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.