I was asked the question: How do I feel? My response…
There is no unity or peace in spaces where my blackness is not appreciated; in a nation where Christianity is the summation of white, rich men who deem it their responsibility to make (a)merica safe. I awake every day with a crisp “Fuck You” on my mind which is manifested as a serene “Lord Have Mercy.” Knowing that most Christians will feel offended by use of f—k but have little concern for how folks are getting f—ed. We live in such a cynical world, “where cynicism is an unpleasant way of telling the truth.” But Maria Popova enlightens us that:
“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”
So, we are stuck in this cynical moment of reality, where hope is constantly being attacked by white supremacy. A time when the church has found pleasure and refuge in tropes and colloquial sayings while refusing to attend to the needs of the people. We find ourselves in a posture of resistance with the ever-present stench of fear looming: a fear entrenched by a hope that a racist country will do right by the people. We are not defeated but understand the road is less traveled; it is a road that is spoken about but very seldom walked upon.
How do I feel? I feel more like saying, “Fuck Trump” rather than saying, “Let’s pray for him.” There is no debate on whether it is right or wrong, you decide. But it is honest.
As Brian and I have engaged in this conversation about race, I have been challenged by some who question the benefits of engaging in this conversation. My role as a United Methodist pastor has been put forth as a leading reason for me to disengage from talking about race for fear that my position and opinions will create animosity. Racism has become a topic that is off limits even though we know it is still a problem in the U.S. Yet, we know that the only way to eliminate a problem is through meaningful discussion. This is a discussion that the church ought to be leading because we have the framework which allows truly open and honest discussion that creates the unity we seek without diminishing those who participate in the conversation. We have the cross of Jesus Christ.
American slavery and its legacy of racism seen through the power of the Cross is not about black victimization or white guilt. It is an example of resurrection. The Christian doctrine of resurrection provides the means by which we can discuss racism and how to move forward without assigning guilt or creating victims.
According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ suffered a terrible death on the cross. He was beaten and abused but he is not a victim but a conqueror. Jesus died on the cross but his death is not final. American slavery and the racism that followed created death in so many ways for people of African descent but this death is not final. African-Americans have come through the suffering, pain, and literal and figurative death of slavery and racism to not only survive but live. The experiences of African-Americans brought life to this country. There are many achievements that occurred during and following the suffering and pain that slavery and racism imposed on people of African descent that affirm this point. Viewed through the power of the cross our discussions about racism must not focus on black victimization but rather must focus on the faithfulness of God to bring light out of darkness; joy out of suffering; life out of death.
Likewise, Paul writes in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Immediately preceding this verse, Paul writes about how he wants to do right but evil is close at hand. He writes about the wretchedness that he feels; a wretchedness that he likens to death. It is in the cross of Christ that Paul finds relief and is free of the guilt that comes with sin. So it should be that talk of the sin of slavery and racism among Christians should not lead to condemnation and feelings of wretchedness. Instead, white guilt is replaced by the saving grace of Jesus Christ so that we know that the law of sin is overruled by the law of the Spirit. Paul does not refuse to talk about his sins but he also does not give sin the final say. Our conversation is not centered on the death which comes from sin but on the life found in the Savior.
An understanding of the cross as the source of redeeming suffering and atoning for sin opens the way for the final and complete end of racism, at least among those who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The power of the cross is greater than our sin, guilt, or suffering. Looking to the cross, let’s start the conversation!
The road to integration is an unforgiving assault on the hearts and minds of black clergy that serve in predominately white denominations. The continuous reshaping to make one’s authenticity fit into another’s warped shape of the Gospel becomes a perpetual task that tries to hijack one’s sense of being. The tragedy of being present, in spaces, where my humanity is only confirmed by my acceptance to assimilation is a solidarity to injustice, which I refuse to accept.
