Churches Are Burning and I Am Responsible | Sojourners

Churches Are Burning and I Am Responsible

For too long, white Christians have believed the lie that racism is dead.

The news headline read, "Black Churches Are Burning Again In America." My first thought was that this had to be hyperbole. Surely this couldn't be referring to an actual fire actually burning down an actual African-American house of worship. It's 2015, not 1940.

But as I scrolled down to read more, I realized that this wasn't hyperbole at all. This was an actual African-American church, actually set on fire, most likely by an actual racist. And it isn't just one isolated incident. At least three are being investigated or have been ruled as arson. Some one (or some people) are going around our country and burning down the sacred spaces of African-Americans in 2015. This, just two weeks after a young white man murdered nine innocent African-Americans at a bible study in Charleston, S.C.

What is the world is going on in our country?

For too long, white Christians have believed the lie that racism is dead — that we as a people somehow overcame it through civil rights movement. We have silenced the voices of people of color who tried to continue to call our attention to the systemic injustice that remains in our country. We said that they were troublemakers, living in the past, who needed to move on. We pointed to our nation’s first African-American president as a sign that the system of racial injustice had at last been broken in our nation. We point to the growing diversity of the American population to make the case that white people no longer have the power we once did.

We got caught up in the myth that all was finally right in our nation — it was easier than confronting the prejudice that remained just beneath the surface. But we know that sin festers in the dark. As we have kept the roots of racism hidden in the dark corners of our consciousness, they have grown. And now they are breaking through the surface with more fury than before, and we are standing on the sidelines, pretending that we are surprised.

My white brothers and sisters, we cannot continue to "be surprised" by racism in our country. Instead, we must honest. Honest about the fact the all of us still cling to our privilege and positions of power. That all of us have chosen to be comfortable rather than to be righteous. That all of us, at some level, are responsible for the violence and injustice erupting around our nation. Responsible for not killing the roots of racism in the soil of our country and that all of us, together, must stop being complacent and begin to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done in order to eradicate this evil once and for all.

As long as there are black churches burning, we know that there is still work to be done. As long as there are racially-motivated shootings, we know that there is still work to be done. As long as there are Confederate flags flying in our nation, we know that there is still work to be done. As long as white police continue to target people of color, we know that there is still work to be done. As long as there is need for protests in our streets to point out injustice, we know that there is still work to be done.

There is indeed still work to be done. We must do the hard work of sacrificing our privilege and our right to be "right." The hard work of putting the priorities of people of color before our own. The hard work of acknowledging and repenting of our micro-aggressions against people of color. The hard work of actually accepting that racism is still alive and that we are responsible for its existence. The hard work of shutting our mouths, and amplifying the voices and experiences of those who have for far too long been silenced. The hard work of thinking about how we live our lives, do our jobs, interact with our neighbors, and making changes to become more intersectional and empowering to the people of color around us.

This is hard, hard work. As I sit here and type these words, I am trembling, fully recognizing that by writing these words, I am publicly binding myself to consciously live differently. It scares me. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. But I know that if I don't start breaking the generational curse of racism that has been passed on to me, no one ever will.

It can't wait any longer. I can't wait until another Ferguson or Charleston happens. If I don't make changes in the way I live, and make them now, I will have lost all credibility in calling myself a follower of Jesus, because he stood in solidarity with the marginalized. I cannot allow racism to continue to fester in my heart. I cannot continue to be silent and compliant with discrimination and violence. I need to make a change. I will make a change. That may not change the entire country, but it will change the world that I live in each and every day.

And if each of us begin to live consciously, awakened and aware of our own privilege, bias, and racism, the entire consciousness of our nation will shift over time.

Yes, we still have a long, long way to go before we will see racism completely eradicated from our nation. It likely won't be in our lifetime. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do the work to move our nation forward towards the vision of true equality.

In the midst of these dark days, we must resist the temptation to become complacent. A single Facebook or blog post isn't enough. We must each commit to work in our everyday lives to be more aware of our own racism and the racist systems around us, and do our best to dismantle them one act at a time. We must be willing to listen more and talk less. To elevate the voices of the marginalized and the oppressed.

We must continue to have the same hope that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had when he said,

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

Our nation doesn't have to be this way. Churches do not have to be burning. Innocent lives do not have to be lost. Together, we can bring an end to this dark night and step into the light of justice and peace. But it will take a lot more than blog posts and prayer vigils. It's going to take those of us with privilege changing the way we live our lives; changing the way we teach our children; changing the way we interact in the world.

This is hard work, but it's work that must be done if we are to see an end to this violence and injustice in our nation. It begins with a choice to see and live in our world differently, starting today.

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