Tuesday, September 1, 2015


In early June, I’m sure everyone remembers, a white man entered a black church’s Bible Study in Charleston, SC. Its members welcomed him warmly. After an hour, he shot nine dead.

Immediately, people across the country were horrified. And the heinous deed stood in starker relief, days later, when survivors publicly forgave the killer. Then…well…many people moved on, to new news stories, to the unfolding demands of daily life. What can be done, people might ask. What can someone who lives far away do in the face of another’s evil heart?

But on August 28, our denomination’s leaders wrote a letter challenging Disciples churches to not let this story get lost. In particular, they’ve joined with other church leaders - including the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME, which is the Charleston church’s denomination) - to invite Christians to a Sunday of confession, repentance and commitment to end racism.

Specifically, they’re hoping we’ll incorporate something into worship on September 6, and so add our voices to a collective claim that racism’s stain has endured too long. Plymouth Creek will participate, opening our worship by seeking God’s guidance and grace for this sensitive subject.

Yet I wonder if people will feel like this is too little, too late, or – dare I say it – unnecessary? “After all,” I could imagine someone responding, “The issue is that the Charleston shooter was one racist acting violently. Why should I confess, repent and commit to change? Shouldn’t we simply cheer on the victims’ amazing grace?”

I don’t know your answer to those questions, but here’s mine: I’m participating that day because I’m a racist. Yep. I’m not a virulent, committed white supremacist who proudly treats people of different ethnic backgrounds as less human. God forbid! Rather, I’m the other kind of racist, the more subtle and widespread kind.

I’m the kind who grew up thinking that color doesn’t matter anymore, since God only cares about our hearts. I’ve since learned that, while truly God doesn’t judge based on skin color, that doesn’t mean race doesn’t still matter. I see how (mostly white) people treat my black foster son different- often worse- because they assume things about him they wouldn’t about a white boy. It’s not malicious or intentional usually, but it happens and that affects him. I’m aware that I too treat my black neighbors different at times than white neighbors- through words choices I make, topics for small talk, etc.- and I don’t even want to do it! Thus, I dislike that my subconscious is shaped by assumptions about other people based on skin color. But I won’t lie and say those assumption aren’t there. They burrowed into my heart really early in life. Thankfully, I’ve made intentional steps to expunge their negative influence. Still, that work’s unfinished. So I’m still a little bit racist.

And, probably, so are you. Which I don’t say as a judgment of your character. You’re all good people; I am too! I mean, it’s not like my parents taught me to think or react this way. It’s a society thing that most (especially white) people simply absorb. And thank God that these assumptions aren’t as pernicious or mean as in previous generations, or as violent as what that shooter believed. But since they’re still there at all is what makes our leaders’ call to end racism relevant.
That’s similar to how scholars distinguish between personal racism and systemic racism. The personal kind is the kind that many loathe and shy away from. Good! The systemic kind is harder, because is less noticeable, more polite, often subconscious, but it impacts things like getting home loans, frequency of arrests, rates of detention and expulsion in school. So when we pray together on the 6th, I’ll be praying for a) my own wholeness and healing, and b) the wholeness and healing of our broader society. Which has done so much to get better, and has so much more to do to get even better. Meaning, that Christians – who believe that, with God’s help, we can all always get better! – should lead the way and pray together. Then commit together, acting to end this too-long tolerated stain.

Grace and Peace,
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