This last Saturday I participated in the first part of the anti-racism training that the Diocese of New York requires for all clergy. I found it disappointing that, even though everyone at the training was from the Episcopal Church, we didn’t use a Christian framework to explore racism and our response to it. It’s no wonder we have such a difficult time approaching race, racism, and justice work in general, if we ignore the incredibly rich resources of the Christian tradition!
I’m not one to throw around the words “sin” and “salvation.” But it seems to me that if there’s ever an appropriate time to use those words, it’s when confronting the evil of racism. Our own, seemingly limitless, greed got us into this situation in the first place. And our own resistance to the paschal movement of death and new life is what keeps us mired in white supremacist nationalism. Jesus and the Christian tradition certainly have a lot to say about all of these topics.
We need a more contemplative approach to white supremacy, rooted in the Paschal Mystery. We white people need to begin to claim our history as oppressors, to allow that history to break open our hearts, and then to allow Christ to bring us from death into new life. This is the movement of conversion at the heart of all great spiritual traditions. We Christians place that movement at the very center of God. And yet we so often forget it in our own lives.
From the white perspective, we so often look at anti-racist work as the understanding and acknowledgement of white privilege. I don’t deny the importance of examining white privilege, but that acknowledgement is only the starting place, not the end point. This kind of knowledge has to move from the head to the heart. We have to begin to see how the history of white supremacy in the United States has fixed us in the place of the oppressor, how our whiteness has created blackness as a necessary Other, how we have dehumanized that blackness and subjugated and exploited black and brown people. And that we continue to do so. We have to allow the knowledge of our participation in evil and sin to break open our hearts. We have to grieve the wrong we have done, and yes, we have to grieve the loss of our privileged ignorance. It will help when we come to see that, despite our hopes, that ignorance was never innocence. This is the Paschal Mystery, and today, right now, is Good Friday. When we submit ourselves willingly to the death of the cross, we can trust that God will bring us to new life.
The work of conversion from white supremacy is, perhaps, the most pressing work of our time. And it is work that will surely demand our very lives. Having undergone this kind of conversion–and we will certainly have to be converted over and over again–action for justice and for the healing of our national wounds will flow naturally. Without this kind of conversion, all action is for nothing.
Though we might be afraid to undertake this seemingly insurmountable work, we should never forget that, for us Christians, death is never the end. I leave you with the closing words of Br. Roy Parker’s excellent sermon from this past Sunday. You can read the full text here.
Jesus’ death and resurrection reveal a logic inextricably woven into the fabric of the universe. In that divine logic unjust and uncompassionate powers have reached their limits when crosses and shotguns have done their worst. They can go no further than death. But the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection is that God can.
When a servant of God does not cling to life in the face of a cross or a shotgun, the logic of oppressive empires and racist cultures has run its course; their power and its weapons have done all they can do. But God’s logic persists; God’s powerless weakness – whose weapons are justice and compassionate solidarity and love – continues its patient, persistent, non-violent subversion of oppressive empires and racist cultures. Jesus does not conquer Rome, but Jesus outlasts Rome.
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