizing that I am a white pastor and writer on this blog, and guessing that the audience of this blog is predominantly white, my question is this: do our prayers for peace mean silence?

Often, sadly, I think they do.

In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s violent death while being in police custody, protestors took to the streets of Baltimore. It wasn’t long before more police were called in, then stones were thrown, then hundreds of police in riot gear, then fires started, then the National Guard was called in. What I hear and see from my white colleagues is “pray for peace in Baltimore.” What I hear and see from my colleagues of color is “work for justice in Baltimore.” Sometimes, I think white Christians think that peace and justice are the same thing. They are not.

True peace comes after the work of justice, not vice versa. I think all too often white Christians quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others about nonviolent protests and do not quote them about anger and the work of justice. We quote Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but not “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which King clearly calls out white clergy who have tried to silence him in the name of peace. We think that if people who are oppressed would just sit down and talk calmly and rationally about their feelings, the oppressors will then listen.

Imagine if Jesus had walked calmly into the temple and sat down at the moneychanger’s tables and said, “Listen, I want to talk to you about how you are cheating the poor by selling them doves that are not acceptable for sacrifice and are not giving a fair exchange rate for the temple currency.” Do you think they would have listened? Or would they have ignored him, or even had him removed?

Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Jesus also turned over the moneychanger’s tables, scattering the coins, and stopped the carrying of merchandise through the temple. If that doesn’t sound like the beginning of a riot, an act of vandalism, an outpouring of righteous anger, I don’t know what does. Jesus didn’t call for the harming of others. But it’s clear that Jesus didn’t care about property, either. He cared about people. And after he threw the tables around, the leaders looked for a way to kill him because they were afraid of him (Mark 11:15-18).

We claim to follow Jesus to the cross, but I bet we never got past the temple doors. We never got to where the message became uncomfortable. We want peace, not the sword of division. But calling out injustice may cause division, uncomfortableness, and anger.

I call myself out in this. I was all set to preach last November as we were waiting for news of any indictment of Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. But I never got that far. Even in praying for Michael Brown’s family, I was asked to not be so divisive. I was asked to pray for the police officers and to pray for peace. And in my own fear of being seen as divisive, of causing controversy, I consented. I still was active in public conversation and social media, but within the hour of worship, I went silent after that. I didn’t want to cause trouble. I failed the church, and I failed the children of color that are part of my church family.

We cannot pray for peace without justice. Psalm 34:14 says “seek peace, and pursue it.” The pursuit of peace is the path of justice. Justice demands that the violence of murder be accounted for. Justice demands that the systemic subjugation and killing of black persons in America be stopped. Justice demands that the cries of the oppressed, through chants and signs to rocks and flames be heard. Be listened to. Be understood. Not simply condemned without accountability for the death and violence that has already taken place.

If you are like me, wanting to speak for justice but afraid to do so, please do one thing: stop simply “praying for peace.” If you want peace, as everyone knows, work for justice. Look to the prophets and preach on justice. Look to your community and find ways of working for justice. Amplify the voices of the oppressed in your community and share their stories (with their permission, of course—or better yet, invite others to come share their stories) with your congregation.  

We can pray for peace, but only if we first have truly worked for justice. Otherwise, our attempts at peace are just to make ourselves, often white Christians, feel better and safer, instead of lifting up the oppressed and seeking justice, as Christ called us to do.

(Un)Gratitude

By Rev. Mindi

I am participating in the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #‎Unco14, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for November is (Un)Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I am not thankful, not grateful, for the non-indictment of Darren Wilson.

I am ungrateful that once again, an unarmed black teen is shot by police. That once again, a black teen is depicted as a brute, a monster, and that the police officer had no choice but to shoot and kill him.

I am ungrateful that few of my white friends are speaking about this, except to urge for people to protest peacefully, when violence has interrupted the lives of a black family once again.

I could go on and on, but I want to lift up some other voices—what you can read, and how you can respond:

12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson Here is a sample of what white persons can do to educate themselves about the history of racism in the United States and how white people can act.

