Racism and the Church

From Fr. Thomas McKenzie

This week a spotlight was shone on what has been called "America's original sin": racism. Many of us have seen the ghastly images coming out of Charlottesville. White supremacists, alt-right bigots, Klan members, and neo-Nazis marching together in America. They shouted unspeakable words of hate while declaring that the streets of that lovely city now belonged to them. They came armed and ready to fight. Violence erupted because of their hateful presence, and a woman was murdered in a terrorist attack by one of them.

This event has garnered a great deal of attention. Some would say that we should ignore it, because attention is what these people want. And while it’s true that they seem to be loving the spotlight, we must respond. Each of us, in our own way, is now part of a national conversation about what we will and will not accept as normal in our society.

The Church is morally compelled to speak up in moments like these, and especially southern, Protestant congregations led by white men. Why? Because, in the past, we have been complicit in racism. Hate groups, and specifically the Ku Klux Klan, came from us. There were KKK meetings held in our church basements, and our members (including our clergy) were part of that terrorist organization. Since its founding in the 19th century, the Klan has killed thousands of people and terrified millions while the white, Protestant churches of the American South either stood silently or actively participated. This can never happen again.

In the Name of Jesus and his Church, I must make it clear that racism is a moral evil. It is a demonic Power. It is a sin on both a societal and personal level. There can be no equivocation on this. 

It might be helpful to suggest a way to think about racism. Many people hear that word and think it means "hating people of another race." Actually, hating someone of another group (racial, religious, etc.) might best be called "bigotry." Anyone can be bigoted toward another group. An Anglican can be bigoted toward Baptists, a Japanese person toward Chinese people, a woman toward men, and the list goes on. Bigotry is a sin that we commit personally, and no bigotry is “better" or "worse” than another.

Racism, on the other hand, is an historical system of power and oppression. Racism isn’t so much a feeling as it is a way of acting, or a state of affairs. Racism is powerful even among those who do not “feel” racist. America has been racist not just in the way people feel, but much more in the way our country has acted (slavery, the deportation of Native people, Jim Crow, etc.)

When the Klan and their friends marched in Charlottesville, they were showing themselves to be bigots, certainly. But they were also advocating racism. There is a context to their hate, there is a history. They represent things that have actually happened to real people. The Nazi’s annihilated Jews, Romani, homosexuals, disabled people, and others. The Klan lynched black men by the hundreds and sought to ghettoize or re-enslave African-Americans. These marchers were calling for more of the same. The chants, the torches, the flags, the weapons, the uniforms—they are all part of a whole. And that whole is repugnant to the Gospel, the Church, and to Christ.

How then should we respond? We should first respond to this, and all evil, with prayer. Remember that our struggle isn't really against flesh and blood. These people are still people, as hateful as they may be, and Jesus died for them, too. Pray for their souls, for their repentance.

Moreover, pray for those who are afraid right now. The purpose of racist marches is to scare historically oppressed people, and that is what is happening. Pray for everyone in this country who is a target of their hate (and that is pretty much everyone besides white, Christian men).

We should also respond by reaching out in love and compassion. Ask your friends about how this is affecting them. Talk to the children you know, age-appropriately, about this. Show your support in whatever ways the Lord leads.

Pray also with repentance for whatever bigotry you harbor (and we all harbor bigotry). Pray that we may repudiate systemic and cultural racism. May the Lord heal our nation, and may it begin with us!

Enough from me. This is a subject I could go on about for a long time. Instead, I want to turn to a post from someone who is relatively new to our church. She is a married woman, and the mother of two wonderful boys. She and her husband are white, the boys are black. I think her post will help all of us better understand why this moment is important, and why this can not be ignored. 


From Megan Hyatt Miller


I'm planning to write more about this soon, but as a parent of two black boys, often the only two black people in any church congregation we attend, when this isn't strongly addressed from the pulpit (this has been our experience in the last few years and is, in part, why were are now at Redeemer), it causes our family to feel invisible on behalf of our boys. This is ironic, because we spend our life being incredibly conspicuous. We are noticed everywhere we go. In church, it's like, they (my boys) are sitting right there, obviously not like everyone else, obviously targeted in our culture in this moment, and obviously not acknowledged in a community that is supposed to be defined by justice, peace, and truth.

And, if my boys and those they represent are unacknowledged in church, yet sitting right there in front of God and everyone, it's as if they are willfully made invisible. And if they are invisible, it's like they don't exist, and if they don't exist, how can they be human? After all, isn't that the sin of racism in the first place--a denial of God's image in all people and the the ability to make a people group invisible or subject simply because you have the ability to do so? 

An unwillingness on the part of white pastors to speak boldly, thoroughly, and often on this issue is one of the great tragedies of our history. We have the theology and the platform to shift culture, but historically, we haven't used it, or have used it for ill purposes. The result of silence is not only more injustice, but further division and segregation between Christians which is totally antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I think white pastors have the chance now to write a different ending with their leadership than their forefathers who chose to remain silent. The church has the opportunity to be a force for reconciliation like we've not seen in our lifetime. I'm grateful for your moral clarity and courage on this issue, and encourage you to continue to use your voice powerfully on this issue on behalf of our black brothers and sisters in Christ, and on behalf of children like mine.

