Parish Newsletter Column on Addressing Racism

August 2016

Dear People of Faith,

Even as our nation was celebrating its summer birthday on July 4, it has been plagued by unrest and turmoil. Two more African American families are grieving the loss of loved ones at the hands of police, and five families of police officers are grieving a loss at the hands of a lone gunman bent on revenge.

And it has coincided in worship with our reading of St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and Jesus’ majestic Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I’ve endeavored to bring the two together — politics and faith — through the idea of cultural sin. We are generally very familiar with the idea of sin as individual misdeed; much less so with that of sin as infecting our cultures and institutions. But I think that the latter is what is featured in Galatians and Jesus’ parable, and the chief example of cultural sin in our American situation is racism.

My aim here is not to repeat those sermons. But a response to them has been to ask, “What can I do to respond?” What can we as followers of Jesus do to be part of healing racism? The first thing is to learn more about what it is and how to understand it. That might not seem like something we “do” — not exactly action-oriented. But with something as complex as racism we must be careful that our action doesn’t make matters worse through misunderstanding. It is highly possible — in fact, it’s part of our history — to genuinely try to work against racism and unwittingly feed into it.

The quickest introduction is through the YouTube video titled “Crossroads Definition of Racism.” It begins with the important truth, “The solution to the problem of racism depends on how we define it.” And in six minutes they introduce and explain a definition that I find essential: Racism = Race prejudice + the misuse of power by systems and institutions. The first part of this definition is on the level of personal sin: we bear racial prejudice as individual attitudes, and we can work to diminish them in ourselves. But the second part of the definition relates to exactly what I’ve been talking about with the biblical idea of cultural sin — sin that invades and infests our human systems and institutions. It is imperative to learn more about this before attempting to do something about addressing the problem of racism.

What can you do to learn? Watch the video. Even more important, take the training offered by Crossroads. There is nothing like it out there. It is simply the very best in helping organizations better address how to work to dismantle racism within their own institutions. I’d be happy to speak to anyone about further exploration of this possibility.

In terms of books, I recommend Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, by Kelly Brown Douglas; and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. In video presentation, I own the excellent series Race: The Power on an Illusion and can show them at church in an educational setting.

In terms of action, prayerfully consider participating in the “Black Lives Matter” movement in Saginaw. Be sure to listen to people of color in letting them take the lead. As a white man, I know that there is still so much for me to learn, since so much of racism, as embedded in my enculturation, is invisible to me.

In Ephesians 2, St. Paul puts the Good News of our salvation in this way: “For Christ Jesus is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace….” Brothers and Sisters, let us be part of that salvation in our time and place by working to dismantle racism in our nation.

Pastor Paul

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