Racism and Responding as People of Faith

While I am no where near feeling like I can adequately address Racism, I want to begin to make some steps in that direction. Below is my article submitted for the Third Church July 2020 Spire.

It is difficult, especially for white people to admit that we are racists.  We want to think of racists as people who are expressing hatred by burning crosses and wearing white robes.  But if we consider that a racist is “one who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea” (How to be AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi) we are all racists.  An Antiracist is “one who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea” (Kendi) so we are all also antiracists.

Think about our theology of sin, we confess our individual sin and our corporate sin.  Many of the prayers of confession we say in worship include confession of what we have done and what we have left undone.  Leaving certain things undone puts all of us in the category of racists, just like we are all sinners.  Some days we are more aware of our own sin than others.  Our goal as Christians is to sin less frequently than we do good (understanding that God’s grace and forgiveness is sufficient, and we are not earning good points or loosing points).  But we know that we are all sinners and we are all going to sin eventually.  It is possible to also be racist one moment and antiracist in the next.  Like sin, our goal should be to have more moments of antiracism than racism in our personal live and in our communal lives.

I’m discovering that being anti-racist requires me not only to oppose systematic racism but to rid my own self of racism. That means I can’t avoid being uncomfortable. My privilege allows me to enter into conversations around race and then exit when I feel uncomfortable. The color of my skin allows me to experience life without being aware of how race impacts me or other people. But, as a Christian and as a pastor I am called to be uncomfortable. I am called to be in community with all of the people of God; not just those who look and think like me. One of the committees I serve on in Pittsburgh Presbytery decided to intentionally have and uncomfortable conversation around race for during our devotional time. And it was very uncomfortable, but it was a place where we were able to be vulnerable about our uncomfortableness. It would be a breach of trust for me to say more than that, but I’m sharing this example hoping that it will encourage others to find their people with whom they can have hard conversations and hold the uncomfortable tension for a time. It is in this tension that we learn and grow and love. It is this tension that allows us to find the racism that exists within us and to sit with it. When something rubs us the wrong way, we should pay attention to that and examine it. And we should lift our uncomfortable and broken hearts up to God, to trust that God can bring healing to our hearts and to our world. 

I feel the urge to do something or fix something but truthfully, the situation we are in with covid-19, racism, and general unrest don’t have easy fixes. However, being an empathetic person means that I can’t jump in and fix (not that I even know what and how to fix). What is needed is intentional being-with-ness. The kind of being with others that is empathetic and vulnerable but holding boundaries so that I don’t become sucked into darkest despair. I have to hold on to faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love. 

But if like me, you need something to do, find and antiracism book, watch the Pittsburgh Presbytery recorded conversations around race: Episode one and Episode 2, and participate in the The Interfaith Vigil for Black Lives (July 1st) is calling the spiritual communities of Oakland (and the wider Pittsburgh area) to come together to demand justice and to commit publicly to antiracism work. Our adult forum group will also be discussion racism in the coming weeks.

This image is from the Pittsburgh City Paper with an article discussing this graffiti and other related issues.

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