“Last week, a black professor told me he always asks his white students if they have ever heard racism called a sin in the pulpits of their churches growing up. The answer is almost always no.” ~Jim Wallis
Consider this to be a continuation, Part II of the previous July 4 blog post.
In the aftermath of the annual observance of the birth of a nation, Independence Day, it is a fitting time for this Eco-Justice blog to address not only the history of our collective sins against the environment, but also our transgressions against humanity. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of this relationship in his 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail when he declared that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Today in 2020 we must acknowledge how intricately are woven the threads of environmental and racial injustice in the history of this nation.
Long before declaring our independence from the British Crown, colonial America was introduced to and soon embraced chattel slavery. While 1619 in the Virginia colony is typically the historical hook upon which we hang the hat of slavery, the origins of slave trade go back to the beginnings of European colonization of the New World. It is this institutionalized form of human bondage that became the economic bedrock upon which a new nation would be built and nurtured. It would also become the prize over which a fledgling Union would be divided. And even a war fought over the cause of emancipation would not right the wrongs entrenched deep within the soul of a white privileged American ethos.
This year a month in advance of our nation’s birthday, it took a young girl’s video of the brutal death of an American of color, George Floyd, perpetrated under the knee of a law enforcement officer to finally open the eyes and awaken the conscience of a majority of the white populace. In droves they took to the streets in the midst of a raging pandemic along side their colored fellow protesters to say “Enough is Enough!” In the midst of a nation fractured along the great racial divide as at no other time in recent history, a seismic shift was occurring. White apathy was shaken, white privilege was exposed and among a new breed of ethically enlightened Caucasians came the acknowledgement that, “Yes, black lives do matter!”
Even in little old Pittsboro, NC within the comfortable confines of a welcoming and cautious congregation of good folks with love in their hearts and intent to do no harm, a moral alarm was heard and heeded by their governing body. A handsome lawn sign sprang up in front of the church building. It was a big, bold witness to the fact that the congregation was standing with people of color in the cause against racial injustice because black lives matter. It was to be but the first step in a new commitment to move racial justice up on the agenda, to make it a more critical part of the mission of the congregation.
Then one day the sign was gone… mysteriously disappearing before its planned departure date. As the mystery unraveled it was learned that a disgruntled member of the greater community had removed the sign and placed it inside by the Pastor’s door along with a note discouraging its replacement. In addition, some concern was also voiced from within the congregation as to the wisdom of initially erecting the sign and now reinstating it.
Today in a Christian congregation, as in the Town of Pittsboro, as in the County of Chatham, as in the State of North Carolina, as in the entire USofA people are being challenged to confront the age old false national narrative that proclaims,” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…” As people of faith and citizens of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” we are being prodded to respond in a manner most appropriate to just Christian values and aspirational democratic principles. It is a work in progress. It is a work that begins with honest awareness and courageous self examination that leads to contrite confession.
Rev. Jim Wallis (founder of Sojourners) refers to the centuries-long offense of systemic racial inequality/injustice and white privilege/white supremacy as “America’s Original Sin.” Coming from an American born and home grown Caucasian cleric, that is a scathing rebuke to the myopic, pseudo-narrative of American exceptionalism and a humbling admission of guilt, both national and personal.
Rather than succumbing to the inbred knee-jerk defense of claiming not to have a ‘racist bone in his body,’ Rev. Wallis takes a deep look into the abyss of American history written in white ink on colored paper and finds himself in the pit along with the rest of the Caucasian tribe. He has confronted the Truth, “the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” and experienced a white epiphany. Or to borrow a contemporary idiom, he’s had a ‘come-to-Jesus-moment.’ He has seen the Truth, and the Truth has set him free, free to admit that by the sheer paleness of his skin he is part and parcel of the problem.
The Liturgy of Christian worship in most mainline denominations begins with confession, an acknowledgment of our sins of commission and omission, an honest and earnest admission of guilt followed by a contrite pledge to atone. Because of grace that forgives and frees us, we seek to turn around and journey on paths of righteousness. The sheer grace of God in the midst of human depravity is a divine mystery beyond the grasp of the finite human mind. We are not programmed to fully comprehend the depths of such a love divine, all loves excelling. BUT it is the grace that we can experience that moves us to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”
And speaking of ‘grace,’ I leave you with the charge to read Confessions of a Racist by Amrita Grace. For any person not of color who wishes to begin or move ahead on their journey of racial reconciliation, this is a way point worth visiting.
Here is her beginning admission to tease you into reading the full confession:
“I am a spiritual teacher.
I am a leader of women.
I am a priestess.
I am an advocate for the Earth.
I am a woman who cherishes all life.
And I am a racist.
I am a racist because I was born into a tightly-woven, deeply embedded web of systemic racism that has spanned over 400 years and been upheld to such a degree that I wasn’t consciously aware of it. Though I did not choose this, it is so. And now that I’m aware of it, I take responsibility for it. I own it. When I own it, I can educate myself. I can make changes that need to be made. I can take actions that support change in the systems that continue to uphold racism. I can use my white privilege to speak out about it. I can share what I’m learning with other white people. And that’s exactly what I’m choosing to do.”
Confession, it is said, is good for the soul. In the case of America’s original sin, it is also good for the soul of the nation.