Racism and Faith

June 7, 2020; Trinity Sunday; EX 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13

Paul tells the Corinthians in today’s second reading, “Live in peace with one another.” Easy to say, but in light of this week’s events difficult to achieve. Ignited by the horrible death of a black man in Minneapolis while under police restraint, our country has erupted, often violently, in almost every American city. We have not witnessed such civil unrest since the 1960s. Protesters are demanding the end to police brutality and insisting that we face and address the issue of racism in our country.

I have to admit that the events of this last week have left me almost paralyzed. There is so much of what is happening that I don’t understand. I cannot explain why so many people in our country are angry and desperate. I cannot understand why some people think that the destruction of property and the smashing of windows will somehow move us forward. And above all, I don’t know what to do. I do not see myself as a racist. I have never insulted a black person. I have never denied a job or given an unfair grade to a person of color. Moreover, I am a Christian. I believe in my heart that all people are equal and that God loves people of every race. So I don’t get it. I do not know how I am expected to change.

But at the same time in my gut I know that things have to change. I cannot ignore the anger of so many people taking to the streets. I know that I have some responsibility to be a force of justice and peace in the midst of this turmoil. I am just unable to suggest a concrete step that would seem to make a difference. In the last couple days, I have read many articles and I prayed often. And I have come upon two insights. They are not an action plan and in no way a solution to the problems that our country is facing. But they were helpful to me and I would like to share them. One is about racism and the other is about faith.

This week I began to understand that racism is not limited to the individual intentional actions of bad people. I will repeat that. Racism is not limited to the individual intentional actions of bad people. Actions such as assaulting a person of color are certainly a part of racism. They are its most visible part. But racism is bigger. It goes beyond individual intentional actions. Racism is imbedded in the structures of our society. It is present in the ways laws, tradition, and influence give preference to one race over the other in the areas of business, housing, education, health, and safety.

Now the reason that this insight was helpful to me is because it allows me to see how racism is my problem. Even as a person who has never engaged in individual intentional acts of racism, I live in a society where the structures around me have been influenced and shaped by racial preference. Therefore, since I am a part of society, I share in racism.

What does faith say about this? Today’s first reading presents God as slow to anger and rich in kindness. I would suggest to you that if racism is our problem, we must be patient and kind. There is so much we do not understand that we must be patient with ourselves and with others as we try to learn. We must also be slow to anger even when dealing with people who have deep anger. Because in doing so we reflect the God who is merciful to us. And we must have the courage to believe that God who made all people of every race will show us how we can work against racism so that one day we will be able to follow the advice of the apostle Paul and live in peace with one another.

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