[These remarks are taken from Jack Hunter’s remarks at this year’s annual fall meeting. Photo Credit: Soichi Watanabe and OMSC.]
Why a Fall Meeting on racism? Has there been a racial rant at one of our churches, or has someone in our Association done harm to a person of a different race? To my knowledge, there has been no such episode.
In point of fact, the opposite is true. The diverse churches of NOBA enjoy a congenial fellowship.
Although we freely talk about racial issues, we rarely talk to each other about the experiences that have shaped our different realities. If we are to look to the interests of others, then we must listen to the other’s narrative. Only then can we begin to understand each other. We are grateful to our friend, Noel Castellanos, for initiating a series of such conversations among us.
A sporting goods company in the 1990’s coined the phrase: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” If Christ is our standard and our goal, then we may need to examine a few of our more subtle attitudes regarding race.
Have we become indifferent toward chronic racial disparities? Consider these disparities within our own state:
A week ago, Robert Mann, a columnist for the Times Picayune, wrote:
“If 47% of our white children lived in poverty, Louisiana would do something about child poverty. If the rate of white women living with an HIV diagnosis were 11.8 times that of black females, Louisiana would declare a public health crisis…If white people were shot and killed by police at a rate far exceeding their share of the state’s population, policing would change quickly… If our prisons were suddenly full of young white men, Louisiana would reform its criminal justice laws overnight. If the medium income of white households were half that of black households, Louisiana’s political leaders would pass laws to promote income equality.”
Self-interest is powerful. Among those who own stock in the status quo, there is not much impetus to change. The advantaged often look down on the disadvantaged, viewing them as responsible for their own desperate circumstances.
The same was true in Jesus’ day. Yet Jesus taught that we are to go to those who struggle, bind up their wounds, and provide for their full recovery. His gospel lessons were not race-neutral; to the contrary, he picked heroes from races that were loathed by his people and described as coldly indifferent the religious among his own people.
Jesus subordinated his privilege to the needs of others, and expected his followers to do the same. Reminding early Christians about Jesus’ generous love, Paul wrote: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (II Corinthians 8:9).
Jesus’ call to kingdom living angered the religious of his day. They eventually succeeded in having him killed for subverting their nation.
Time alone does not cure race-based attitudes. We must strive to understand one another and to prioritize the unity of the Spirit.
Nor will time cure the cumulative effects of racism. For that to happen, we must want a new community, the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught us to seek it first, and to desire it above all other things.
If we want a new community, the Kingdom of God, then we must be willing to work and sacrifice for it. We will be opposed, slurred, cut off. At the very least, we will be called “divisive,” and thereby marginalized, and eventually dismissed. The way of Jesus led him to a cross. It will cost us, too. We must be willing to pay the price over our lifetimes.
If we want a new community, the Kingdom of God, it will require us to love. As Peter wrote, “Above all else, keep loving one another earnestly.” We must love our brothers and sisters, the poor and oppressed, and those who oppose us, for the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of love and light.
We pray, turn us around, holy God, ask us again: “What does the Lord require of thee?” May we live into the answer of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with you our God. Amen.