In light of the deadly and disgusting violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend—which resulted in the death of one protester and further demonstrated the not-so-subtle racial prejudice rampant in the US—I’ve been thinking about the church’s ongoing call to continually confront racism. Christians have not always been faithful in condemning, much less addressing, racism within and all around us. Silence on our part has contributed in part towards its historical seething right below the surface—despite our national optimism and personal denial about it. Yet, on the same token, though it is necessary and a crucial step forward, to simply condemn racism is not enough on its own.
As I was scouring over the comments by many on Facebook and Twitter regarding racism and individuals speaking their condemnation against any words or actions of the such, I came across a few separate statements that read something like this: “racism/bigotry/hate/white supremacy has no place/room in the church/kingdom of God.” Agreeing fully with this, it got me to thinking about where such despicable behavior belongs. I’m sure each of us would suggest placing these forms of evil in the furthest depths of Hell or somewhere else where no one would ever have to experience them—ever again. I share this sentiment; but I wonder if hiding it away—out of sight, though never fully out of mind—is not the best response.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ response to the scribes of the Pharisees who were complaining about his eating with tax collectors and public sinners. To the question of why, Jesus unabashedly replies: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Describing his purpose as one who cleanses, heals, and saves, Jesus’ analogy bears nuance. Some might hear it as distinguishing some people from others—those who are broken and in need of a healer from those who are righteous and fine all on their own. Yet, the argument could be made that the scribes themselves—blinded by their obstinate legalism, thus leading to prejudice—are as much, if not more, in need of a physician than those with whom Jesus is openly dining. Are not all sick, hurt, and terminal in one way or another?
Thinking about the sin within each of us, and the forms it takes through our thoughts, words, and actions, racism—for which we all honestly struggle with in one form or another—is a sickness in need of healing as much as sexism, greed, xenophobia, murder, theft, adultery, or any other of an endless list of sins. Each of them—racism included—is a form of idolatry (thus violating the 1st Commandment: “Thou shall have no other gods”) as we attempt to lift up and affirm ourselves above and at the expense of others. We who daily succumb to the systems of racism need healing from that which controls us just as the cancer-stricken individual needs radiation and chemotherapy to kill all that which seeks to overtake their body. Unrighteous and suffering from this dreadful disease, we need not be hidden away or cast to the far depths of forgetfulness. Rather, we need to go where we can find rest and relief, healing and wholeness from this sickness.
With this, I believe racism belongs in the church—NOT to continue its damning work of division and fear—BUT in order to be taken up in the cross of Christ. Racism belongs in the pews of the sanctuary—alongside all our sins, those of word and deed, in both omission and commission. Racism belongs in the assembly gathered together, confessing itself—individual and corporate, personal, private, and public—in prayerful hopefulness that each despicable instance may be put to death upon the same instrument where Christ died. Racism belongs alongside sisters and brothers altogether broken and pleading for forgiveness from God—trusting that the same One who raised Jesus from the grave will also breathe newness into you and I and bring us to resurrected life. Racism belongs with sinners who receive unearned freedom from all that binds and torments us, freedom to instead live and serve others—to love, to work for unity, to build up the other without question or concern of oneself. Racism belongs in the communal song of those whose praise points to the marvelous works of the Healer made human for our sake. Racism belongs immersed in the waters of baptism—drowning to itself that it may be given a new identity in the Triune God. Racism belongs at the table of Christ’s body and blood—to share with one another the feast given for all people and to be nourished by God’s life-giving sustenance. Racism belongs in the church, because the church belongs to Christ Jesus, and our Lord the Healer belongs to God, and in God all things—most especially healing—are possible.
We, in good faith, cannot continue to disregard or ignore racism—the systems that perpetuate it, when we witness it in others around us, or the thoughts and feelings of it welling up from within ourselves. It’s not something we can simply lock up or send away to some foreign land. Racism must be confronted, addressed, and dealt with in order for us to be healed. Jesus, our Great Physician, is calling us to bring our sins, our unrighteousness, ourselves—broken and desperately in need of healing and wholeness—all to him. Racism belongs where we—the hurt, sick, and dying—are: in the church. Here, we pray that Christ, the Healer, will take away our racism and all sinfulness and clothe us with his grace, love, and righteousness. Here, the Crucified and Risen Christ takes racism away from us and in return gives us love to be shared with all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, or skin color.