#StayWokeAdvent The hashtag #StayWoke has been used on Twitter throughout the last 100+ days since Michael Brown’s death. People are reflecting on the season of Advent and how we can actively participate in God’s justice here on earth. This is part of the Faith in Ferguson blog, following the #FergusonTheology hashtag.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Read it all the way through. If you are white, reflect on your place in that letter. How are you responding to the events in Ferguson?

I am ungrateful that this keeps happening. Just this week, a twelve-year-old boy was shot and killed by police. He had a BB gun pistol with him. He was playing with it on a playground. Someone saw him and called the police, but even in the call to 911, the caller said it was a toy gun.

I am ungrateful for toy guns. I cannot tell you how many times this summer at various playgrounds boys were playing with water guns and other toy guns and pointing them at me and my son. I was upset about it. After all the school shootings we have had, which I am also ungrateful for, I am ungrateful that parents still think toy guns are all right to own and fun to play with. I am ungrateful for the fact that no one bats an eye when white children play with them, but when a black child plays with a toy gun, he is assumed to be aggressive and assaulting other children.

I am ungrateful for our culture of preserving property and rights to own property, specifically guns, over the rights of children and teens and young adults to live.

I am ungrateful for the response of burning cars and looting stores and throwing rocks at police officers. I am. But I am much more ungrateful that we focus on those actions rather than all the other actions that have led up to this moment. I am ungrateful for our history of slavery, of segregation, of racism that is engrained in our society. I am ungrateful for the schools to prisons pipeline.

I am ungrateful that the white mainline church will continue to remain mostly silent on Ferguson, on Michael Brown’s death, on racism in general.

I am ungrateful that white voices continue to permeate the discussion, calling for order and restraint and setting the boundaries and limits of conversations about racism. I am ungrateful that so many believe racism is of the past.

I am reminded, however, that our Savior was also of a people and culture despised in his day; that he was labeled a criminal unjustly; tried and convicted, sentenced to death by capital punishment; and that he rose on the third day.

He rose.

This is not over. Justice will rise. Black voices will not be silenced. For that, I am grateful.

Racism, Ferguson, and the Mainline Liberal Church

By Rev. Mindi

At the time I am writing this, a state of emergency has been declared in Ferguson, Missouri, as the results of a grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014 are soon to be released. Officer Darren Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting of the unarmed teenager.

If you haven’t been paying attention, there have been protests every day since Michael’s death. Peaceful protests. In the first week, much attention was paid to the “riots” which were, in fact, twelve businesses that were vandalized, mainly by out-of-town people according to reports. There have been no officers harmed in any of the protests, but plenty of protestors have been shot at with rubber bullets, assaulted, and arrested. Yet the protests have continued on, and they haven’t been in the media’s eye because they have been peaceful. Because they have continued on, day after day, demanding justice for Michael Brown and for other young black people who have been killed by police violence.

The state of emergency declaration means the National Guard has arrived. Police have been militarized. They are ready for war, against a people who are crying out for the right to live, the right to exist. I hear people say “It is the 1960’s all over again,” but in reality, this has been the daily life of Black Americans. When I speak to my black friends, this is the fear they live: that they will be pulled over, that they will be assaulted, that they will be presumed guilty when they walk into a store or walk down the street, that they will be hurt or killed without question. This is not a fear I live with as a white person, but it is a fear made real to me as I hear stories from the black members of my church, from the black children who have been kicked out of stores for fear of shoplifting when they were just talking loud.

Racism is rooted in the heart of America. It is rooted in our Constitution that only saw black people as 3/5ths of a person. It is rooted in our forefathers and foremothers owning of slaves. It is rooted in our economy, our history, our social construction and our community planning. It is rooted in the heart of the American church, too.

