I’d like to talk a bit about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. There was a lot of hate in the name of Jesus, and there was a lot of fear in Jesus’ followers who felt that they were going to die, just for their beliefs in justice or their skin color. The sad part is, the events that unfolded over the weekend and are continuing to unfold throughout the week have been fomenting for a long time. I mean, no one learns this deep darkness of hate overnight.
As we usually do, my family and I went to church on Sunday. We visited my parents’ church, and while it’s theologically different from my beliefs, there is no denying that their preacher does a great job with the Word, preaching it faithfully and authentically. Knowing this about him and excited to hear a word in response to the events of Friday night and Saturday, we sat and waited. I was disappointed that the pastor himself wasn’t the one who brought up Charlottesville and our nation during the time of prayer requests. I was further disappointed in the incomplete way the pastor did address it.
You see, it’s so easy to look at ourselves, give ourselves a big ol’ happy pat on the back, and say, “I’m not a racist.” Maybe your best friend in the world is Black. Or Latino. Or Asian. Or Middle Eastern. Or whatever. Their skin is some shade of brown radically different from yours and people like you. You hang out all the time, go to each other’s houses, and have adopted the other’s family as your own. And I love that! That’s wonderful! That sort of stuff is what undermines racism.
But it’s not enough for us to say, “It’s all good. I’m not a racist. I haven’t committed the sin of racism.” And I say to you, “Think again.” So you don’t wear the white hood and burn crosses, or flash a swastika and the “heil” gesture. Maybe you’re from somewhere outside the South where the much-contested Confederate battle flag has no meaning for you – neither heritage nor hate. How vocal have you been in protesting racism? How loudly have you called out the racists – especially those who share your skin color – for their hate, their bigotry, their evil?
Racism is evil. Bigotry is evil. Hate is evil. All these things are so far away from God’s design for humanity! These attitudes and the actions that often follow them are sinful. There’s no getting around that. But also sinful is doing and saying nothing about them.
During this time of prayer, the pastor quoted II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That was it. No word further, and that disappointed me. See, everyone so bent to their own complacency could hear those words, repent of their sins (“turn from their wicked ways”), and be forgiven, and voilá! God would heal our land. So close, and yet, so far.
As I said earlier, it’s so easy for us to sit back and smugly say, “Well, I’m not racist, so I have nothing to confess.” First of all, what about those who are racist? I would wager that at least 90% of the white supremacists in our country and around the world confess to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I would go further and say that every single one of those believes in God, reads their Bible, and can tell you chapter and verse where it says they are right in their bigotry and hatred. Now, granted, their Jesus isn’t the Middle Eastern Jewish guy history says he was in his humanity; their Jesus is blue-eyed, blond, strong, powerful – the perfect Aryan specimen.
Now, secondly, if we’re not overtly racist, what do we have to confess? We have to confess to being complicit in the racism. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Doing nothing to stand up against racism, bigotry, and hate is tacitly allowing it to thrive, silently giving assent to it. For this, we must confess. For failing to love our neighbors as ourselves enough to risk the opinions of others, we must confess. For silently giving approval and even our blessing to racism, bigotry, and hate, we must confess. For being so enamored of our own position and privilege in our society and culture that we refuse to see, to understand, and to walk beside the plights of others, we must confess. These are sins. These are sins against God and against those God also created in God’s image. My family and I were driving home from church one Sunday, cruising the left lane up the interstate, and we got behind a car doing 70 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone. The driver got over to the right lane, and my husband groused about this driver (unseen to us as yet) going the speed limit in the passing lane. As we passed the car, I looked over and commented, “She doesn’t want to get pulled for a DWB.” He asked what that is. “Driving while Black.” Understanding that this is a reality for people of color but not of whiteness is part of what it means to begin to walk beside them.
And we are all created in God’s image. Genesis 1: 27 through the beginning of verse 28 tells us that God created humanity in God’s own image – male and female – and that God blessed them. Nowhere does it say that God only made white people. Paul takes this a little further in Galatians 3:28 when he declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” This is where our understanding of humanity needs to lie. For all of us who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we need to see our fellow believers as just as human, just as created, just as loved as we are. For Paul, being a part of the heavenly kingdom was more important than the constructs of racial, gender, or social boundaries that tend to separate us into “they” and “us.” If any of us confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, then we need to make him Lord, and doing that means following his ways. His was the way of love. Jesus tells his disciples (which extends down to us), “Love one another,” a command echoed in I John. There are no conditions or stipulations; it’s a simple command, an expectation of Christ’s followers.
At the same time, we need to be intentionally proactive instead of reactive. Abolishing symbols only addresses the symptoms of the problem. This problem of hate isn’t a matter of flags or statues or gestures; the problem of hate that leads to bigotry and racism is a serious heart problem. We need our hearts to be broken so God can mend them. We need our hearts to be softened, so we can feel for others. And we need our hearts to be emboldened so that we might not fear standing up for peace and justice for all people in our land, not just those the same shade of brown as we.