Why Talk About Race?

There’s a real term called “race fatigue.” It refers to the stress African American students feel as they navigate predominantly white institutions of higher learning.

But many white people suffer from a different kind of “race fatigue” – a weariness with hearing about race and racism. We wonder why we are still talking about racial inequity fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement. Weren’t these issues resolved with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts? Isn’t the African American community responsible now for its own problems?

And many of us also might wonder, What does this have to do with the church? Why do we have to hear about this from the pulpit, in classes, in the newsletter, and now now here in the church blog, of all places? Aren’t these political and economic issues, rather than faith concerns?

We know the church is called to speak out against injustice. The Bible is clear about God’s call for us to seek justice for the poor, the marginalized, and the stranger. We hear this in the ringing call of the prophet Micah “To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” Knowing we are called to do Christ’s work in the world, we hear that call also in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”

And yet the white church has often failed to acknowledge the sin of racism or advocate for justice for black people. We failed throughout American history—first in the time of slavery, when the church bell often also served as the slave auction bell, up to and through much of the Civil Rights Movement. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed members of the white clergy:

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

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We are confronted in the news with incidents that reflect ongoing racial tensions, racial violence, and racial injustices, both around the country and here in our own community. In all of our institutional systems – education, health care, social services, criminal justice, etc. – outcomes for blacks are worse than for whites. Study after study indicates race is the determining factor for those poor outcomes.

We struggle with how to respond as Christians to these realities.

The Justice and Peacemaking Committee has spent a year learning and planning to engage our congregation in some of the issues around racial equity and justice. We hope many of you will make the decision to step out of your comfort zone, as we have tried to do, to learn more. Come and think, grow, and learn with us. Bring your concerns and opinions and insights. Let’s see together where God might be calling us to speak and act for justice. Opportunities include:

  • A Sunday School series (4 weeks, Sept. 11 – Oct. 2), led by Tim and Laura Peck and Keith Harrington, based upon video lessons developed by Salem Presbytery’s Task Force on Peace and Justice. Drop in on any class.
  • A study of evangelical leader Jim Wallis’s book, America’s Original Sin: Race, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America (Monday evenings, Nov. 7 – Dec. 5). This book speaks directly to us as Christians.
  • A series of discussions hosted by GPPC and other churches titled “Doing Our Work,” specifically for white people who want to better understand racism, put on by the Guilford Anti-Racism Alliance, the first Tuesday of each month beginning in October. Find the schedule on the JP bulletin board. GPPC will host the meeting on Tuesday, November 1st.

Let it not be said of us that we chose to “remain silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

Melanie Rodenbough

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