February 11: Wake Up! We Oppose Racism

Wake Up! We Oppose Racism

Ephesians 5: 8-16; Acts 6: 1-6

 February 11, 2024

(Time for Response afterwards)

          What do we do about the evil of racism? That’s the question for today. I’m going to share some thoughts. But then I’d like to hear your thoughts. What are you learning about racism? What are you doing to oppose racism? What are you experiencing? Think about how you might answer those questions and I’ll give you a chance to share at the end of the message.

This is the first in a three-part message series during this month of February on Waking Up. As we celebrate Black History Month, we are called as Christians to wake up to the harm we have contributed to people of color in this nation. Our loving God invites us to wake up, to learn, to repent, and to work for the coming of God’s kindom on earth as it is in heaven.

          Our first Scripture today underlines the Christian origins of that term: woke. Paul quotes a familiar hymn during his day. This hymn was used as part of the baptism ceremony after new people decided to join the Jesus movement and their fellowship of believers.

The words of the hymn went: Wake up from your sleep and rise from death. Then Christ will shine upon you.

There is a lot of symbolism going on here: Moving from darkness to light. Rising up from death to new life. Waking up from a deep sleep.

Paul said, “You used to be people living in the dark, but now you are people of the light because you belong to God. So, act like people of the light and make your light shine.” He also said, “These are evil times, so make every minute count.”

We’re going to look more deeply in the next three weeks at what makes these times evil. I believe we are facing in our day some great evils that need to be confronted by people of faith. We’re going to learn how we can make every minute count in extending God’s love to all and especially to those who have experienced harm in this country.

Today, we are going to deal with the evil of racism.

Racism has been a struggle for the church from its beginning. The church of Jesus Christ started on the day of Pentecost when people of all races heard the good news in their own language. They were altogether in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival. Many people of all races and ethnicities said yes that day to become a part of the Jesus movement.

It didn’t take long for tension to arise between two races. There were the Greek speaking Jews who came from various parts of the Roman Empire. And there were the Aramaic speaking Jews who were from Palestine. The Greek speaking Jews said, “Our widows are not being given their fair share when the supplies are handed out.” In other words, they were commenting on the inequity, the injustice, and discrimination that was going on. It’s racism that is happening – from the very beginning of the church.

What do we do about this evil of racism?

I’ve been on a journey of learning and growth over the past few years. I’ve been reading books like Dear White Christian by Jennifer Harvey, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson which is the basis of the new movie Origins. I’ve taken and led classes on antiracism and white privilege. I have learned so much.

 Let me share what I’ve been discovering. Then I’ll give you an opportunity to share what you’ve learned or experienced.

I was raised in a community that was almost 100% white. When I was in middle school, busing for integration was mandated for the schools of Fort Wayne. Many people of color were bussed from the other side of the tracks out to our school in the suburbs. My first feelings were of fear and defensiveness. This fear and defensiveness seemed to permeate the whole school culture. As a result, fights were common in the hallways between class sessions.

I see this same fear and defensiveness in much of our country’s culture today. God, help us.

Over the years, I’ve moved from that fear and defensiveness to a place of more humility, learning and allyship. It’s taken a long time because I’ve been mostly insulated in my white world bubble.

 Our daughter moved to urban Baltimore a dozen years ago to a community that is mostly black. She has shown me what it looks like for a white person to move toward humility, learning and allyship.

One important piece of learning I’ve had to wrestle with over the past ten years is about being color blind.

Lori tells a great story about this. Seven years ago, we were in McCarthy, Alaska waiting for a shuttle to take us to our hotel. It’s Lori, myself and our son Scott. There is one other family there. As we introduce ourselves, they ask Lori and I the question, “Do you know this young man?” They point to Scott. We’re shocked that they can’t see that we’re family. “Of course, we know him. He’s our son.” Lori thinks, “Doesn’t he look like our son?” And then she realizes – “Oh, that’s right. He doesn’t look like our son. He’s of Korean descent.”

You see, we adopted Scott from South Korea when he was three months old. We look at Scott through these color-blind rose-colored glasses. We think he looks just like us. But he doesn’t look like us. He a person of a different race, a different ethnicity, a different color.