In the mainline liberal church, we have been slow throughout history to take up the cause of justice. We put our hands in our pockets or cover our ears, thinking the church doesn’t have a voice in this. We get involved slowly, reluctantly, whether it be against racism or against misogyny or against homophobia and transphobia or against ableism. And the truth is we have never, ever recovered from our sin of racism, a sin that also caused us to wipe out tribe after tribe in the name of Jesus when the church came to the Americas.

As we raise our rainbow flags, remember that LGBTQ voices of persons of color need to be lifted up and heard. As we work to include people of all abilities, let us remember the persons of color with disabilities. As we work to include more women in church leadership, let us work to include women of color into the pulpit and other leadership positions. White persons end up taking up the space in other marginalized groups. Racism still prevails, even when we think we are working for equality for all.

Pray for Ferguson now. Follow the #Ferguson hashtag on Twitter and social media. Sign up for the daily newsletter at This is the Movement. And pastors, church leaders and others: read the Faith in Ferguson blog and follow #FergusonTheology on Twitter. Preach on injustice and racism, especially this Sunday, as the grand jury decision will probably be out by then. If you follow the lectionary, the Matthew 25 passage preaches Ferguson. Involve your church in anti-racism work. If there are protests planned in your city, perhaps your church can be a safe place for organizers to gather, for protestors to rest. Or think of the protestors needs: water, hats, gloves, prayer. What can you do? What would Jesus have you do?

Educating Ourselves on Racism

By Rev. Mindi

Once again, I am going to make an assumption that most of the readers of this blog are white.

Once again, I am going to raise the issue that we need to educate ourselves (read: white congregations) on racism in America, that racism is still alive and well, and that we white Christians need to listen.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri go to show us that racial profiling and anti-blackness are systemic. This is not just the beliefs of a few racists in a town far away. This is a systemic way of thinking that infiltrates our education, economic and prison systems. You probably have heard about the school-to-prisons pipeline before.

Black leaders have been using Twitter and other social media to inform the public about what really is happening in Ferguson and what is continuing to happen. The hashtag #FergusonSyllabus has been an excellent and eye-opening tool to learn how to talk about systemic police violence towards black individuals. The resources being shared across the country include historic resources about slavery and Jim Crow, personal experiences of black women and black men, the history of police violence in the United States, and continued discourse in civil rights.

Our mainly-white congregations need to be using these resources too. First, clergy and lay leaders need to familiarize themselves with recent history and see that the latest events of police violence are part of a systemic history of violence towards black people in the United States. We need to understand ourselves and then bring this to our congregation, in Sunday School and in the pulpit.

Secondly, our congregations need to become involved in anti-racist work. Partnering with local organizations already doing this work is key. Find other churches to connect with as well. But do this after you have done the educational piece first.

Thirdly, listen. Hear all the stories that are often not front-page news. Listen to your community members. It is easy for us to ignore stories and reports when they don’t affect us. I know that I still fall short and fail to listen when I hear stories that affect my neighbors of color.

Fourthly, remember your Scriptures. Remember the stories of Joseph in prison, the Hebrew people in slavery, the exile and return. Remember Daniel and the Hebrew children. Remember Jesus. How does the Gospel speak in these times? Who does the Bible call us to listen to?

Don’t let this fade away as Ferguson fades from the news. Take up the challenge to remember Ferguson, to remember Michael Brown and keep his family in your prayers, and to work for justice for all.

A Reflection on #Ferguson

By Charlsi Lewis Lee

Disclaimers: I do not live in Ferguson, Missouri. I do not identify as African American. I am pale and Caucasian and middle class living in South City St. Louis.

I am also angry and heartbroken. I am discouraged and saddened. And I am full of tears.

Driving to work today, I took the long way. It's the way I go to work when I know that I need to slow down and take a deep breath. This route is off the interstate, running through an extremely wealthy city in St. Louis County. It is beautiful.

But . . . there is no one out on the perfectly manicured lawns. There are no tear gas containers lying in the middle of the street. There are not excessively well-armed police officers forming a line with armored trucks leading the way forward. And there certainly is not a young unarmed black man lying in the middle of the street with six bullet wounds.

I am angry.

