I look up and smile. Then it begins: “I am so, so sorry preacher! I can’t believe I said that in front of you! May the Lord forgive me!”
I am at dinner with a group of friends. Someone shares a shocking story. Someone else at the table says it: “D&MN!”
Then they turn to me, their face red with remorse and embarrassment, their hands covering their mouths, and they freak out: “Oops, I did not mean to say that word, especially in front of the pastor! Please accept my apology!”
I am standing in a long line at the grocery store with a friend. The person checking out is having trouble with their EBT card. My friend whispers: “That’s the problem with this country. Too many N*%%ERS on food stamps.”
I look at them startled. Then…well, then there’s nothing. Just silence. Like nothing at all happened out of the ordinary. No flushed cheeks. No apology.
During my entire ministry I have been told not to talk about racism. People tell me: “It just stirs things up.” “It creates division.” And for the most part, like most white preachers in the South who like to avoid controversy, I have acquiesced.
Perhaps that is the reason that people become horrified with regret and overcome with embarrassment when they utter a harmless four-letter word in front of me, but act completely normal when they say a word that has been created for the sole purpose of harming others. Speaking out against racism is not going to suddenly change things; however, I am convinced that ignoring it, pretending that it does not exist, and keeping silent will change nothing.
Like removing a flag or a monument and changing a mascot, changing our vocabulary is not going to magically end hate in our world. Changing what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to say in front of your pastor is not going to suddenly bring about racial harmony. But isn’t it the least we can do?
My hope is that others will join me in speaking out against racism, at least until the “N-word” becomes more offensive than “the D-word,” “the S-word, and the “F-word,” and at least until all people freak out with shame and remorse if one day they ignorantly let the N-word slip out in front of their pastor.