Race in America and in the church

I watch an episode of “The Problem with Jon Stewart” the other day. It was called “The Problem with White People.” You can watch the episode through this link. If the language bothers you more than the situation around race in America, then you are missing the point.

I was also curious and did what I never recommend – read the comments section on Youtube. There was a range to say the least. Everything from people praising Jon for touching on a topic that is controversial all the way to criticism and blame and “what about” statements.

And that’s just the response to a 16 minute video on race that literally changes nothing. No policy change occurred. No law changed. I’m willing to bet that no one who watched the video changed their mind either – although I could certainly be wrong about that. If before the video you don’t think race is a problem or that you have any responsibility to do anything about it, I’m willing to bet you became more entrenched after the video. And the same would be true for those who recognize the reality of racism in America.

We’ve been talking about “talking about” racism in America for…well…who knows. Not everyone wants to participate in the conversation – or even acknowledge that such a conversation needs to happen, let alone move beyond the conversation to what comes next. Are we waiting for everyone to come to some kind of willing agreement so that we can get serious about talking about it? The Second Coming of Jesus will happen sooner than the magical time in which everyone agrees that we should talk about race in a serious manner.

Why are we white people afraid of this? I imagine it has to do with the fact that we are going to feel guilty in some way. We’re going to feel uncomfortable. We’re going to have to acknowledge the fact that our experience is not everyone’s experience. We’re going to have to acknowledge that whole groups of people were wronged, abused, and exploited by people who share the same skin color as us – maybe even our relatives. Maybe even us in our own past, or God forbid currently. Maybe we don’t even know we are doing it. We don’t like having to admit we are not in the right. We’re going to have to come to terms with a whole bunch of things that we don’t like, and don’t honestly know what to do except kick the can down the road and make it someone else’s problem.

And so we talk about talking about racism. Because that makes it feel like we are making progress. And we can feel good about ourselves while not actually doing anything.

The church in America shares this problem. I’m part of the whitest denomination in the US – the ELCA. I don’t think we’re even in agreement as a church body that we have a problem in our church body. It’s like walking around with stage four cancer that has metastasized throughout our body and believing that we are just fine because we look fine on the outside, in spite of what the doctors, the tests, and our families are telling us.

Reparations is a topic that seems like a third rail – untouchable. Mostly because if reparations became part of the conversation, we’d be at a point where we acknowledged that there was a wrong and that we should do what we can to stop the wrong, right the wrong, and have a desire to move towards reconciliation and shalom. But we’re no where near that. Don’t take my word it. Just read the comment section on any article or video related to race. Listen to the comments and responses when the church makes an official statement on race or wants to take some kind of action about race.

So what do we do? Stop waiting for everyone to get on board because that’s just not going to happen. There are going to be people who can’t handle acknowledging reality. There will be those who refuse and who fight back. But is any of that really new? No.

So where can you start? Find others who are willing to take action and move forward. Accompany each other. Speak up. Use what you have. Recognize that you will be attacked. And remember your faith – that as followers of Jesus, we have been given a way to deal with such things. A way of peace. And keep going. And don’t stop. And keep inviting others to join in. And do what you know will right the wrongs. Forget trying to get everyone on board. That’s a fantasy that will never come. So go with what you have, who you have to go with, and get going. And when you get knocked down, you get up and go again. We aren’t the first people to do this. We have great examples who have been doing all of this for a long time if we just look and pay attention. This has been going on for a long time. It didn’t start with us and when we realized that there was a problem. And have hope for a better future. Without hope, we’ll just be lost. We have much to unlearn and learn.


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