Whenever there’s a public debate like the one sparked by Charlottesville, we rightfully pay attention to how high-profile religious leaders react. It's also important to pay attention to what’s going on closer to home.
What about your pastor?
In these last two weeks, have they used the pulpit to speak out unequivocally against the racism and hate parading in our streets? And if not, why not?
The pulpit is a powerful platform that can be used to promote love, hate, or indifference. We need to listen closely to how it’s being used, what’s being said, what’s being left out, and what's being glossed over.
Our faith demands that we pay attention.
One of the many jarring aspects of the civil rights movement is how so many white churches endorsed and encouraged hatred. Some clergy condemned the marches for equality, while others tacitly supported white supremacists by refusing to talk about what was happening in the streets just outside their doors.
Some church leaders were segregationists who used cherry-picked Bible verses to try to justify their racism. Others were sympathetic to the civil rights movement, but afraid to speak out because they might be ostracized by other ministers or members of their congregation.
They also knew they could become targets of the racists who lynched civil rights leaders and bombed not only black churches but the homes of black clergy. They could be next. They might end up having to carry that cross, too, and they were reluctant to do so.
Some white church leaders settled for addressing hate in muted terms that wouldn’t offend the white supremacists sitting right in front of them in the pews. The pastors’ refusal to criticize racism directly was seen by the white supremacists as an endorsement from God.
Of course, not all white clergy and churches cowered. Many had great courage and faith to stand up and lock arms in the fight for equality. They were willing to pay the price for preaching the gospel that everyone must be treated as an equally beloved child of God without exception.
Many are doing so today. Others are not.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail was prompted by public opposition from eight white clergymen.
The Rev. King was discouraged by the way so many white church leaders refused to speak up for love and justice.
“I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies,” he wrote. “Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders. All too often many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”
So, what about your faith community?
Has your pastor addressed the events of Charlottesville directly? Did they say that the racism and white supremacy are evil and contrary to everything that Jesus taught and lived?
Or did they reference the events with a brief, generalized prayer for the nation and move on? Did they talk about Charlottesville as some other place, implying that racism doesn’t need to be addressed right here as well?
Did your pastor pull a Pilate and try to wash their hands of the responsibility for addressing this deep sinfulness in our society? Or did they address it head-on?
Jesus’ God-filled life and teachings are direct, unequivocal, challenging, and unpopular, both then and now.
He didn’t hesitate to speak up for love and speak out against injustice, even when it cost him many followers.
What about your pastor?
Are they speaking up against hate? If they are, make sure that you thank them for their prophetic courage.
If they’re not, this is a good time to ask them why not.
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