Anti-Racism in Church

I’m trying to stay engaged in anti-racist work, mostly in education myself, listening to and evaluating my thoughts, and having a slow and long conversation with people at Third Church. The last blog post on this subject was: White work of Anti-Racism. Here are a few up-dates since then.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Third Church’s adult forum read Ibram Kendi’s “How to be Anti-Racists”. After finishing that book, I was ready to tackle a list of books on the topic so that we could continue to have these hard discussions. Our group was divided. Some were ready to dive in to more anti-racist work and others need a break. We talked about how our privilege is what allows us to take a break and that many people can not take a break from the racism they experience daily. The decision we reached was to take a break with a plan to restart the anti-racism work so that we were not tempted to give it up all together. One of our members suggested a video series, another had been looking at an advent devotional, so that is our plan for now until the end of the year. Then we will begin January with James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”.

On Sunday, we will finish our reading and discussion of James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” The timing of this book as pre-Lent will (I hope) shape our understanding of this upcoming church season. White Christian churches in America should be engaged in anti-racist work and that work needs to include questioning our theology (especially our if view of who God is and who God loves leads us to self-glorification, racism, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of hate). Lent is an appropriate time to engage in self-examination. I wrote my reflection on Psalm 50 after finishing this book and watching a little bit of the impeachment proceedings. I read these reflections each week at the start of worship, and this one may be more than those who haven’t read this book bargained for… sometimes the pastor’s job is to make people a little uncomfortable. Lent seems like the right liturgical time to be a little uncomfortable.

Enjoyed isn’t the right word for a book like this, but I feel educated, examined, hopeful, and maybe even inspired to do better. James Cone didn’t shy away from the details of lynching, engaged with theology (although I got a little bogged down with the Reinhold Niebuhr stuff), he included how artists and musicians depicted lynching, and I of course loved the chapters were he highlighted the voices of womanist theologians. The quote I will be taking with me into Lent is one where Cone highlights the voice of womanist theologian Delores Williams, “According to Williams, Jesus did not come to see us through his death on the cross but rather he “came to show redemption through a perfect ministerial version of righting relationships”. She argued that if Jesus were a surrogate, then his gospel encourages black women to accept their surrogate roles as well–suffering for others as Jesus did on the cross. But if the salvation that Jesus brought could be separated from surrogacy, then black women were free to reject it to. I accept Delores Williams rejection of theories of atonement as found in the Western theological tradition and in the uncritical proclamation of the cross in many black churches. I find nothing redemptive about suffering in itself. The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair, as revealed in the biblical and black proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.” (pp. 149-150) I liked this view even though Cone said he more closely aligned with other womanist theologians like Shawn Copeland. It was this chapter that made me really want to read more of womanist theologians and black women writing about anti-racism. While the third church group reads a book on a different subject next, I will be previewing a few books by black women to choose for their next book. I also bought a book on womanist theology that I hope to read on my own. I really need to make sure I’m including those voices as I engage with faith and feminism. Feminism must be intersectional. I feel a little guilty for not doing this during our “break” but it was helpful for me to also have a break and come back to this topic reengaged.

The last chapter includes concluding thoughts and reflections on what modern “legal lynching” entails. The book was published in 2011, but his critique of American culture feels valid and current especially, the prison system which disproportionately incarcerates (and puts to death) people of color. It’s sad to see how little has changed since 2011, but I am hopeful that change is on its way. For now, I see my role as continuing to hold our small group to engage in reading and talking about anti-racism.

Besides this book, I’m finding encouragement from a church member who has incorporated anti-racism into her curriculum for medical students. She invited church members to attend a webinar that she gave based on her work.

I’m intentionally connecting with other local clergy who are doing anti-racist work with their communities. From that group of clergy I find gentle accountability and encouragement to continue this work too.

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