The last ten days have brought us face to face with America’s longest running sin: racism. The events of Charlottesville, Virginia has erupted unexpectedly and catapulted itself into our living rooms, digital devices, to the very center of our public politic, like an unwanted intruder. The emergence of white supremacists, neo-Nazi’s and “alt-right” gathered and we were front and center witnessing this chaos.
Racism remains alive and well, make no mistake about it.
Ten years ago, I stood in the Apartheid Museum in South Africa, toured Nelson Mandela’s small home, and drove by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s residence. Both of these great men lived only blocks apart. I sat inside an armored vehicle where armed white Dutch police officers opened fire on demonstrators killing a young boy that initiated the ensuing struggle. I felt queasy most of the day, difficult to even speak.
Presbyterians are people of word, sacrament and confessions. One of our recently adopted confessions is The Belhar Confession. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa wrote this in response to racism as their act of resistance, reconciliation and resolve to never let this happen again in their country or anywhere in the world. It states:
“We believe that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine. Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.”
The American experiment has wondered where the church was during the violent periods in our life together surrounding race relations. Martin Luther King Jr. lamented the silence of the white church and, clergy in particular, in the struggle for equal rights. Further writing, “Love is the most durable power.”
Friends, we must not be silent. To remain silent is to be complicit. We must rise up. We must speak truth to power. This is a movement of God’s love that is the most durable power. In the creation account God created the cosmos and called it “good.” Then created human beings in God’s image and said, “It is very good.” Human beings are all very good in the eyes of God.
Jesus built bridges where there were walls. He entered the world of adulterers, enemies, hostile nations, the Roman Empire and the pagan world that vexed the zeitgeist of his day, reconciling all people, places and things to the Godhead. He taught that we are to be “Peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.” He taught us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your Godhead in heaven.”
The Apostle Paul wrote, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So, friends, be brave. Be bold. Stand in solidarity with those who are being marginalized and work to undo institutional racism, prejudice, bigotry, white privilege and anything that creates barriers between people of color, sexual preferences, or economic background. We are the Church; the hands and feet of Jesus being used by the trinitarian God reconciling all things and all people to God’s primal declaration that all people are “very good.”
This is not about geopolitics, this is a Divine ordering, and this is about God at work through faithful people.
May we all be brave today, God help us!