I am angry that it's so easy for us to separate ourselves from the struggles of those whose skin appears different.

I am angry that I cannot even imagine what it is like for a person of color to stroll down the street, or walk through a store, or drive through an unknown, predominantly white neighborhood.

I am angry that as much as I love and celebrate diversity in this world, in my city, in my life . . . I am still afraid.

This week the words “white privilege” have been bandied about in blogs and articles. So, I might as well jump on the band wagon. I am afraid that my “white privilege” allows me to ignore the realities of life for young men and women like Mike Brown.

I am afraid that I will allow myself to get too comfortable in my “white privilege” to even recognize it for what it is.

I am afraid that more young black men have to die ridiculous deaths before the majority of us with “white privilege” will stand up and speak out.

But somewhere deep down inside me I think I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the angel’s words, Christ’s words and God’s words “Do not be afraid” will become manifest in me and in all of us.

I'm hopeful that we will be so outraged by the injustice and pain of racism that we will step out on faith and hold onto one another.

I have hope that those who perpetrate injustice on others will be shut down because they will be called out by our weeping voices singing the songs of our faith.

I have hope that God’s love is stronger than our hate.

That God’s grace is bigger than our misunderstanding.

That God’s forgiveness is bigger than our sin.

I have hope that those of us who forget that we are privileged because we are white, and that those of us who don’t recognize that privilege, will both take the difficult lessons we're learning in Ferguson as a lesson in faith—faith in the Jesus who heals, feeds, and loves calls us to honor, respect, and cherish the life of every person. Every person. There are no exceptions.

I am angry. I am afraid. But I have faith.

I know that God’s peace and God’s justice does not look like my own.

I know I can learn from the chaos of Ferguson. But, I don’t want another person, another unarmed black man shot down because he might be threat. I know that is not God’s peace. I know that is not God’s justice.

Michael Brown, Worship this Sunday, and Confusing Unity with Comfort

By Sandhya Jha

I am tired of my church breaking my family’s heart. I wasn’t going to write about Michael Brown. Many others have already done so, reflectively and powerfully, including writing about the role of the White church in the midst of this moment of pain. I wasn’t going to write about it because I’ve written on it before. And I’ve preached on it. And I’ve posted and I’ve tweeted and I’ve shouted at rallies for Alan Blueford and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant. I wasn’t going to write about it because I wrote about it when the church didn’t acknowledge Jordan Davis’s murderbecause…I don’t know; Stand Your Ground fatigue? Lack of information? Complexity? Lack of relevance? I wasn’t going to write because if I wrote about Michael Brown, what would I do with the stories of John Crawford (killed last week in Walmart in southern Ohio for being seen in the toy aisle with a toy gun the store was selling) orEzell Ford (shot today by the LAPD while lying down), also pressing in on me? But I am tired of the church breaking my family’s heart. And we have a chance to do something different this Sunday, if we don’t sacrifice the lives of children on the altar of unity yet again. One of my best friends goes to a multi-racial church. She’s African American. She’s raising an African American son and daughter. And she believes in a Christ who unites us. So at some cost to her culturally and for the sake of her children having worship that moves them, she worships at a church that has excellent worship and children’s programming and both Black and White men in leadership. (Yeah—that’s another issue…) During prayer time on February 16 of this year, my friend didn’t hear people lifting up the name of Jordan Davis. There was no ritual to acknowledge the continued failure of the criminal justice system in America. The fact was not grieved that Jordan Davis’s murderer is now leading a movement telling White people to Stand Their Ground whenever they see a Black man because Black men are always threatening. My friend intentionally worships at a church focused on unity. And my friend’s church broke her heart because unity is almost always unconsciously driven by the dominant culture’s lived experience and very rarely by an awareness that acts of injustice against some communities do not happen in isolation but as part of a pattern. I am tired of the church breaking my family’s heart. 

