History as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be READ. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it with us . . . and history is literally present in all that we do.
Friends in Christ,
Several weeks ago, our 8th Grade daughter showed me one of her drawings. This particular piece was based on a prompt for her American History final project.
I was moved then, by the power of both the written message and her artistic rendering of its truth. I share it with you today as a poignant witness to these tragic and tumultuous days.
Like all of you, my heart is very heavy.
I am deeply saddened and upset by the abhorrent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and all of the incalculable injustices inflicted on generations of Americans. These injustices are a direct result of what is arguably our nation’s original and besetting sin.
It is not merely the modern iteration of racism we are lamenting. As Baldwin writes, we “carry” the full weight of our nation’s history “with us.” This includes the great force of racism. For hundreds of years and still today, it is “literally present in all that we do.” Which is why it is rightly defined as “systemic.”
By definition, racism is the belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. From a Christian worldview, racism is a theological absurdity: no race is superior or inferior to another. God created human beings: the “human race.” Male and female He created them in His image: the image of the One Living and True God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Created in the image of the Holy Trinity, we are at the same time divinely diverse while also sharing perfect unity and “equality of being” as humans.
You may wonder, “Where does the Church or Holy Scripture refer to racism as a sin?” They don’t. In practice, racism is not a sin; it is every sin all rolled up into a ghastly, many-headed, hydra-sin. If and as the Church or Holy Scripture are used to justify, defend, or (worst of all) codify and promulgate racism, we see clearly that this beast comes straight from the pit of hell.
Here’s an exercise: Read through the “Seven Deadly Sins and their Children” found in St. Augustine’s Prayerbook and ask yourself which sins are analogous to racism. A plain reading reveals that pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony combine to create the supra-sin monster we call racism. No wonder it has such power over us! Especially when it masquerades as no sin at all, or is dismissed as modern-day myth.
Racism is not just a many-headed beast; it is a shapeshifting beast with intense survivalist instincts. For the whole of human history, this monster has impacted every single aspect of human life . . . right down to life itself.
What can be done to conquer this beast? Jesus implores us with this summary commandment: “Love your neighbor . . . as yourself.”
For Christians, the only thing more sobering than how simple this solution is, is our persistent failure to follow it.
To conquer this beast as a church community is to name it for the conflagration of sin that it is. It is to repent of our own sins. And it is to inspire the efforts of the world around by proclaiming the one true source of victory over racism – which is to say freedom from bondage to all sin – Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
An additional part of our daughter’s prompt was to generate her own personal statement, which she penned underneath, “I BELIEVE we must be deliberate with EVERY ACTION so that our descendants will not bear any SHAME, REMORSE, or PAIN because of US.” The consequences of our actions — good or bad — not only affect us and our neighbors and communities, they will also be present and carried by those who come after us. History reveals our actions today will have great force tomorrow.
The Church has been an agent of God’s saving love in the past. We are inheritors of that gift. She is called — actually, she is commanded — to continue as an agent of God’s saving love in the present — that is us.
May God in His mercy forgive us our sins – known and unknown, things done and left undone. May He give us grace to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves, not only for the healing and restoration of hearts and lives in our own day, but also for the life of the world to come.