The events of the last few weeks in Ferguson have caused me to continue to reflect on Jesus’ mission as he understands it:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus is the enactment of God’s justice, and God’s justice is all about extravagant fairness. When we look at the world around us, we see so many things that are not fair. Things that hurt and abuse people. Things that keep them down. Sometimes this oppression comes through the actions of individuals. Sometimes it comes through systems and institutions. Sometimes we even find it deeply and subconsciously seeded within our own hearts.
As I have reflected on the racial injustice that has been occurring in Ferguson, I know it is only a microcosm of the bigger, national problem: that racism as an institution is still very present. I want to scream and condemn it. I want to work against it. But something else that I have also realized is that I, too, am personally culpable. I too, am not without sin in my heart. I too, harbor hidden fears and prejudice. As I confessed in my sermon on Sunday, sometimes, when I am walking around Charleston, I find within myself a small fear of certain people because they look a certain way (read: young, black male), and I want to avoid them. Now that is all kinds of messed up! For a very long time, I was not even consciously aware that I had that fear. I hate to confess that, because to do so is to acknowledge that even within me, someone who does and has for a long time, firmly believed that Christ opens his arms to all people regardless of race, age, nationality, sexuality, gender, and any other category, that there exists seeds of injustice and prejudice.
In our baptismal liturgy, when a person is baptized, confirmed, or joins the church, the vows that they make, ones that I made, are to:
“renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin”,
“accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves,”
“confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, to put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.”
If you are a member of this congregation or of a United Methodist Church, you have made these vows. Let these promises you have made take root in your heart. As I confront the seeds of injustice and racism within my own heart, I ask God to give me the freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. I repent of and renounce my internalized and hidden bigotry. I ask for forgiveness from my black brothers and sisters (but especially my black brothers) for letting those seeds of injustice exist in my heart. I ask God to help me be a witness for Jesus, the anointed one, who works to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, and for the liberation of the oppressed.
In my life, I have always come from a place of white privilege. I have been able to go through life with a blind eye to injustice around me. It has never been an intentional blind eye, but rather, because I haven’t experienced injustice due to my skin color, economic status, sexuality, or anything else, it is easy for me to just move through life in my own comfortable bubble. But church, we have brothers and sisters out there who don’t get to do that. We have brothers and sisters who, every day, have to fear being arrested, beaten, or killed because of what they look like or how they live. That is messed up. That is injustice. That is sin. And we, as the Body of Christ, cannot stand for that. When one part of the Body suffers, the whole Body suffers.
I do not know what it is like to face racial prejudice at the systemic level. I do not know what it is like for Michael Brown’s family, or Trayvon Martin’s family, or any of the families of other men and women whose lives were not valued enough to not kill. I do know that something needs to change, and that you and I, as the Body of Christ, need to be a part of that change. I do know that we need to not only repent of the sin within our own hearts, but we need to work to demolish the systems of injustice that hurt our brothers and sisters. Church, we have work to do: work within ourselves, and work in the world around us. Please take time over the coming weeks to pray with me for God’s justice to be known in our own hearts and in our world.