Monday, August 14, 2017

On the Feast of Jonathan Daniels, Martyr

Today is the feast of Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian who was killed during the civil rights movement in 1965.  He and so many others were martyred while fighting, advocating, and standing up for equal rights for all people - you know, fighting for what America is supposed to represent and be all about.

And yet, here we are in 2017, mourning the death of innocent people at the hands of white supremacists, and with a leader who took three long days to denounce racism.  In some ways, he is no different than the elected officials of the South during that time who were blatant in their racism because they could be.  No one that I know remembers Bull Conner with respect and I'm sure history will do the same with this person.  Now, before anyone labels me a SJW liberal (or a slur of some variation) who just hates conservatives, I also want to point out that many, many Republicans very quickly denounced the white supremacists in Charlottesville and racism and hatred along with it.  Clearly, people on "many sides," to use his words, do know the difference between right and wrong.  Hatred is wrong.  Racism is wrong. White supremacy is wrong.  It's not a hard thing to denounce.  Before this past weekend, one would have thought that denouncing racism is at least the politically correct thing to do if not a politically expedient thing to profess - whether one believes it or not.  And in his failure to denounce it, the white supremacists heard exactly what they believed to be true: that he DOES support them and will not stop them.  Some are finding solace in his belated about-face.  Ok so he's on record saying racism is wrong.  But as usual, he says something and then denies saying it and vice versa.  The world knows he said what he meant on Saturday and his reversals mean very little in the face of hatred and death.

Truly, that's been apparent from the beginning of his campaign - that he was so quick to say vile things about entire groups of people and call for violence against them, and he was still elected.  Many people have rightly pointed out that white people are failing - failing to stop ourselves from being racist.  We know who among us is racist - both blatantly and casually so.  Those who will drop an occasional racial slur, who routinely stereotype people in hushed tones.  Sometimes this is simply ignorance: people who are quick to buy into media portrayals because they just don't know diverse people.  And yet, in the age of the internet, there are plenty of ways to expand one's horizons and knowledge of people who are different from ourselves.  Point being: white people know how many among us are racist to some degree, who do condone some of these viewpoints and terrible ideas.  And so often, in order to stay in relationship with these people, we don't say anything.  We let that joke or comment slide, or we listen to a story where we are wanting to correct their ignorance but out of fear or fatigue, we say nothing. This has to stop.

Our churches are FULL of these people, otherwise kind, decent people who are a little bit racist (or a lot, depending).  And clergy, in an effort to love everyone and keep everyone in the fold, have often shied away from touching on these topics.  It's so hard to preach the Gospel when we know people are going to be angered by it.  Even though the Gospel SHOULD make people angry.  Jesus made people angry all the time.  But we're not Jesus and so it's hard for many of us to do.

So I want to take this opportunity to state that racism and hatred are utterly opposed to the will of God.  There is no part of white supremacy that God would condone.  Whiteness and white culture are opposed to the will of God. Why?  Because white culture is about genocide, false superiority, oppression, degradation of God's children, and death.  There is nothing worth saving in white culture.  Of course white supremacists want to "save and protect" white culture.  It keeps them believing they are somehow better than everyone else (classic insecure, bully move).  They are not.  This is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And it's antithetical to the principles this nation were founded upon, even though the authors of those founding documents were racists themselves.

White people in general, but white Christians in particular, MUST denounce, reject, speak out against racism and oppression in all it's forms.  Jesus told us to love one another.  That's it.  That's all there is.  Just love.

The Charlottesville protest was allegedly done to stop the removal of a Confederate monument.  Across the South, these monuments are being removed - rightfully so.  I lived in the South, I married a Southerner.  I understand the complex feelings people there hold about the Civil War.  But for too long we have allowed them to feel anything but shame for the fact that this war was fought on their part to maintain slavery.  That the Jim Crow laws following the Civil War only maintained oppression and white supremacy.  Indeed, I likely have ancestors who fought for the confederacy, and that is shameful.  They were wrong to do it, whatever their reasons, and I pray that they repented and that God has mercy on them.  This legacy of sin means I must work harder to make a different future, one that is in God's image, that brings the Kingdom ever closer.  These monuments should be a source of shame, and that they're not to some people is telling.  The confederate flag is a symbol of hate, and that anyone, anyone in 2017 can see it as anything else is nothing less than white supremacy.

Again: this is not a liberal/conservative thing.  This is a humanity thing.  Plenty of Republicans denounced the white supremacists in Charlottesville.  After the election I worried our country was swiftly going in the direction of Germany in the 1930s.  There's not a lot of evidence 8 months into this that we're not.  I am determined - and heartened by many of my clergy colleagues - not to let the church continue to be complicit in allowing white people to be at best complicit and at worst active in this downward slide.  The church, if we are followers of Jesus, must reject white supremacy.  We must stop our own ignorance and seek justice and love as did the one we claim to follow, Jesus.

White friends, we must talk to each other, openly, honestly about race.  We must talk about ignorance and oppression.  We must be open to hear that we are wrong, that we have to try harder and do more to help realize the goal of equality.  And that does mean that the future will be different, that privileges we enjoy (conscious or not) will go away.  And while that may feel scary and like a lot of change, it is for the better - for us, for our children, and for generations to come.  But more importantly, it fulfills the vision that God has for us, which is what we as people of faith as supposed to be working towards constantly.

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