I have heard many people call the massacre in Charleston a wake-up call for our country. I believe it is specifically a wake-up call for predominately white churches in our country. As a pastor of a predominately white church in the South, here are five thoughts that have been awakened in me:
- We must wake up to the reality that racism is not only a wound from our country’s past, but it is a deadly virus that still plagues us today. White preachers, including myself, have been often afraid to use the “r-word” from our pulpits for fear of “stirring things up,” as if we might reignite some fire that was put out in the 1960’s, or at least by 2008, when we elected our first black president. We must wake up and boldly preach against racism, in all of its current manifestations that are ablaze today: personal racism; systemic racism; and the subtle racism that is prevalent in the workplace, in the marketplace and even in the church, for Jesus could not have been more clear when he said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- We must wake up to the reality that preaching and working against racism is not “being political,” but it is being “Christian.” When voting districts are re-drawn to limit poor black votes or when laws are created that make it more difficult for poor black people to vote, we must stand up and boldly proclaim the message of Jesus who came to announce “good news to the poor.”
- We must wake up to the reality that hatred in this country is being defended by church folks who are calling it “religious freedom.” In the United States of America, where we believe all people are created equally, religious freedom never means the freedom to discriminate. Slave-owners used the same religious-freedom arguments in the nineteenth century to support slavery. Today, we do not tolerate people who want to own slaves, nor should we tolerate anyone or respect the views if anyone who wants to discriminate.
- We must wake up the reality that “the oppression of Christians” in this nation and the “war on Christmas” that we hear about every December has been manufactured by folks who loathe what makes our country great, that is our cultural, ethnic, religious and racial diversity. We need to also preach from our pulpits that it is this diversity that makes us look most like the portrait of heaven we find in the book of Revelation: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9). We must wake up to boldly voice our opposition to the purveyors of fear who are calling on people to bear even more arms “to take our country back.” Furthermore, we must wake up and tell the folks in our pews to please shut up, when they start reminiscing about going back to the good old days of the 1950’s when we had prayer in school. We need to be able to say: “You know, I have many black friends, and I have never once heard them talk about wanting to go back to 1950.”
- We must wake up to the reality that the most segregated hours in our country occur on Sunday mornings. We must find ways to build bridges to bridge the gaps that we have created that prevent us from worshipping and serving together. To stand against racism, hatred and violence, to stand for social justice and equality for all, and to persuasively speak truth to power, we must do it side by side, hand in hand, as one body, one Church, serving one Lord.