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How are you doing this week? As you know, I have asked that question several times regarding your focus on leadership, your personal health, and your overall attitude. I have asked because I am interested in you, your community, your church, and your impact upon the people entrusted to your care. As I have said several times in different ways, you were created to lead at this time in history. I am grateful for you and your ministry.

How Am I Doing?

As we have had conversations, several of you have asked how I am doing. Thanks for asking. 

Most of you have heard me say, “I miss seeing you face to face”, or “I miss our lunches together,” or “I miss our general interaction of just being in the presence of each other.”  Again, thanks for asking. I truly value our relationships and look forward to the time we are face to face again. So, today, I am ready to tell you how I really feel.  

How am I doing, you ask? This week I am weary. There is a heaviness in my heart and spirit like I have felt only a few times in my life. Another black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in front of his three sons this week. He is paralyzed from the waist down and unable to move. Yet, for a little over 24 hours, he was handcuffed to his hospital bed. Even as he fought to stay alive, he was considered to be a threat. 

Why Am I Weary?

I know that not all of you feel as I do. I’m not trying to make you feel differently, but I do what you know how I feel. I am weary of all the racial hatred. I am weary of human beings, my brothers and sisters, being treated as prey just because of the color of their skin. I am weary of people of good character being quiet, unwilling to name the sin of racism, not acknowledging their participation in it, and then pleading ignorance instead of stepping up and out to resist it and eradicate it.   

Please hear me.  I am weary because I am hurting. My heart and spirit are broken. So, I know you will understand when I say that I don’t want to hear there were circumstances the media didn’t report and we don’t know all the facts. A 29-year-old father of three small boys was shot in the back. In what world is it okay for a human being to be shot seven times at point blank range because of the color of his skin? 

How many more people?

I know you will understand when I say I don’t want to hear about black on black crime.  To me, that is a naive distraction. How many more unarmed black men and women will be murdered before we face reality?

Listen, another unarmed black man was shot by a police officer, a person in power. Don’t tell me that the police officer felt threatened and he reacted as he was taught to react. If that is true, then we have been wrong in how we have been training our law enforcement officers.

Don’t tell me that most police officers are good, and we just need to get rid of a “few bad apples.” I know most law enforcement officers are good people and that their work is hard and dangerous, but police officers are required to respect and protect human lives, all human lives, regardless of skin color. Please don’t tell me about protecting property, every human being is infinitely more valuable than property.

Please hear me. I am not saying we need to “defund” the police.  But is it too much to expect police officers to be taught and trained that every human being, regardless of color, is a person of infinite worth and is worthy of ultimate respect, care, and grace? 

What I Don’t Want to Hear About

I know you will understand when I say I don’t want to hear that talking about this only perpetuates the problem.  It is precisely because we have not talked about racism that the sin persists to overtake us.

Racism is woven and embedded into the fabric of each of our lives.  Whether we like it or not or do so intentionally or not, each of us participates in and perpetuates racism. Just the simple idea that black people are more violent than white people is a racist idea that perpetuates an unrealistic fear and suspicion.

Just the simple idea that black people are inferior to white people is a racist idea perpetuated by centuries of laws and policies based upon black people being less than human. Is it too much to ask that we learn our history, face it honestly, and take the responsibility to put an end to racism? 

If we are to face it, name it, and put an end to it, we will have to talk about it. 

Why I Am Weary

I am weary because I am afraid. I’m not afraid of men and women of darker skin color.

I am afraid because my wife and I, along with my children and my granddaughters live in a country where a 17-year-old radicalized white supremacist, an agent of racial terror, can travel across state lines, carry an assault rifle, shoot and kill two people during a protest march.

A 17-year-old.

Now it is illegal for someone under 18 years-of-age to carry a gun in Wisconsin, but because of the color of his skin, he is privileged. He carries the gun, an assault rifle, down the middle of the street, in the presence of law enforcement officers, but because of the color of skin, he is not considered a threat.  In fact, by some people, he is considered a hero. 

Will You Understand?

I know you will understand when I say that I do not want to hear about our Second Amendment Right to bear arms.  I am not questioning your right or any one’s right to bear arms. But, in what civilized culture is it acceptable for a teenager to carry an assault rifle down the middle of the street? In fact, in what Christian environment of care and compassion is it acceptable to carry loaded weapons in public? 

I know you will understand when I say, “Black Lives Matter.” I am not making a political statement. So, I don’t want to hear how it is a Marxist movement or it is designed to undermine our American culture. When I say, “Black Lives Matter,” I am making a statement of Christian love, hospitality, and hope. I know that all lives matter and blue lives matter, but until you and I take Black lives seriously, we will not face, name, and overcome the evil of racism. 

A Word of Hope

When I decided to write this blog, I was not only weary, I was sad. If you are still reading, thank you. Because you have taken my feelings seriously, I want to offer a word of hope. There are several places to start to address the evil of racism.  I want to offer four, based upon the love and acceptance each of us have experienced and received in and through Jesus Christ. 

As a leader of Jesus followers, who seeks to deepen your relationship with Christ, your church, and your community, here is what I want you to do: 

Reach out and receive the people around you.

