The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” As we look around ourselves on a Sunday morning, it’s worth asking how much has really changed in the more than 50 years since Dr. King first made that observation.
The reality, of course, is that American churches have a bad historical record when it comes to questions of race and racism. Jemar Tisby, writing in The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, puts it this way:
Christian complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past. It looks like Christians responding to ‘black lives matter’ with the phrase ‘all lives matter.’ It looks like Christians consistently supporting a president whose racism has been on display for decades. It looks like Christians telling black people and their allies that their attempts to bring up racial concerns are ‘divisive.’ It looks conversations on race that focus on individual relationships and are unwilling to discuss systemic solutions. Perhaps Christian complicity in racism has not changed after all. Although the characters and the specifics are new, many of the same rationalizations for racism remain.”
This has led to calls for churches, as much as other institutions in American society, to consider whether they need to make some reparation for the sins of their past. Virginia Theological Seminary, one of the leading seminaries of The Episcopal Church, in acknowledging the role that slaves played in building the seminary in 1841, has announced a $1.7 million fund to pay reparations to meet what the school calls the “particular needs” of the descendants of slaves who worked for the seminary. Yet its more recent history is problematic too: VTS did not admit black students until 1951.
With this in mind, is there a case to be made for churches giving reparations to the African American community in America? How has the church participated in promoting racism in its past and today? Does your religious community, either individual church, or larger governing body, have a history of racism? If so, what ought you do about it?
In his letter to the Galatians (3:28-29), Paul writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
If we believe this, why do our churches have such a troubled past, and present, with matters of race? And what will we do moving into the future?
Join us for the conversation this evening beginning at 7 pm at Lockhart’s BBQ in downtown Lake Orion.