Mostly here I'm talking to white people, especially white clergy of white churches. When I say "we" I mean white people. ALL of us, including myself. This stuff is hard, and it can hurt badly to be self-reflective. I know, I've been doing it for a few months thanks to Safety Pin Box. I've cried many tears. If you can open up a little and hear what I'm about to write, perhaps I can save you some of your own tears.
So there's this stuff going down in Charolettesville right now. Something like 2,000 people are marching because they hate People of Color. They are wearing shirts with quotes from Hitler and carrying Natzi flags. People are scared. The KKK is alive and well in the US. Anti-blackness is alive and well in the US. I know that we don't want to be complicit. I know that we really, really want to say #notallwhite people. I know that we want to be one of the good white people. Today, that will be hard. Today, what we can do is admit how we've been part of the system, part of the silence. Today, we have to admit that for some reason, 2,000 people think that it is ok to dehumanize others in this way. Where haven't you spoken up? Where in your body are you afraid to speak up? Can you imagine living with this kind of hate that gets communicated to you in subtle and not so subtle ways every day of your life? Can you imagine knowing that your child might die because of the color of their skin?
I know that I can't because it'll never happen to my child. However, I do know that I have to do something. Jesus demands I do something.
I've written some possible excuses for White Christians not speaking up tomorrow. I've also written some answers. I hope you can add to this convo in the comments, and add more excuses, or help for one another. Let's stop being the kind of church that sits by and lets hate happen without speaking up, ok? Please? Jesus demands it.
Reasons to Not Preach AGAINST Hate
Let's look at some possible excuses for not condemning hate in #Charolettesville in your sermons.
1. I might lose my job.
To which I say: Yes, you might. You might also lose your soul if allow white supremacy to reign in your church. How can we help you learn to say this in ways that won't lose you your job? Blame Jesus? Also, there's are lots of Black people who lose and can't ever gets jobs because of the white nationalists, so there's that, too. Is your right to live a life and have food and rent more important than theirs? But I also think you can find words that will keep you safe. Any words at all help.
2. I'm scared.
To which I say: So was Peter in Matthew 14:22-33, the passage for RCL lectionary tomorrow.
3. I don't know what to say/how to say it.
To which I say: Then let's work together!
4. I want people to like me.
To which I say: So do I, but I care more that Jesus can be proud of me.
5. I might say it wrong.
To which I say: That is still better than nothing.
6. I don't have all the information I need to speak up. (Courtesy of Vicar Ian McConnell)
To which he says: speak to what you DO know, then. Namely, that if we believe what we say we believe, we will not let white supremacy co-opt the gospel message of God in Christ.
To which I add: Let's figure it out together.
I also add that the ELCA synod there made a statement, so there is information. http://www.vasynod.org/virginia-synod-elca-statement-august-12th-rally-charlottesville-virginia/?fref=gc
7. My congregation just had the matriarch die or a huge conflict. I have other things for my community, they can't learn anything right now.
I suggest, "I know that this thing is going on with us, and that's important, and we're hurting, and that's ok. I also know lots of People of Color who are hurting deeply because of the white Christians in Charlottesville who would like them dead. I want you to know that Jesus isn't ok with this, and we shouldn't be either. Hate causes more pain. We'll work together on understandings this more in the coming weeks when we have more space as a community. Just hear now that we will deal with it, and that is it not ok for Christians to wish for people to die because of the color of their skin. Now onto our regularly scheduled sermon."
What else? Post in the comments. Thanks!
8. I'm so overwhelmed, I don't know what to do.
To which I say, use this litany, read this blog post, follow the hashtag #charolettsville on twitter, follow #decolonizelutheranism, and subscribe to Safety Pin Box. Pick one, or all of them, and then be sure to say in your faith community during your message that you don't know what to do, you feel overwhelmed, and that you're trying, and that you think Jesus wants the church to try, too.
9. My congregation doesn't have people of color and this stuff just isn't on their mind. They don't see racism, it doesn't happen here, etc. (Courtesy of Pastor Becca Ajer at St. John's Church in Littletown, PA).
To which she says: There may not be people of color in your pews but racism affects all of us. Show them how it hurts us all. Show them that our siblings of color are part of the body of Christ and when part of our body is hurting and dying, we are called to speak out on behalf of God's people.
Here’s what I learned in my Week 2 journey of #decolonizeyourspirit. Click on the two links above to see the first and second installments of the series. Also, if you wouldn't have gone into a Speakeasy during prohibition, this might not be the place for your hang out online. Things get really honest here.
Note: The word “we” in this article refers to white people, mostly the ones who have been part of maintaining the institution of the church for generations. This is the only context from which I am qualified to share.
Although Christianity started out as an oppressed faith and group of people, when it became legal, Christians became the colonizers. That is, people who took over other’s cultures and lands in the name of “saving” them. The rub, of course, is that most often the people who were being “saved” (read: oppressed, stolen, harmed, hurt) were perfectly happy before we used our faith to “save” them.
