A Statement on Racism and the Church

 

The full text of the video is included below.

June 5, 2020

In the last week we have seen our nation and our own community being rocked by the outrage that has come to the surface over the most recent racially-influenced police brutality with the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer on May 25. All this following the recent killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which together add to the many black bodies that have been killed for no explicable reason than being black in the United States.

I feel heartbroken for the victims and their families, and also for the millions of black men and women in our country who see themselves and their children in the faces of those who have been killed. While we praise the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and the progress our country has made toward equal rights, events like the many killings of unarmed black people–most significantly and tragically by officers whose job it is to keep the peace–reveals how very far we still need to go.

I know I cannot say everything that needs to be said. Moreover, I’m aware that as a white person I can only speak with a limited understanding of the real plight of our black sisters, brothers, and siblings in Christ, and I know that I am speaking to a primarily white group of people. But it is my sincere prayer that God will give us not only words but also actions to match what we might aspire to in speech. I pray for justice and fairness for our black communities, for humility and repentance for white people who have unduly benefited from racial injustice, and for God’s mercy on us all, including those who took the lives of Breonna, Ahmaud, George, and so many others before them.

While I do not yet know what to do I know that something must be done and I believe, as a Christian, that the Church must be involved and must stand on the side of the poor, the prisoner, and the oppressed. In the gospel of Luke, when Jesus makes his first appearance in the synagogue he reads this from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

There is a longstanding debate that is very much alive today about politics and the church. While I am unequivocal in wanting to create a church whose love and commitment to each other transcends political ideology, I firmly believe the gospel calls us to repent of all sin as a principally Christian act. True repentance necessarily involves naming and working to repair the ways that we fall short of the glory of God. The systemic racism in our country is not the byproduct of a culture war or about political division. Racism is a sin and it separates us from the love of God and each other in Christ Jesus. Right now our black community is especially suffering from the white privilege that allows benefits to so easily travel to white people while being denied to people of color. The disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths by black and latinx people is a case in point and a tragedy with many layers.

It is important for us to name the sin of racism and white privilege that has seized us in this moment. It is important to say the names of the black women and men who have been unjustly killed–George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, and so many others. Most importantly, it is important for all of us to be in relationship with each other as we lament these deaths, as we lament our own sins, and as we look, together, for actions that match our desire for change. We are, after all, people of Word and Sacrament, of prayer and work, of contemplation and action.

It is also important to acknowledge the context in which we find ourselves. We are nearly three months in to a global pandemic that we are by no means recovered from. We live with fear and anxiety for our health and well-being. Our economic futures are uncertain. We are exhausted. Perhaps our exhaustion is an opportunity to empathize with our black neighbors who have been suffering from the plague of racism, not for a few months, but since before this nation’s beginning.

I do not know how to solve the sin of a country’s racism, but I do know how to repent of my own sin, and I invite you to join with me–in repenting of the ways in which we have benefitted from unjust power systems, and of our implicit and explicit racism. I invite you to join me in prayer–for peace and for guidance. And I invite you to connect the goodness and wellbeing of the marginalized and oppressed in our society with our own commitment to follow Christ. Weary as we are, this work cannot wait. And we will need each other to grow and learn and change together. There is much to do and much to learn. I am confident that God is ready to guide us into this way of love if we are ready to follow. God loves you, I love you, let us pray and work together to discern how Incarnation will answer this call now and in the future.

Let us pray

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

What’s love got to do with it (sin, that is)?

A Reflection from March 1, 2020 on Matthew 4:1-11 | Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness but does not Sin (passage included below)

Remember when I said that our Lenten Bible Study would focus on love? The Gospel for the first Sunday in Lent is making us work for our money with our first passage, which is about Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days and then being tempted by a devil when his defenses are most weakened. And, yet, he doesn’t take the bait. I have to admit, I fasted on Ash Wednesday (and humbly repent of making it so public with this statement) and by the end of the day I was surely guilty of at least five of the seven deadly sins (no comment on which ones). Had the devil offered me a loaf of bread, I’m not sure I would have done what Jesus did.

The point of this story about Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness is not to teach us that the evil one tempts us with food, safety, and power so we better be on the lookout and know how to resist them. Nor is this supposed to remind us that we’re miserable failures who don’t deserve God’s favor, but if we’re lucky God will love us anyway. In fact, the point of the passage is quite the opposite: it’s that Jesus, who was tempted by the same things we are, has resisted evil and, spoiler alert, at his resurrection, he defeats evil altogether and forever. In sum, this is the kind of Lord you can put your trust in. He’s not like us, and yet he loves us, weak and cranky as we are.

Yes, we should try to resist temptation, not be driven by our material desires, trust God even when we feel vulnerable, and should resist making idols of all the things that we mindlessly worship (fame, wealth, health, social status, physical ability, intelligence, etc.). But Jesus came to save sinners, not perfect people who can DIY their relationship with God (think 700 Club meets HGTV…or just the 700 Club…).

The good people who decide what Bible passages we read in church each week paired this passage with one from Romans 5:12-19 which says that sin and death came into the world through one person, Adam (of Adam and Eve fame), and was overcome by the love and life of one person, Jesus. That’s the message of grace: that we are good enough to be loved by God, even if we don’t think we (or others) are really that great.

So, in the words of my childhood hero, Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it? More specifically, what does love have to do with sin? If Jesus did all that he did, and now we’re good in God’s eyes, then why do we need to worry about sin?

Because of love!

Sin, at its core, is an absence of love. You’ve seen the snarky bumper stickers that say “Jesus loves you but the rest of us think you’re a [jerk].” It’s not a very nice statement, but there’s some theological truth in it. We’re called to imitate Jesus’s reconciliation by replacing sin (especially our own) with love. This means repenting of our sins and not being jerks, because the rest of the world still has to live with us. Will Jesus love you if you’re still a jerk? Yes. (thanks be to God!) Will your spouse, kids, coworkers, fellow-drivers? If they can manage to see you as God does…then yes…but why not make it easier on everyone?

The priest and theologian, Alexander Schmemann says that it’s the Church’s job “To remind man of this personal love and vocation,” during Lent. He goes one to say, “to fill the sinful world with [Jesus’s] love–this is the true mission of the Church (Great Lent, p. 26).” If we, as faithful and caring people, want to participate in this work, then we need to start with ourselves. We ended our Bible Study with this question: How does temptation prevent us from loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves?

You can participate in the conversation, too, by adding your thoughts or questions to the comment section. Want to join us for next week’s conversation? Email me (Brin) for details or tune in for next week’s blog post, which is on John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells a pharisee that he came not to condemn the world but to save it.

Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.