Exploring Racism and Faith: An Invitation to Walk on Sacred Ground

by M. Todd Null

I am not a racist.  I believe that all human beings are created in the image of God and are therefore of equal value.  But I’m also white, male, cisgender, and solidly middle-class.  These identities convey significant unearned privilege within the social, political, and cultural systems in which I live.  Maybe I benefit from racism?

I am not a racist.  But I was born in the richest and most powerful nation on the planet.  A nation that was built on land stolen from indigenous peoples through oppression, marginalization, and genocide.  A nation whose wealth was created using the forced labor of millions of African people held in chattel slavery.  Maybe I do benefit from racism?

I am not a racist.  As a Christian, I believe that the over-arching narrative of the Bible is a story of liberation, equality, and freedom from oppression.  But the Christian Church has historically promoted and enforced, the superiority of white people, the Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, slavery, and Jim Crow. Maybe I do benefit from racism?

I am not a racist.  I don’t hate people of color.  I believe that Black (and Brown) Lives Matter.  But my taxes fund governments that establish and maintain racist policing, housing, voting, and criminal justice systems.  Maybe I do benefit from racism?

I am not a racist. But is that enough? Does my complicity in systems of oppression make me racist after all?  If I’m not being actively anti-racist, am I racist by default?

How do I answer that question? What can I do with these discrepancies?  As Christians, what can we do?  How do we reconcile our longing for the Kingdom of God with the reality of our world?  How does our faith inform our understanding of race and racism? What could Christianity look like if separated from empire, privilege, and whiteness? 

Black liberation theologian James H. Cone offers a bold perspective: “If the Church is to remain faithful to its Lord, it must make a decisive break with the structure of this society by launching a vehement attack on the evils of racism in all forms. It must become prophetic, demanding a radical change in the interlocking structures of this society.

Is Cone right that our faith should compel us in this way?  What would such a “decisive break” look like?  I don’t have the answers to any of these questions.  But I’m convinced that we need to ask them; to wrestle with them.  It’s past time to break the taboo and talk about race—at home, at work, and at church. 

If that’s something you are ready and willing to do, I invite you to join us for the journey group Sacred Ground: An Exploration of Race and FaithSacred Ground is a 10-session transformational conversation designed by the Episcopal Church to help us approach the topic of race through the lens of our faith.  The Sacred Ground curriculum is built around a rich library of film and text resources.  Sessions begin January 13, 2020, and are facilitated by members of Episcopal Churches throughout the Roanoke Valley.  We will meet every other Monday in the parish hall at St. John’s Episcopal Church from 6:30-8:30 p.m. All are welcome.  For more information and to register, visit www.dioswva.org

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