Jesus was from an oppressed minority. He lived in an occupied land. Romans were controlling his land – out of town people who told the people there how they should live and what they should be.
Jesus was a political radical in that world. When talking to kids, I say things like “Jesus wanted everyone to share and to have enough money and food and clothing and shelter and love to have a good life. But the Romans, they wanted to be greedy and take all the money for themselves.” (When there is so much talk about taxes in the New Testament, it is largely money that is sent to Rome or used to pay for the oppressor’s army.)
Jesus held a protest parade against this oppressive occupation on Palm Sunday. He rode through the streets while people called him “King.” He has been preaching, teaching, and healing. He has been saying that the oppressed could go free, and have a good life without Caesar, and without the worship of Caesar.
Jesus was tried and convicted of treason. It was treason to say anything other than that Caesar was God. Jesus said God was God. He was guilty of violating the laws of his land, and he died for it.
God did something amazing with it, though. God took this death, and created new life. A promise that death isn’t the end, New Life, Hope, and Resurrection are always the best part of the story – in this life or in the next.
So, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that my faith that started out as so radically freeing got domesticated. We created a meek and mild WHITE Jesus who holds lambs and loves kids. We imagine that we can never be the Romans occupying the land, or the Pharisees performing religion instead of having a relationship with God, ourselves, others, and creation.
Except we have been. In Europe and the US, our faith has been used to support slavery, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and the current enslavement and overincarceration of mostly people of color. Jesus caused a protest march, do you really think his highest priority was “law and order”? Jesus was always disrupting the system.
We colonized this land by taking it over, and often other countries. Our “missions” involve bullying people into accepting Jesus to get food and clothing. Our “Crusades” hurt untold numbers of people, families, and Holy sites, and are part of the mess the world is in today.
I’m ready to start being honest about the harm the church has caused over generations. I’m ready to have a Jesus who disrupts the systems of power that keep some as the haves and some as the have nots. I’m ready for a Jesus that fully embraces the humanity of all, including calling those with power into being more fully human and to stop oppressing others.
There are so many things in our history that have been used to oppress, and there are so many things that can liberate.
We can liberate the story of Jesus to see him as he challenged the Roman and Jewish institutional authorities.
We can liberate the story of Jesus wanting everyone to have enough, and stop hording.
We can liberate the full created humanity of everything God made, including all kinds of people and creation.
We can offer ourselves the forgiveness of God to move forward to action. A way to let go of the white guilt, white feelings, and shame that often keeps us from seeing the big picture and the harm we are causing. We can rest in the knowledge that God forgives those who “turn around” (the literal meaning of repentance). Therefore, we can give up on ever expecting or wishing for forgiveness from the communities we’ve harmed. That is not their job, it is God’s. And both those communities and God require that we work to undo some of the harm that we’ve caused, even if it was before our lifetimes. Jesus wasn’t just about feeling good about ourselves as church going people, Jesus was about the liberation of humanity.
Can you get on board? What is the hardest part for you learning to #decolonizeyourspirit? Although being honest is painful, it can also bring liberation, and the promise that after the pain, comes healing. After staring at death and the tomb, we always have the promise of New Life, and that is the most liberating concept of all.
Remember, this blog is called Spirited Speakeasy. If you are the kind of person who feels offended by underground or hidden conversations that are not usually accepted in the light of day, what follows might be offensive to you. Jesus demands I say it, though. You can choose to listen and participate.
I'm learning to #decolonizeyourspirit through Safety Pin Box tasks this month. For an intro to SPB and this series I'm doing this month, check here.
Although I didn't think I needed to journal about how religion matters to my life, I did, just to see what happened.
Guess what I learned? That my faith life encouraged values and morality that meant I only hung out with upper middle class white people as a child.
Hard work, not being sexual, pulling myself up, trusting Jesus to care for me, sharing hard things, drinking, smoking, and sex were immoral, or at least frowned upon. We were not supposed to hang out with people like that.
My formation in my faith taught me that I was good and had to serve others who were at least less good, if not bad. It set up a hierarchy. All the talk about Christian charity and stuff. Nothing about justice, though.
Ouch. What a powerful lesson to learn how my faith limited my relationships and ability to learn about the lives of people very different from mine by defining them as "immoral". Can't find too much of that in the Bible. I hope someday church can get back to being about a beloved community where all are welcome and supported, without judgement. Where the lives of all are respected, and where church fights for the humanity of all in the broken systems of the world, and does its best to make up for the ways it has helped create those broken systems in the past, and often currently ignore them.
How did your church limit your relationships growing up? What did they teach? Can you be honest about looking at how you might have learned things about race in church, even it was not through intentional actions?
Pastor Jess, Author
Loves Jesus, Loves and Hates the Church at the Same Time, Calling Us to Honestly, ELCA Pastor
This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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