The following is what will appear in my church’s newsletter tomorrow. I struggled with it quite a bit, but I think it was what I needed to say.
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist” – Angela Davis
I confess to having some awkwardness being in church last Sunday. It’s an awkwardness I’ve felt before. It comes from being one of the only (or the only) black person in the room during a worship service after an incident that brings racism to the foreground. It’s an oversensitivity that I’ve developed over the years. I find my self feeling self conscious… more so than usual. I carried a lot of anger into worship; anger at the situation, anger at our president, anger that we seem to not be learning much as a society when it comes to this issue. While I’m confessing things, let me also say that I was envious of Nancy. I desperately wanted to preach and so I was also angry about the situations that lead to my not being able to preach. I’ll bet none of you realized that you were worshipping alongside a seething ball of rage!
In hindsight, I’m glad that I didn’t preach. Nancy’s sermon was perfect! If you haven’t read the text, it is in its entirety on the FB page, and if you aren’t on Facebook, I’m sure that Nancy will be happy to share it with you. I think her conviction was far more of what was needed than anything I could have offered. I especially appreciated these words:
We must be vigilant in our daily lives. We must be listening in the silence for the still small voice pointing us to examine the ways that our laws are crafted, the ways that they are enforced, how the norms within our institutions are shaped.
We must examine bias that is normalized in our churches, in our schools, in our communities, in our consumption of the news.
And we must stand up and speak out in the face of structural racism and sexism and classism and heterosexism.
It may feel like we are creating storms, that we are rocking the boat.
But the truth is that we as white people are just stepping into the storms that already exist
for our sisters and brother of color,
for our queer friends and family members,
for people who are pushed to the margins.
These are not passive activities that she was calling the church to perform. This is a call for an active stand against the forces of systemic oppression in our country. I was grateful for the challenge that Nancy put to us. Yet I recognize that the call wasn’t totally for me. As a man, it is my work to fight sexism. As a straight person, it is my work to fight homophobia. As a black person, racism is not my responsibility. In a predominantly white church in a predominantly white denomination, the burden of being anti-racist falls on the shoulders of the members of this church. The work is yours.
I have struggled mightily writing this. I don’t know how much to say. I am angry and I don’t want my anger to scare you off. I am tired but I don’t want you to think that I’m not in this fight with you. As one of your pastors, even if not in title, it is my job to equip you for the work in front of us. I’m a film guy and I’d love to suggest some recent films for us to dive into, discuss, and see how they might inform our work. I’ll give you three, one Hollywood and two documentary: “Get Out”, Ava DuVernay’s “The 13th” about the lasting effects of the 13th amendment on this country’s race relations, and “I Am Not Your Negro”, the powerful documentary featuring the words of James Baldwin. The last two are on Netflix.
One last thing: I love you! Please don’t let my anger about the world stop you from giving me hugs during the passing of the peace or from going out for lunch or for engaging in hard conversations. This is your work, but to paraphrase Dr. King, your liberation is bound up with mine. I am in this with you!