Come on, O Lord God my Heavenly Father. You know and I know: Nothing changes. Human beings don’t improve, not for real, not permanently. About the best that can be said is that we sometimes fade into each other and lose our animosities that way, but it takes millennia. Where are the Hittites and the Moabites today? Do their descendants know their ancestry, much less keep alive their hostilities? Nah. So maybe that’s a win.
Much more to the point: are their descendants free of the fears and hatreds that beset the rest of the human race?
I don’t think so! Particular cultural attributes can vanish, but we never become a new, improved version of ourselves. Short-term solutions don’t goddamned work, and You know it. Everybody knows it. Why aren’t we honest about it?
Look! Some of the Lutherans are proclaiming that to practice racial discrimination is to commit blasphemy:
“Injurious discrimination based on race is a violation of God’s created order, of the meaning of redemption in Christ and of the nature of the church.” The statement also encourages the church to “give critical scrutiny to its own employment practices as well as to throes of businesses in which it holds investment, of the contractors it engages, and the suppliers from whom it buys.”
What a great statement addressing both the theological aspect of the evil of racism, and the practical ways racism is carried out in economic relationships. That’ll help!
Does it matter that it was made by the LCA (Lutheran Church in America) Synod in 1964 and reported in a New York Times article on February 29 of that year? When will it take effect? I just read that the economic status of American descendants of slavery is no better today than it was in 1968.
And look here! The editor of The Christian Century poses some searching questions about the leadership of the anti-racism protests and replies that “The answer to these questions points an indicting finger at the unmoved, indifferent white‐created and white‐controlled power structures in American society: churches, governments, professional and social fraternities, real estate blocs, and the intricate networks of finance, commerce and management.” Kyle Haselden published that commentary in the New York Times on August 2, 1964.
Any time now, we’ll root out our race discrimination, we’ll defeat it in ourselves. In today’s words, we’ll dismantle it! Stay tuned!
No, we won’t.
This doesn’t mean I’m in despair about making progress. I just don’t think it will happen because we become more humble, courageous, loving people; I think that raw political power involving the ability to push back is the answer. Listen to Yvette Carnell, invest a few hours of your life. But forget about reforming white hearts and minds. Forget about reforming any of the other racist hearts and minds that do, in fact, exist all around the world, in all human beings. We are wired for it. (Article from 2005; article from 2012; article from 2017; varying degrees of rigor, all perfect raw material for rationalizing away, all tending toward the same point nonetheless.)
Being truthful, though, which I try to be with You: there is one thing that forestalls my perfect spiritual defeat. It is the example of people whose belief I can’t ignore. There are many, in many places, but here are two from Massachusetts:
John Melville Burgess, elected Bishop of Massachusetts in 1962. He wasn’t the first black bishop of the Episcopal church, but before him the such bishops were located in Haiti or Liberia, or served in a role titled “Suffragan for Colored Work” thus walled off from authority over white people, you see. I’m sure even they took plenty of abuse, but Burgess was the first to be a diocesan, in charge of the whole shebang, the Diocese of Massachusetts no less. To be the first is sacrificial. What he must have endured. For what? For faith. For commitment.
And then Bishop Barbara: Barbara Clementine Harris. I was there in the Hynes Auditorium in Boston on the great day of her consecration, when she did not wear the bulletproof vest she was advised to wear. At a celebration 20 years later, she told us those things are heavy – and she was petite – they’re hot — and she knew the service would be broiling under the lights – and besides, I thought, if it happens, what better time and place to die?
The woman standing beside her is her mother. Oh blessed day.
Both photographs come from https://www.diomass.org/.
Bishop John and Bishop Barbara are now in the arms of God, if the Kingdom of Heaven is what I am told. Here, with us today, is our Presiding Bishop, Michael B. Curry.
Ah Jesus. O Holy Spirit. O God the Father. You infuriate me, but Your servants amaze me. I have to pay attention to them. I can’t ignore their witness and their hope.
June 15, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths