Confronting Our History
On August 20, 2019 there will be a day of commemoration. It will not be a celebration, but it will be a reminder for us all. On this day the United States will commemorate the 400th year since African slaves first arrived in the territory which became our nation.
Chattel slavery is that system in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of the owner and bought and sold as commodities. Because Africans first arrived on American shores as slaves, and the system ensured that they and their children remained slaves, a culture of white privilege and racism became rooted deeply in our nation before we even were a nation. Read my full column on the website for a quick summary of how chattel slavery came to North America.
I am taking this commemoration as an opportunity to kick off a major focus of my columns and work with you this year: an exploration of the issue of racism and white privilege. I believe this is one of the most pressing and critical theological, moral and ethical issues facing the church and our society today.
I am motivated by several current realities:
- This graphic shows the rise in hate crimes in 30 major US cities from 2010 through 2018
- The number of mass shootings that are perpetuated by white males is sounding an alarm.
- And there is the complaint of some people of white European descent that they are now victims of racism.
Over the coming year I will delve into scripture, church history, and present reality and will seek to both educate and awaken awareness in us all concerning these issues. I will challenge those of us who are white to be aware of our own racism and privilege and to use that privilege to combat racism and open opportunities for others. Racism is a serious problem and anyone who is white has benefited from being white. If we are to begin to move beyond these issues it is up to us to do the hard but necessary work so that we can move away from simple tolerance to fully embrace diversity.
I am not naive enough to believe that what I will do can end racism. I know that these issues are deep and complex and that whatever I am doing will only be a beginning, a scratching of the surface. I also know that some will not want to make this journey with me, with us. For that I am sorry because it is so vital that we do this. It is one way to work to transform lives and the world, one way we live the faith Jesus calls us to live, one way we embody our place as the beloved of God.
One resource I would recommend at this time is the Angela Project's 40 Days of Prayer for the Liberation of American Descendants of Slavery available from Simmons College of Kentucky and on Amazon . The compiler, Cheri Mills, uses this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail through her work:
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
This is the time for good people, for you and me, to speak up and do our part to make the world a better place for all God’s people.
Cascadia District Superintendent