Washing Racism Out of the Church

I was doing some research a couple of years ago and found a disturbing historical connection between the church in the South and the modern Evangelical movement. There is a direct line that, once you see it, is impossible to unsee. White Supremacy and Christian Nationalism are intertwined in ways that must if the church is to have any future, be irradicated. This doesn’t mean that every Christian in the South is a racist; nor does it mean that every Evangelical is too. What it means is that the strains of racism that promoted and supported the enslavement of people from Africa were propped up by misuse of the Bible and a perversion of the Gospel. This stain on our faith exists in churches all over the country but finds its genesis in the pre-Civil War Church.

That was then. What about now? That two-headed monster continues to trouble our country (Unite the Right and the Insurrection are just two examples), but the fight against it has been coming from a number of fronts. Many followers of Jesus have had enough, and there has been a mass exodus of under-50 members from Evangelical churches in the last 5 years. And while our Mainline churches have been working to rid ourselves of that original sin, it is a hard thing to free oneself of. The hate or denigration of those who are not like us is constantly at war with the command to love God, self, and others. In every church I have served, one of my first sermons was one of judgment (I’ll take my chances on this one); I said point-blank that people who hold on to racism as a way of life cannot be accepted by God in heaven. Notice I wrote, “hold on to”. All of us have been taught biases and prejudices, and the only way to find peace with God and each other is to work to remove them from our lives. Bigotry has never been a gift from God – it is a curse. 

This is why we can’t just ignore our failure to love others; we have to be opposed to bigotry. We need to be anti-racist in how we approach congregational life (secular life too). We have to be anti-greed so that people without wealth will feel like they are welcome. We have to be opposed to laws and attitudes that treat LGBTQ people as something to be removed from public life. When our congregation became Open & Affirming, we included these (and many more) concerns in our statement, so that our movement towards being a Jesus Justice-focused church would be inclusive. Not just inclusive of all people, but inclusive in recognizing our own biases that needed to be healed. Being inclusive doesn’t just mean that we open the door wider to those outside; it means that we look inside our souls for how we judge people. A lot of what we do is learned, and for many of us, those learnings go back decades. It takes work to remove bias from our hearts and minds, but it is well worth the effort.

Hate comes in many forms, and it is the duty of people of faith to stand against it. Perfection is a trap, and I don’t think any of us can be totally free of bias. If we don’t admit that we have bias, we can never be healed of it. We need to wash racism – all prejudice and bigotry – out of our lives and out of our culture and out of our congregations and out of our politics. And we need to be ready to wash it out over and over again, because Hate is stubborn, and it will return if we aren’t vigilant.

Prayer – God of all, each of us has ways in which we feel prejudice against others. Help us to heal ourselves, one person at a time, and allow that healing to flow, rippling out and touching others. Amen.

Today’s art is by Malinda Prud’homme.