It is clear that the many within the ELCA camp voted for Donald Trump. (Lenny Duncan wrote a good piece about it) I am left to wrestle with this problem, “Why I am in the ELCA?” Why do I continue to connect with people who are so opposed to equality, equity, and justice? I used to say it was a sense of calling to the mission fields of whiteness but now I stand bewildered beyond reasonable thought. The constant awareness of having to explain your presence is insulting. I was assisting with the officiating of a funeral at the church. It was a very small funeral so there were no ushers. I took the liberty to greet friends and family as they arrived. Well, as I was opening the door, a lady comes to the door and says, “I almost ran when I saw this big, black man standing at the door.” Why am I in the ELCA?
Every day, it feels like the very essence of my being is sucked out of me. There are a lot of good people in the ELCA but there is no emotional safety. The task of naming and eradicating racism has been co-opted as racial reconciliation: the place where Black and Brown must become like us (white) instead of us becoming like them.
There were moments, when I thought that being in the ELCA was an honorable journey. I understood that it would be a hard road ahead, but I never considered the theological racism that masks itself as legacy and doctrine to be such a high mountain to climb. My faith has run out of faulty forgiveness that amounts to more opportunities to be dehumanized. I am tired of hearing that this is just how Lutherans are…The truth is that a Lutheranism that is still steeped 1517 rhetoric and liturgy never really had me in mind from the beginning.
Why am I in the ELCA? Well….
Walter spoke about the need to cross racial borders in order to produce some form of reconciliation. Honestly, that would be the end result of any conversation about race –we come to a resolution where everyone is humanized. The Gospel calls for such revolutionary actions to be normalized. But, borders are instituted by people when they do not want others to enter their space. So when we think about the possibilities of reconciliation, especially, when considering crossing racial borders, we must be extremely clear of the danger of entering into spaces where your skin color has been weaponized and framed you with a malicious intent. I would pose the question: Does our need to be reconciled have to come at the price of being harmed?
Therein lies the issue of race that appears to reshape the conversation. For black people, there are no spaces of safety in a narrative controlled by racism. The narrative called (a)merica has redefined the humanity of people of African descent, and any time some of us enter in to what Kelly Brown Douglas calls “cherished spaces,” we must assimilate or risk being terrorized.
I am not as hopeful as Walter that these places for border crossing will ever happen in (a)merica. Authenticity must be foundational for reconciliation to be probable, and I am not sure how authentic people can be when their power is on the line.
My friend Brian Foulks writes, “Racism shapes itself to this form of identity where only those who are willing to conform to dominate culture are seen as Christ-like and worthy to be humanized.” My initial response was to immediately disagree and point to the need to not give this much power to the evil that is racism. I am always tempted to simply point to the sovereignty of God and remind anyone who will listen that there really is no battle between God and evil. Yet, as I began to write I was convicted that I am speaking as I would like things to be but not as they actually are. I am reminded that Sunday service is still mostly segregated. I am reminded that we have a ways to go in dealing with racism in this country and if there is going to be any real change it has to start in the church.
However, the gospel stills speaks to me. Luke 17:11-19 relates the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Verse 11 tells us that as Jesus travels along the border between Samaria and Galilee on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus is between two groups of people, two different and opposing worlds. We are reminded of the current race relations in America. Whether we want to admit it or not people of African descent and people European descent often live in very different worlds in this country. Jesus not only travels along the border between these two worlds but he brings healing in this space between these two worlds. In our time we have to meet each other at the border. We have to realize that we cannot continue living separate from each other and still claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus travels the border between all existing conflict that separates people from each other. Jesus travels the border between what is and what should be.
As a person of African descent it is not unusual to have border experiences. I often find myself in places where I am surrounded by people who are unlike me. The key, and this is where I agree with Brian, is people of European descent being willing to come out to the border. There will be no racial reconciliation until people of European descent are willing to come to the border and participate in the healing that Jesus offers. There is hope but we have to be willing to acknowledge what is while believing God for what can be.