Fill the Goodwill Trailer at Redeemer

 

Our church is richly blessed through our relationship with Family Affair Ministries (FAM). What a great time we had on Sunday! Pastor Glenda's message, along with the great offertory and the special singers on our worship team ... it was a blessing to worship together. Special thanks to everyone who helped with the lunch after church.

FAM does a great deal of good for people in their neighborhood. One way they do this is by giving out Goodwill gift cards. These cards help supply clothing and other necessities. Goodwill and FAM have a special partnership. Goodwill gives FAM giftcards based on donated goods that FAM sends to Goodwill.

Here's what that means for us: There will be a trailer in Redeemer's parking lot from Sunday, June 18 through Friday, June 23. Our challenge is to fill that trailer up. Bring clothing, housewares, books, toys, electronics, and sporting goods. Put them in the trailer. Then Goodwill will award FAM gift cards based on the weight of what we collect!

So don't throw that working toaster away! Don't take those clothes to Goodwill! Don't take that box of books to McKay's! Save them up for just ten more days, and then bring it to the church. Your donation will bless the folks who end up buying the item at Goodwill AND our friends at FAM. It's a win-win!

Do Something Good This Summer

A few months ago, I spent about a week with Faith Church in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. I was introduced to that church by an old friend, and founding member of my congregation (Church of the Redeemer), Mike VanHook. 

Some of you have heard me speak about my time in Haiti. I was overwhelmed by the crushing poverty of the country. I was also impressed by the godly work of Faith Church, and other ministries associated with them. I was especially impressed with Pastor Bruno. While I've only spent a few days with him, Mike has walked with him for fifteen years. Bruno is a man of passion and character. One thing I especially appreciate about him is how deeply committed he is to transparency and accountability. I have often found this to be a real issue when dealing with ministries in very poor environments. 

A few weeks ago, Pastor Bruno was in Nashville. He, Laura, and I had lunch together. As I was driving us to lunch, I asked Bruno how Laura and I could help his ministry. He told me about three things that were pressing needs. 

While I was considering these needs myself, I also decided to bring them up to our Mission and Outreach Committee. You may not know this, but Church of the Redeemer sets aside 10% of our income for mission and outreach. This committee helps to assign those funds. 

The committee decided to act on the needs I presented. But they also wanted to offer folks an opportunity to participate as well. The Vestry agreed, and decided that we should open a special designated fund just for June and July. During these two months, you can contribute towards three specific needs at Faith Church, if you wish. We will then transfer the funds to Faith Church, and we will receive reports on how they are used. 

Here are those three needs: Scholarships, Teachers, and the Construction of the Sanctuary. As a special act of worship this summer, I invite you to join me in giving (even a very small amount) to the work of Faith Church.

Scholarships

One-third of Haitian children do not go to school. That's because almost all available schools are private. Since the majority of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day, you can see where paying for school would be a real problem.

Faith Church has established Faith School for the children in their impoverished area. 120 children now attend, but more could go if they had the money.

I asked Bruno how much it would cost to sponsor a child for a year of school. He told me that $250 would cover school, books, uniform, and lunch (when the school could afford lunch). That's for the entire year.

Redeemer will be sponsoring four children to go to Faith School this coming year. You can sponsor a child, also. If you would like to do so, give $250 to Redeemer, and indicate "Haiti Scholarship." Bruno will send us the names and pictures of the children that we sponsor. 

Teachers

I asked Pastor Bruno how much he pays the teachers at Faith School. He told me "$90 a month, when we can pay them. And we don't pay them during the summer." 

That's a full-time salary of about $3 a day, when the salary comes through. Given how critical teachers are to a school, Redeemer has decided to give $900 to pay for one teacher for the upcoming school-year. If you'd like to help provide a teacher for Faith School this year, give any amount to Redeemer, and indicate "Haiti Teachers.

Sanctuary

To the right, you'll see a picture of Faith Church's sanctuary. Approximately 250 people worship there on Sundays, many standing outside. Bruno has plans drawn up to build a large, sturdy, cinderblock sanctuary. He can get it built for $10,000. 

Redeemer is giving $1,000 toward the building of the new sanctuary. You can pitch in, if you'd like. Just give any amount to Redeemer, and indicate "Haiti Sanctuary." Bruno will keep careful track of the expenditures, and we'll receive reports on the progress.

How to Give

If you'd like to give to any of these three needs, you can bring/mail a check to Redeemer. 920 Caldwell Lane, Nashville, 37204. You can also use our on-line giving by going here: https://portal.icheckgateway.com/ChurchOfTheRedeemer/
Please remember to indicate in the MEMO LINE where you'd like the funds to go. Haiti Scholarships, Haiti Sanctuary, or Haiti Teachers.