We are faced with a legacy of nearly 500 years of racism in this country. As the 1980s draw to a close, it is evident that the gains of the 1950s and 1960s have not brought equality. The attacks on civil rights during the Reagan years have even worsened the situation.
Because the sin of racism is so deep and pervasive, we cannot expect to overcome it quickly. Wholesale systemic and personal changes must continue before blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other racial minorities can participate equally in this society and in the church.
But we should not let the long-term nature of the problem and the solution paralyze us. History demonstrates that if we are overwhelmed by the task, no steps will be taken and no progress will be made. Continued racial violence and attempts to turn back affirmative action plans demonstrate that some people are working to increase the severity of racism. If advocates of racial justice do nothing, the door will be open for negative changes to occur. This is one lesson of the Reagan years, as white progressives have been largely preoccupied with foreign policy issues.
The Pentecost story and the descriptions of the early church clearly show how the Holy Spirit draws people from every nation together into one faith community. Peace Pentecost 1988, May 22, is an appropriate time to focus on the work of racial justice in congregations. Because the sin of racism in ourselves and in our church is so pervasive, this Pentecost focus should be carried beyond this day into the months and years ahead.