I went downtown for a Sunday night vigil for Charlottesville. I’m so thankful to have been a part of it. I’m thankful for the many spiritual leaders and organizations I’ve followed and served under who have spoken up. I’m a little disappointed by the ones who haven’t.
In the words of Eugene Cho, "Everyone loves the idea of reconciliation… until it involves truth-telling, confessing, repenting, dismantling, forgiving, and peacemaking.” These aren’t easy things, but I’m going to give them my best shot this week.
There is a problem with racism in our country and world. A lot of us were shocked to see an unmasked KKK rally out in the open. But if you were surprised by that, then that likely means you aren’t among those who have to deal with it every day. Many minorities are far less surprised.
It’s easy to recognize racism when it carries a torch. It’s harder to recognize it when it denies a home loan, or passes over a job application. It’s easy to recognize on a television screen. It’s harder to recognize at a dinner table conversation. It’s easy to recognize on angry mobs. Harder to see in ourselves.
We need to listen a whole lot more. I’ve been in several conversations about these things where people have a lecture or long-winded anecdote prepackaged and ready-to-go. Never assume you have all this stuff figured out. Do the stuff they teach in pre-marital counseling instead. Don’t negate the experiences of someone else with your own. Listen and repeat back what you just heard. It’ll at least be a start to some better conversations that need to be had.
Peacemaking is so important; unfortunately, peacemaking is also a really misunderstood word. I’ve been reading Break Open The Sky, where Steven Bauman explains it really well:
“[It] means reconciler, one who having received the peace of God in her own heart, brings peace to others, and someone who is concerned with bringing a cessation of hostilities. Peacemaking is by no means passive. It involves taking risk. Peacemakers are not afraid to enter the fray in order to establish peace.”
I can really relate to the desire to not speak on hot button issues. It’s easy to think that by staying silent, you’ll at least stay “above the fray” and “avoid the pushback.” But there is nothing holy about being silent while others are oppressed.
It can also seem really politically correct to respond to events by saying “I see all sides.” In most cases, it’s good to be able to understand a diversity of viewpoints. But when it comes to something like racism, this mentality is dangerous.
It allows the oppression to continue. It dismisses the pain of the victim and allows the oppressor to feel justified.
Here’s a challenge to those of us who like to avoid confrontation. The affinity for peace that we have is a good thing, but if we aren’t aware and careful to avoid passivity and permissiveness, it can quickly allow more harm to people than anything else.
After the Charlottesville incidents, I was pleased to see many of the spiritual leaders whom I’ve gotten to serve under speak up and condemn white supremacy. I was glad to see social media platforms and Sunday Morning sermons pay attention, and I was also disappointed by the silence of others. It’s easy to be less interested in being a part of God’s vision for transforming the world, and more interested in making people feel good about themselves.
Martin Luther King once said that in the end, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The belief that skin color makes some lives matter less than others goes beyond politics– it's simply sin. It's one of the oldest sins, one that remains persistently in the spotlight today, and one every spiritual leader must talk about.
Why? Because people aren’t just talking about it. They’re forming their thoughts about God, humans, and the world based on what is being seen. Conversations will happen with or without the Church, but when spiritual leaders stay silent, it sends the message that they have nothing to say about fundamental questions of how people should treat one another.