In the days
following the controversial Zimmerman trial verdict, a significant amount of
time and energy has been expended attempting to understand not only the
specifics of the case, but also how this case reflects much larger and systemic
issues in American society. Admittedly, there are also those who say the
trial was never about those issues, but there can be no doubt that the trial
has unleashed public debate on these issues and those issues are there for the
church to confront. What is the role of
the church? It is evident there are, as
is more often the case than we admit, sharply drawn lines of disagreement, each
side claiming to stand with God on their side.
This week, I
have poured through articles, blogs, and sermons in hopes of helping settle
with my own feelings. But, even after
almost a week of reading, listening, and studying, I have more questions than
answers about the racial, social, political, and theological questions raised
by the tragic death of Treyvon Martin. I
am, however, convinced that we must openly grapple with them. The loving church has a role it must play,
and it must open itself to the raw edges of emotion and candid disagreement. It must acknowledge that there are those who
are convinced that the legal system, and many who purport to speak on behalf of
the church, betray them. Whether one
ultimately accepts the correctness of their position, we must acknowledge the
reality of that feeling of betrayal, and I sincerely believe God calls us to
seek ways to reach across the barriers that mistrust erects.
Two of the more
thought provoking articles I read this week were, The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist
Dr. Anthea Butler, and a response to her article by professor Willie James
Jennings, What Does it Mean to Call "God"
a White Racist?
article cuts straight to the heart of racial issues in America, and
demonstrates clearly that persons of faith assert feelings of betrayal on a
principled basis. Dr. Butler makes a
strong argument that the Christian faith, especially among white Americans,
plays a critical role in the continuing racial tensions in this country.
"God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is
not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to
remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my
reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t
my god. Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act
“properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to
crush those they consider inferior."
Jennings echoes this same sentiment but challenges Christianity to accept its
role in the struggle for racial justice in American society. He affirms Dr. Butler when we writes:
Christians must take on the difficult work of understanding how whiteness has
been woven like a cancer into their Christianity. It is the power of that
whiteness to shape our social worlds—defining good and bad, beautiful and ugly,
true and false—that is at heart the reason this wound will not heal. It is the
reason why some people deny our grotesque racial history even as it stares them
in the face with the case of George Zimmerman.
articles by themselves raise issues I simply cannot ignore, the comments
following them hit me at the deepest personal level... I was
shocked to see so many white folks making comments like, “I am a Christian…” followed
by some very racist and frankly not so intelligent comments. I marvel at how hard white people try to
justify the system with old arguments that are based on the basic assumption
that race is an illegitimate made up issue for which whites bear no
responsibility. These 'justifications' include thinking like" It's not
about race, it's about attitude; the
deck is not stacked against people of color they just don't try as hard as me, and the worse offender a claim of reverse racism.
My readings made
me recall one of my favorite and most powerful quotes from Martin Luther King
taken from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
"I have almost reached the regrettable
conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the
stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux
Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to
justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a
positive peace which is the presence of justice;”
Dr. King’s words
convict me. I am a middle class
protestant white male. I avoid
confronting issues that I am capable of avoiding because of my position of
comfort. And we I confront them, it is all too often in
the context in the pyramid of America,
you can find me near the top. While I
firmly believe in the equality of all God’s children, and when called upon from
a position of safety, can argue the point forcefully, I have also benefited
from a system that values my worth over that of my brothers and sisters and
provides me a greater liberty to choose when and how I will confront or debate
issues regarding equality. Seldom will
I be confronted by the system and be made only to raise issues of inequality to
protect myself from the system.
Surely, on an
intellectual, and in the past week on a deeply emotional level, I am sickened
by the hurt caused by our inabilities to deal with but even more to even openly
recognize the differences among us, and that those differences lead to hurt and
so very many opportunities for hurt to come again. I am called upon to admit that I have not
done everything in my power to change that.
legitimately claim that our system does not have its imperfections and that
there are not those who can be crushed by it.
We do not have to condemn the system simply because we acknowledge that
there are places where it may be broken.
It does not dishonor the system or abandon our own value system to
acknowledge that the deck is stacked against groups of people, whether that
deck be the system itself or the hidden beliefs of those who have the power to
define it. When we open our eyes, we see
every day – that there are laws that value one system over another- male belief over female life, economic systems
that continue to hold people down while blaming them for not living up to ‘the
American Dream’, a citizenry that
demonizes people of color.
then before us is what can I do about
it? There are those who would answer
the question by simply defending the current system, and seeking to squelch any
debate over the ugly issues that are now so openly before us. But I believe our scriptures are clear that
as Christians we are called to work for God’s justice, even when we’re
fatigued. Recognizing our privilege is
the first step, but we cannot be bogged down in our sadness and guilt. Professor Jennings sums up this issue well.
struggle is not against flesh and blood, not against the George Zimmermans of
this world, but against those powers and principalities that teach the George
Zimmermans of this world that weapons are gifts given by god, that violence is
a good quick solution to our fears, and that there is a God-given natural
racial order to this world.
What I can do in
this struggle is realize that I have a voice, a voice which has the power to
share in the struggle. I have the power
to listen, share these stories, and to fight that all people have value and
Where are you on
this scale? I know where I am. I am
convicted, and that is okay, because I realize that this revelation is not the
end of the discussion on race, but rather for me, it is just the
beginning. I proudly claim to be a
Christian. I hope to become more proud
of how I have acted like one.