When the events of Charlottesville happened, I was hopeful that real conversation would ensue. Many of my white Christian friends seemed genuinely puzzled by what was happening and the swift explosion of condemnation to it. I thought, perhaps, they would seek to understand perspectives they had not before fully considered.
Of course, I was wrong.
My social media pages are now full of memes poking fun of people “offended” by various things, (as if that’s what any of this is about), quotes from token conservative black people (as if the fringe should ever silence the collective whole), and false equivalencies (no sane person wants to remove the names of our founding fathers from anything), all of which were posted by fellow believers.
It’s for these people this post was written.
Sunday, our pastor spoke on Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece.” He shared that a work of art comes from the inner most part of who the artist is. And he asked this question:
Is it possible to stand before a masterpiece and not recognize it as such?
The answer, of course, is yes. What I’ve learned in the last few weeks, is that while some of us don’t recognize a work of art because of simple ignorance, many of us refuse to see. Willful ignorance is our downfall. Standing before us are people of color, individual masterpieces of God, and we refuse to acknowledge them as such.
I can hear you protesting as you read this. You are denying that you are racist. You would never wear a swastika. You love everybody. You don’t even notice color. Purple, green, brown, yellow, whatever, it matters not to you. People are just people.
You simply don’t understand why this is such a big deal now, in 2017. Slavery was outlawed hundreds of years ago. Civil rights were won over fifty years ago. The playing field is level and you’re tired of everyone playing victim and throwing the race card. You’re convinced the media is playing us all against each other and creating drama where otherwise there would be none.
Does that about sum it up?
Well, I contend that you are not just racist, a case could be made that you are also dangerously close to heresy, which is defined as adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma, or code of tenets.
One of the basic doctrinal principles of our faith is Imago Dei. Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
All of us are image bearers of God, worthy of respect and equality. Instead of honoring that, you are placing your opinion, your experience, your desires, and your rights above people of color.
Collectively, people are sharing their experiences of being black in America. They are sharing their pain, their fear, and their reality. And your response is to silence them, to whitesplain what really happened, how they should really feel, and what’s really going on.
Because you have never had to worry for your life in an encounter with police, you are convinced that is truth for all. Because you have only ever been pulled over for valid reasons, you are sure that is true for all. Because everyone you know has a shot at a fair trial with a jury of their peers, it can’t possibly be true that people die without deserving it.
Because you have the luxury of living in a system created for you, your skin color, your culture, your hair type, your manner of speech and dress, you don’t ever have to think of race or race relations except when it’s all over the news, therefore, you are convinced that suddenly, race relations are “worse than ever” and it’s probably Obama’s fault.
Thinking about these things makes you uncomfortable and defensive, so instead of actively listening and lamenting, you poke fun and trivialize it, not realizing that you prove the point that equality is a myth by your very actions. It’s all about your comfort level, your feelings, your opinions.
By denying people of color their lived experiences, by whitewashing our history, by trivializing and belittling their woundedness, you are demeaning their humanity. You are denying their equality. And you are spitting on the artist who skillfully created them, the God you claim to serve, the God in whose image they were cast.
You are viewing these masterpieces through the value system designed by our culture, instead of the Word of God which tells us in Psalm 139 that they, like all of us, are skillfully and wonderfully made.
You are not adhering to Imago Dei.
Another tenet of our faith is loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is so easy to say, it has almost become cliche in our churches. Of course we love our neighbors. We are nice to the barista, we don’t throw the finger to the guy who cut us off in traffic, and we faithfully pack our shoe boxes every Christmas.
But love is more than that. More is required. We must love all people as we love ourselves.
In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for others. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.
So, what have you done with the plethora of emotion an entire group of people is experiencing right now? Have you come alongside to better understand, to right injustice, to bring healing, to be a bridge?
You have not. You have dug in your heels, defended your position, and shouted down the wounded. You have put objects over people. You have done everything but love your neighbors.
And you’ve done all of it with a self-righteous zeal…in the name of God. (Saul would be so proud.)
Again, I stand by my statement. If you have participated in this mess, you are not just a racist, you might also be a heretic, not even standing by two of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
I’m calling you out. It needs to stop. You need to stop. It’s time to step away from Breitbart, FoxNews, AllenBWest, and all the memes that are telling you it’s okay to be a bigot.
But here’s the good news.
You don’t have to stay here in this mess. You, too, are a masterpiece of God and the rest of Ephesians 2:10 says this, “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” That’s the amazing thing about our God, we always get a fresh start in Jesus and he has good things planned for you.
Are you ready to do good things?
Become a student. Here is a sample of recommended reading to get you started:
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity by Edward Gilbreath
It’s uncomfortable and it’s not easy. Everything inside you will want to well up and defend yourself as you learn more, but don’t you long to be a bridge of healing and a source of hope? I know, as a follower of Jesus, you do, and I believe that together we can.
I know from experience, there is grace for that.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4