One of the things I’ve learned in the past decade is that being color blind is not the best way of looking at color. I was taught that we’re all just the same and we need to look at everyone just the same. I was taught and came to believe we should put on those rose-colored color-blind glasses.

I’ve learned instead that noticing color is good. As we notice color, we can celebrate our diversity. That’s a part of Black History Month – to celebrate people of color. We highlight the unique gifts they have shared with our country over the years.

I realize now that Lori and I didn’t do as well at celebrating the unique Korean heritage and race that Scott was born into. We did a little when he was very young, but then we stopped doing it after we put on our rose-colored color-blind glasses.

On that same trip to Alaska seven years ago with our son Scott, he confronted us about our color-blind approach. He expressed concerns that we hadn’t acknowledged or celebrated his Korean race enough. He talked about the challenges of being a different race from everyone else while growing up. It was a hard conversation for us.

There’s another reason for us to notice color rather than being color-blind. When we notice color, we become aware of the privilege that comes with being white. And therefore, the unique responsibilities that white people must have to respond to that institutional privilege.

I led a United Church of Christ study on this a couple years ago called: White Privilege: Let’s Talk. We shared our stories and learned so much by noticing the difference that color has made.

When I was younger, I thought it was all about individual prejudice and intent. Christians were simply called to not be prejudiced against people of color and to have good intentions when interacting with people of color.

These days, I’ve learned about the institutional, systemic, and structural dimensions of racism. It’s not simply about whether I am prejudiced as an individual. It’s about how our whole society is structured and how that discriminates against people of color. I’ve learned about racism in our economic system, our criminal justice system, our housing system, our educational system, our medical system and so much more. Power is used to keep white privileges and disadvantage people of color.

I’ve also learned that I need to think of impact and not simply intent. It’s not good enough to have good intentions. I need to be aware of the impact of my actions on people of color.

That’s something good to keep in mind with all people. We need to recognize our impact, not simply our intentions.

In addition, I’ve been learning that the goal of this work should not be simply equality and reconciliation. That’s what I used to think.

          Let’s start with equality. I always thought our goal should be making sure everyone is treated equally. What I’ve learned is that a better word than equality is equity. Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. Equality means everyone gets the same. Equity means that everyone gets what they need.

          An example of this. Let’s say a group of children are watching an event from the back of a crowd. Equality is giving each young person the same box to stand on to see better. Equity is giving each child their own unique size of box depending on how tall they are. Our goal in anti-racist work should be more about equity than equality.

          One of the most disturbing books I’ve read regarding anti-racism is the book: Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation by Jennifer Harvey. Her main point is we need to move beyond just reconciling whites and people of color, to move beyond just getting together and getting along.

She says instead of a reconciliation paradigm, we need to move toward a reparations paradigm. This involves repenting, apologizing, taking responsibility, and then repairing the damage. The key part of this is repairing the damage done by our harm.

Many others have highlighted the need to move toward some type of reparations. Some communities are starting to do it. That’s a tall order, but it sure seems closer to the kindom of God and equity for all God’s children.

Let’s go back to the early church and see how they responded to racism and the widows, especially the Greek speaking widows.

The apostles gathered everyone together – both the Greek speakers from other nations and the Aramaic speakers from Palestine. Together they chose leaders who would be responsible for assisting all the widows. What’s fascinating is that they chose seven Greek speakers and zero Aramaic speakers. In other words, they put the oppressed people in charge. They believed that justice and equity would be better served if those who were taken advantage of would be in positions of authority and power. It was not just about being equal. It was about making the best choice for equity and for justice.

In our day, I’ve been shocked by the return of a more blatant racism in the political discourse. It reminds me of what I’ve been learning about the difference between non-racism and anti-racism. These days we need to be more active in opposing racism and not just ignoring racism. It’s about anti-racism. One of the many ways we can do this is at the ballot box.

I’m not advocating there is a specific Christian political perspective or that we need a Christian political party. But I do think that we can do some of our anti-racist work in the way we vote.

I leave us with two questions:

I’m still learning. I hope you are too. What are you learning and experiencing as it relates to racism?

I’m trying to do anti-racist work for God’s kindom. I hope you are too. What are you doing these days in anti-racism?

What are you learning?

What are you doing?

And a third question: What are you experiencing as it relates to racism?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

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