I have always known that the church has a racism problem. Going to a small church an hour away from Drew Theological Seminary, I got the pleasure of knowing a new pastor every 2-3 years. These folks were at the seminary working on one degree or another, so they were getting the latest theological training; some were even willing to use it in sermons and teaching! I knew that Jesus wasn’t supposed to be white, no matter how many pictures or stained-glass windows tried to show him in that way. I knew that He taught from the Hebrew Scriptures and was Jewish, which seems obvious, but is still ignored in much of Christianity.
I heard racism in church my entire life; from the guy sitting next to me in church (when I was in high school) who called our Korean pastor a “gook” to the United Methodist District Superintendent who told me I was in the particular church I was serving to “hold on for gentrification”. From the one member who pointed out the “Porto Rickans” who were visiting us in worship to the concerned stares I have gotten over the years when a person of color walks through the church’s doors. In every church I have served, one of the first sermons I have preached pointed to the truth that our souls are in peril if we hold racist beliefs. That was never a popular sermon. The church has a racism problem, and it may be getting worse.
Our speaker this morning at Calvary gave a presentation last night at Albright College, and among the many difficult things we heard was this: his recent research shows that the more religious you are, the more likely you are to hold racist beliefs. I heard him say this before – I have read his books – I was prepared to hear what he was going to say – and still, it gets me every time. Instead of hearing about the love of Jesus and allowing that message to permeate our hearts and minds, we can actually become more hateful by being more faithful. Here’s another gem: if you wanted to recruit for a white supremacist group, you would have more success going to church than to the local coffee shop. This doesn’t mean that this is true in every house of worship – these are statistics from research. And I am not saying that you who are reading this are a racist. This isn’t a personal attack on you.
Every person is prone to prejudice – every person. If we believe that to be true, we must work to not be that way in our lives. I have to evaluate what I say and do to make sure that my bias is minimized, and you are no different from me. The danger is when we think, and then claim, to not have a biased bone in our body. To not see color. To be judgment free. Be honest and real. It doesn’t mean we are bad people; it just means we are people, flawed and imperfect. As we say in counseling, admitting we have a problem is the first step to curing that problem. The church has a racism problem; let’s do something about it.
Prayer – Holy God, You have made each one of us in Your image. Help us to accept that as true. Amen.