University Congregational Church
Jan. 13, 2019
“A Lot Like Me & You”
Today, I want to talk about race. In August, 2018, Paul, Michael and I sat down to plan out worship themes for the academic year and we agreed to make this a year about justice. The theme for January is called “A Lot Like Me and You” and is focused on racial justice. Galatians 3:28 is familiar. It says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I wanted to talk about race in January partly because our house churches have been studying it for the last year. I wanted to talk about race because the church hardly ever talks about it. I want to talk about race because I’m fairly confident that all of us who belong to this church would not consider ourselves racist, or at least insist that we are active in trying not to be racists. And I want to talk about race even though we probably do not think it is an issue we need to talk about.
As Baptist minister Andy Goodliff notes, Americans may think we don’t need to talk about race because as a nation we haven’t overtly had apartheid. Yet, racism has always been in our society and in our churches. It has been overt and unconscious. We inhabit a society and a continent with a long history of racism. Through colonialism of much of the rest of the world and forcibly transporting black people as slaves across the Atlantic, we live in a society where ‘whiteness’ is still considered normal and dominant.
Racism seems to be a wound that continues to this day and its poison spreads in our nation, unable to be healed. Most mainline denominations have made statements denouncing slavery, racism, and white supremacy. And so it should be because other iterations of the church in years gone by also defended those abominable things.
In her transformational book “Stand Your Ground; Black Bodies and the Justice of God”, Kelly Brown Douglas, the Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York explores how our nation was built on ideas of exceptionalism and how that plays into racism. It considers social and theological concepts of racism and how they are built into our national psyche.
Renisha McBride worked for Ford Motor Company. She loved cars and shopping. She enjoyed being around family and friends. When she was in high school, she was a cheerleader. On Nov. 2, 2013, Renisha, injured and unarmed, knocked on a door seeking help after she had been in a single car accident. She was 19. The homeowner, after opening the door with a shotgun in hand, perceived her to be a threat and killed her.
Jordan Davis was a junior at Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Florida. He wanted to become a Marine. He was well-liked in school. In fact, people from his school said that if you didn’t like Jordan, something was wrong with you! But on Nov. 23, 2012, when Jordan was 17 years old and riding in the backseat of an SUV, there was an argument over loud music at a gas station. Another driver went to his vehicle, retrieved a gun, and fired 10 shots into Jordan’s fleeing vehicle. 3 of the shots hit Jordan and killed him. Jordan did not have a gun and neither did the other teens in the SUV with him.
Jonathan Ferrell was an athlete and scholar who inspired others without drawing attention to himself. He was a former football player at Florida A& M University where he majored in chemistry and psychology. At the time of his death he was working two jobs. He believed “there was no substitute for hard work”. He was engaged to be married. His favorite toy growing up was a Winnie the Pooh doll. But in 2013, he knocked on a door after a car accident. The homeowner called police. After arriving a police officer fired twelve shots at Jonathan, ten of which struck him, causing his death. He was unarmed and 24 years old.
Each of these young people were people of color. The stories are countless and all too frequent. Unarmed young people of color are killed too often because they are very easily perceived by others as a threat. This is a systemic problem. This is a problem of racism. This is a problem with our faith. 2,000 years ago this challenge was given, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Yet, we struggle daily to put it into action.
Theologian Sallie McFague is right when she says, “The dignity of human beings and the integrity of creation rests, first of all, on our willingness to affirm the value of life, not just our own, or our own tribe or religion or country or class or species…” We need to be able to look at one another and see the “good” that is God.
The traditional text for today from Galatians was originally, we think, a baptismal text and liturgical formula in the early church. As Jim Wallis writes, “Baptism is where new converts made their faith public and the new Christian community was clearly saying this: The three oppressive things that divide humanity are these Galatians factors — race, class, and gender. All three separate us from one another. At their baptisms the new church was making this very public — that what they were about as the community of following after Jesus, the body of Christ — was to undermine, overcome, and take down those barriers, and begin to create a new and united community. They were, in effect, saying if you don’t want to be a part of that — a community bringing down the divisive forces of race, class, and gender — you don’t want to come here because that is what we are about! Unity, instead of division, is part of our vocation as ministers of Christ’s gospel of reconciliation.”
What would it look like if all of us at UCC who denounce racism as a sin actually did something about it? What if we all participated in Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations next weekend? What if we showed up as a group to other significant events or restaurants or parks to show our solidarity? What if we placed ourselves in the right places at the right times to make ourselves bridges instead of road blocks?
I want to close with a parable written by Lutheran minister Walter Wangerin…
Goodliff, Andy. “Racial Justice Sunday; A Sermon”. www.andygoodliff.typepad.com. Sept. 13, 2015.
Wallis, Jim. “But Joy Comes in the Morning”. www.Sojo.net. 3-17-2016.