Starting a journey to face down racism

Starting a journey to face down racism

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I know that there are some folks, probably a lot of folks I grew up with, who just don’t understand why it’s important to say that Black Lives Matter. Instead they trot out “All Lives Matter” oblivious to the implicit racism of their insistence if they can’t also say “Black Lives Matter.” It’s not that all lives don’t matter. The problem is the refusal to first admit that black lives do indeed matter. Why the hesitation?

Jesus of Nazareth probably caught some grief for his insistence that God had a preference for the poor. The religious leaders who antagonized him surely had problems with Jesus insisting on giving so much time to those who had limited, if any, social power. They particularly had problems with him spending so much time with those they had declared, often for no reason other than ethnicity, unclean. You could well imagine some Pharisee hearing Jesus preach, “Blessed are the poor,” and complaining that he was just being politically correct. They might likely have challenged Jesus by saying, “All people are blessed.” If you’ve read that part of the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 6, verses 20 and 24 to be exact), then you know what Jesus would say in response: “Woe to you who are rich for you have received your reward.”

You may also remember a story Jesus told about a Samaritan who helped a man who’d been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Of course, the well-to-do, the religious hypocrites, who failed to recognize their own privilege, had passed right on by the man. While Jesus ended the story by asking who was a good neighbor to the man, implying the Samaritan, the story was just as intensely about the self-righteousness of the religious folks who looked out only for themselves and their own. Maybe the Pharisees were tired of hearing that Samaritan lives mattered, but apparently they stayed hardened in their hearts — just like so many hearts today remain hardened. How sad that they instead wallowed in their own supremacy, both ethnic and religious, revealing not only their self-righteousness, but also their own hatred and insecurities about themselves.

American history is loaded with ample evidence of deep self-damage by the sin of white supremacy and racism. Why is that so hard to admit? I wonder if maybe deep down some American whites feel abandoned to the fear that their own lives don’t matter, so they resent it when others assert that they do. At the least, shouldn’t not being killed be a fundamental right? We owe it not only to ourselves, our children, and our country, but especially to those most affected by the evils of racism, to say out loud that Black Lives Matter. If we can’t say those words, then saying All Lives Matter is just a distraction and a hollow, gutless sentiment.

Right now, we have been given the grace (through a series of unspeakable tragedies!) to confront the centuries that enslaved and subjugated blacks. By saying Black Lives Matter without any qualifiers starts us on the journey to facing down the sin of racism. It doesn’t deal with all of our sins and injustices, but it at least starts to dig out the first and most pervasive of white American sins.

White American Christians should be the first in line because the core of our faith is in repentance and forgiveness (it takes both sides of that equation in this case). Repentance is hard, for sure and maybe it would be easier just to go hide under a rock. But racial injustice is on all of our plates now. It’s for everyone to deal with because we all have some work to do around this. Every one of us, in every corner of American life is touched some way by the perversity of white supremacy, racial exclusion and hatred, and the systems perpetuated by implicit biases of racial superiority/inferiority. We are all damaged, even if we are too proud to admit it. The challenge of confronting our history and ourselves is a hard journey (it challenges my ease for sure), a long journey. It begins by simply admitting that Black Lives Matter. The American soul depends on us to have the guts to say it and live it.

News Herald Correspondent Jonathan Henley is a United Methodist pastor, former host of Road Signs radio show, and a music fan. He writes a weekly column for The News Herald. Contact him at roadsignsradio@gmail.com.

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