Silent at Our Own Risk

It amazes and bothers me that we in this country are so reluctant to talk about race and racism.

I spoke this week at an event which I thought would be predominantly white; the sermon was about how we who love God ought to choose God and serve God over racism, sexism, militarism, materialism, homophobia …I didn’t say it, but those things in the list could be, and should be, classified as “sin” since sin is anything that separates us from God.

The audience turned out to be predominantly African-American, and I am more than sure that, while the message resonated with the African-Americans, many of the white people in attendance were probably offended.

Wow.

I know by now that we all see things through different lenses, lenses tinted by our life experiences, but in this, the 21st century, where racism is as ugly and as blatant as it has always been, shouldn’t we be able to try to see through a more common lens so that we can graduate from the halls of racism to a graduate school of peace, understanding, and reconciliation?

In the sermon, I mentioned the feeling of sadness I have as concerns the Trayvon Martin case; I mentioned that I am saddened at the news that at least 40 public schools in urban Philadelphia are scheduled to be closed; I mentioned that it is difficult to listen to people talk about being pro-life when their definition seems only to extend to unborn fetuses and not to children already born, living in horrible situations with horrible education and little to no health care.

I mentioned that the treatment of President Barack Obama has been sickeningly racist, evidence of our still-sick society as concerns race.

I mentioned the horrible chasm that is only widening between the haves and the “have-nots,” relaying disturbing insights about our economic recession that I learned on PBS’s Frontline program, the first part of which aired last week and the second part which will air May 1,  Money, Power and Wall Street . In that program. I shuddered as I listened to the narrator share that in the mortgage crisis, some people with sub-prime mortgages paid as much as 42 percent interest.

I was floored…and I said as much. That has to bother somebody, right? It has to at least bother those who say they love and serve God…or so I posited.

My point was that people who say they believe in God in general, and in Jesus specifically, have a moral code that we should follow; we are mandated to take care of “the least of these,” and because doing that involves challenging political systems, we should choose to serve God and what God would mandate, so that we have the strength to challenge social and political systems which will not change without such a challenge. We get tired of pushing against the powers and principalities which push us right back.

We are not, however, allowed to be tired to the point of inaction. That’s what I shared.

I believe in what I preach; I believe that Christians miss the boat when we are silent about systems, belief systems as well as social and political systems, which permit people to be oppressed and treated unjustly. While, according to Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society, it is understandable that our society (and in fact, any society) is more immoral than the individuals within it, the way I have learned and internalized Christianity is that we are to work on our personal salvation so that ultimately, we can influence yet another person to take the person and presence of Jesus seriously and get him/her to work against oppression, from whatever source it may come.

I am not sure many agree with me. I sat down yesterday I was not sure where the message had fallen. The African-Americans in attendance, and many of the whites, seemed to understand what I was getting at, some whites, I noticed, avoided my gaze.

Recognizing injustice is hard; fighting it is even harder. It is work that makes us come face to face with our feelings and beliefs, and sometimes, that just doesn’t feel good.

One of my colleagues will share with me the “white” reaction to what I shared yesterday.

My prayer is that one day, there won’t be such a division between races in hearing words about realities that still sit with us, like racism. It has had a dominant place in our society for far too long.

A candid observation …