I just finished reading Austin Channing Brown’s I‘m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness and I encourage everyone to read it. And while you might be tired of my comments that . . .
- We (white people) have a lot of work to do, and
- We (white people) need to wake up to the realities of white privilege and white supremacy . . .
I admit before you and God that I am one of those exhausting white people that Austin Channing Brown is talking about in Chapter One. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.
As my eyes slowly open to some of the realities of human history that I was never taught in school or at home, I can no longer not act on that knowledge. I can’t pretend that I don’t know that . . .
- Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one child (and probably six) with the enslaved Sally Hemings.
- Our country imprisoned 10,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
- 3000 children are being held at this writing in federal custody – separated from their parents – including about 100 children under the age of five taken at our Southern border.
If you believe that this is fake news, I encourage you to do your own research and critically think through these reports. Seek out trained journalists and researchers – not talking heads and lobbyists.
Churches have a special knack for sweeping unpleasant truths under the rug. We tend to erase the stories about pillars of the faith who were slave holders or slum lords. We want to believe that we come from good stock and that our forebears were benevolent community leaders. Of course they were.
But as I open myself up to the possibilities/stark realities that “my people” might have been complicated human beings who were not always “good” and that my country has a long and disturbing history of separating children from their parents, I find that I must do something in accordance with my faith.
What we do depends on our personalities and our opportunities:
- We can give money to ministries and other organizations working towards justice.
- We can be the activists who write our members of Congress and march in the streets to draw attention to discrimination and/or run for office ourselves.
- We can teach our children and others about the reality that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was usually offered only to white people – which is a sin. Plain and simple.
- We can challenge those who are telling half-truths.
- We can pull out our camera phones and record the next white person who calls 911 on a person who is simply living while black or brown. And then put it on social media.
My own tradition – the Presbyterians – prides itself in being well-educated. We have established schools of higher education from Princeton University in New Jersey to Daeyang University in Malawi to Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie in Brazil. We have founded secondary schools throughout the world.
We attend Bible studies and book studies and lectures and discussions on international issues. And then we go home smarter. But nothing changes.
After touring an exhibition on lynching with black and white students, Austin Channing Brown writes in her book that one white student stood on the tour bus and said – emotionally – “Now that we know all of this, doing nothing is no longer an option.”
Doing nothing when we know that there are hungry people, homeless people, addicted people, terrorized people, lonely people, and broken people makes us complicit.
My friends, if we address these things in the name of Jesus, never again will we need to wonder if the Church is irrelevant or dying. We will know deeply that it is neither.