I am tired of the church unconsciously and unintentionally choosing unity but really choosing comfort. I am tired of the church unconsciously choosing comfort in the face of tragedy that should be breaking all of our hearts.   Every twenty-eight hours a Black man is killed by police in the United States. Black men who are our sons and brothers and nephews, because we chose to be a part of a faith that says we are one in the Spirit, that we are one family.   We worship a God whose son was killed unjustly by the authorities for no justifiable reason, and we denigrate the religious leaders of the time for making up disgusting justifications for why he needed to die.   And I hear people saying that this is complicated. And I hear them saying that we need more facts. And I hear them saying that the protests in response are unacceptable and so we should not look like we are condoning violence by agreeing with what drove people to violence. And I hear that law enforcement has a hard job. I definitely hear that when we talk about this, we ignore Black-on-Black violence. And I even occasionally hear that his appearance made him a target.   And I think of the crucifixion. And I think about religious leaders desiring unity. And I think about how many members of the body of Christ are an acceptable loss so that we don’t have to speak out.   I’ve been told that this prophetic ministry comes more easily to me because I’m political and have only shared this type of message in churches that are open to political messages. But a prophetic message isn’t political. A prophetic message is a message saying “God is grieving because this world is out of alignment with God’s will.” A prophetic message is a message saturated in tears and grief because real people are being harmed and God’s community is ignoring that fact. Jeremiah and Amos and Micah were not politicians. They were professional mourners.

And our desire to avoid grief – God’s grief, our family’s grief – is placing us in a dangerous position of also avoiding God’s call.

We are not being asked to be political. We are being asked to be faithful. When our family members’ hearts are breaking, our job is to mourn with them, to understand why they are mourning, to find paths of healing and reconciliation and – yes – justice.   All we are being asked to do this Sunday is to grieve. All we are being asked to do beyond this Sunday is to explore why this happens repeatedly (#every28hours) instead of explaining away every single instance. There are lots of reasons not to know about this. We don’t have conversation partners. We don’t have lived experience. We don’t know about microaggressions and disparate sentencing based on race and how race actually shapes fear responses in dangerous ways and the fact that four-year-old Black boys are learning to fear the police instead of trusting them.   Another friend texted me that he was watching CNN with his mixed race son, who said, “There’s no way that Missouri cop will get away with shooting that Black teen,” and then, “that just looks like a protest. Why are they calling it a riot?” My friend and his son will mourn, and they will discuss the pattern of injustice that devastates people from one race far more than another. That conversation will be uncomfortable but it is necessary to create the kind of unity my friend dreams of, that involves justice and equality as well as diversity. They are not religious, but I wish I knew that if they went to church, they would be able to do the same thing in a loving and supportive community.   I do not have to raise a son who has to be trained in how to reduce police officers’ anxiety, and I do not have to figure out how to explain to him that this still will not guarantee his safety. But I am part of the body of Christ with people who do. And if I don’t try to understand that experience, I’m not actually being part of the family. If I don’t mourn this loss with the rest of my family, I’m not being part of the family. If I claim that it is disruptive or trouble-making or undermining of church unity, then I am participating in breaking my family’s heart. Because grieving the untimely death of an innocent young man and thousands more like him over the years is not disuniting. It is discomforting. And we can no longer choose comfort built on the dead bodies of the innocent.

[This article first appeared at Sandhya's blog.]

Sandhya Jha serves as Director of the Oakland Peace Center (a collective of nonprofits working to create access, opportunity and dignity as the means of creating peace and justice) and as Director of Interfaith Programs at East Bay Housing Organizations (an organization that advocates for affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area). An ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ, Sandhya is also a pro-reconciliation/anti-oppression trainer and consultant with Hope Partnership for the denomination.

National Moment of Silence 2014 #NMOS14

by Rev. Mindi

Michael Brown became the latest victim of unarmed black teens murdered in this country on Saturday afternoon. He was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. As a response to this, to the killing of Eric Garner and many others by state violence, a National Moment of Silence has been organized via social media, and there are vigils taking place across the country. To find one near you, search on Facebook or twitter #NMOS14 +your city’s name. If there isn’t one for your area, consider holding one—there is still time. Also, check the national site on Facebook for further instructions. The goal is to have a peaceful vigil as a response to the violence happening especially to young black men in our country.

Now, here’s the thing: most of you probably won’t bother to look. I know that the readership of this blog is primarily white. I’m writing this not to insult you, but to make you look at yourself, your congregation, and what we value. All too often, White Christianity ignores the experience of Christians of Color around us. I know I have. I have taken up the cause of my LGBTQ siblings, I have spoken up for rights for people of all abilities, but rarely do I write or speak about racism. It’s not because I don’t know that racism exists; it’s that while I can temporarily look at the world and see oppression through the lens as an LGBTQ ally, or look through the lens as a mom of a child with a disability, I do not look through the lens as a person of color. I see the world through my whiteness.

Only rarely, occasionally, have I had a glimpse of what my friends who are black have experienced. I have been in the car with a black friend when he was pulled over by the police, asked to step out of the car with his hands behind his head and searched, then released with no ticket, no explanation but that he was swerving in his car (he wasn’t). I have been pulled over for speeding and received a warning, even when I spoke up to the officer that I wasn’t speeding. Let’s face it—I talked back. If I was black, I do not think I would have gotten off so lightly. I have black children in my church whose parents and grandparents have told me about the times they have been harassed by store clerks because their kids were “attempting to shoplift” when all they were doing was picking up toys and looking at them. My child is loud and runs up and down the aisle, and I can explain that he has a disability, but he is still seen as white first. 

But the truth is I don’t think about it much at all. I don’t think about the systemic racism in our country that filters young black men into the prison system—or worse, they end up dead. I don’t think about the numbers of times that black men are pulled over verses white men. I don’t think about the Stand Your Ground laws and assumptions about black people that protect white folks and cause black youth such as Trayvon Martin and Reshina McBride to end up dead.

I have to change my way of thinking. I have to stop talking and to listen. Go to these vigils. Listen to the stories in our cities, in our communities of the loss and harm that black families have experienced. Work for systemic change. Go to your police departments and ask what sort of training they have to end racial profiling. Find out what the demographics are of your community and how many police officers of color serve. Work to educate your own church and community on racial profiling and violence against persons of color. And White Christians, may we start listening to the experience of Christians of Color in our congregations, in our denominations, in our communities.

Proverbs 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

An Atheist Reminder of How Christians Appear to Everybody Else

By Gregg Cooley

As a child of the 60’s growing up in Chapel Hill, NC, I remember well the days of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws, separate water fountains, and very specific “lines” between White communities and Black communities (most of which were nothing more than rotting shacks with dirt floors and maybe an old wood stove for heat). Racism and bigotry was, and still is, a horrific blight on America’s promise of “liberty and justice for ALL,” and that “ALL people being created equal.”

The modern version of Jim Crow Laws aimed squarely at the LGBT community are being proposed from one end of the USA to the other, in Russia, and throughout Africa, all of which are connected to US Christians and Evangelicals in positions of power and influence. There is nothing “Christ-like” about these laws and initiatives; this hatred is certainly not the “will of the God” that I learned of as a child attending Episcopal Church every Sunday. I learned that God was LOVE, though my thorough reading of the Bible would eventually steer me toward atheism, and teach me of many instances where God was anything but loving, but I digress.

I have had friends and family tell me that I paint Christians with too broad a brush, and that I’m basing my opinions of them on the actions of a few.

My response to that is: If the actions of those few paint you in a bad light, then it is your responsibility as a Christian to scream just as loudly as you can, and to call-out in the public square, that the hypocrisy of those who act and legislate in such a hateful un-Christ-like manner are the true abominations in the eyes of your God.

These laws are resulting in the murders, suicides, and imprisonment of innocents, whose only “crime” is being born with same-sex attractions … if those of you who are Christians in the truest sense of the word do nothing to denounce the actions (loudly) of these impostors, then you are as guilty as they are through your acts of negligence.