You might feel uncomfortable developing relationships with strangers and people who think and feel differently than you, but “welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Welcoming people into your life is who you are as a follower of Jesus. Every person you meet is a gift from God. To reach out and receive others is to be who God created you to be. Anything less than being open and receptive to all people is to miss the point of God’s purpose and desire for your living. Because this is true, you take each human life seriously, regardless of skin color.

Offer love and acceptance to all people.

As a follower of Jesus, you “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving your neighbor is so important, Jesus taught, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). As a follower of Jesus, you love people as you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. It is by the way you love people that you reveal your true character. Your love is an invitation to others to love. Your greatest witness is to love each human being as God has loved you, regardless of skin color.

Practice loving others.

John, in his letter, tells us, “We know love by this, that he (Christ) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16).

It might seem simplistic, but this is where you learn to lay down your life by having conversations about race and racial injustice. This is where you learn to be empathetic. Try to understand what it is like to live each day aware of your race, to always be on guard, and to feel like you must give up and keep the peace.

Then, try to imagine what it is like to live with trauma in your bones. Where you must remind your children to get home safely by following certain unwritten rules when stopped by the police. Try to imagine the anxiety in your heart when your son or daughter does not come home on time and you worry whether he or she is still alive. This is where you lay aside your agenda and have serious conversations about Black Lives Matter.

This is not a political conversation about an organization.  This is a conversation about putting the love of God into action in everyday situations. If you do a good job here, you will be modeling the values that our law enforcement officers need to respect and protect all people, regardless of skin color.

Invite others to engage in loving people.

As a follower of Jesus, this is where you put your love into action and invite others to join you in loving as they, too, have been loved. Jesus said, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.

These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40). In other words, the study of scripture leads you to Jesus. In the love you have received in and through him, you stand up, speak out, and work for justice.

It is important that you do not miss this action. The whole purpose and point of the scripture are to lead you to Jesus and to follow him into the world so that the world might be who and what God created it to be. Truly, this is not up for debate or negotiation.

The Bible can give you truth, wisdom, guidance, hope, encouragement, inspiration, warning, correction, and so on, but it does not give you life. Only Jesus gives you life.  And Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

This is the place for action. This where you and your church can make a public statement against racism and for anti-racism.  This is where you can boldly proclaim “Black Lives Matter” because you are loved, regardless of skin color. 

What’s Your Next Step?

Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “It is a terrible misunderstanding of the Gospel to think that it offers us salvation while relieving us of responsibility for the life of the world, for the sin and sorrow and pain with which our human life and that of our fellow men and women are so deeply interwoven.” 

With that in mind, what one step will you take to address racism. I know it can be confusing, but you must start somewhere. So, as a Jesus follower, seeking to grow in your relationship with Christ, with your church, and with the community, what one step will you take to address racism? 

There are books to read, conversations to have, and relationships to develop. There are lessons to learn, habits to unlearn, and people to encounter. Not everyone is in the same place in their understanding and participation in racism. But it is past time to begin. What one step will you take to address racism in your life, your church, and your community? 

Please know that you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you and your congregation to deepen your relationships as you face the evil of racism.  

If you are reading this sentence, know that I am praying for you and your ministry.  Now, pray for me that I will become more the person God has created me to be for this time in history. I may be weary, but I have not lost hope.   

How are you doing? Your body is telling you that it is summertime. It is time to relax. But your heart and mind are telling you that there is more work to be done before resting. Over the past several months you have adapted to the changes brought about by a pandemic, balanced work responsibilities at home with family members, and tried to make sense of the recurring evil of racism. You have been leading people into a world that is nothing like the world they are living behind.  

On one hand, you want things to go back to “normal” or at least like they were before the pandemic. On the other hand, like no other time in history, you have the opportunity to shape the lives of men, women, and children as they step into the future. God has gifted you to lead at this point and time in history. It is time to seize the moment. 

Navigating Pandemics 

Just as you have navigated and adapted in response to COVID-19, you have the opportunity to identify and address another pandemic. Racism is a disease that threatens the lives and dignity of so many of our sisters and brothers. It’s complicated. It’s woven into the politics of our government, the policies of our schools, the practices of our public safety systems, and the polity of our churches. The truth is racism is woven into everything we hold near and dear.  It continues to raise its head and poison all we do. The time has come when doing nothing is no longer an option. 

I am grateful that you have joined me on this journey. If you are willing, walk with me a little further. You have been created to lead in the midst of these uncertain times. 

Sankofa

Austin Channing Brown in her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness, tells the story of when she was a student in college, going on a trip called Sankofa. It was a three-day journey exploring Black history in partnership with classmates. There were about twenty pairs of students, mostly comprising one Black and one White student. They left Chicago and traveled all night to arrive at a plantation in Louisiana. 

She writes, “We had come prepared to witness the harsh realities of slavery, but the real revelation was how ignorant and self-congratulatory our guides from the plantation could be. For the entire tour, we were told about ‘happy slaves’ who sang in the fields, who worked under better conditions than most other slaves, and whose fingers never bled despite the massive amounts of cotton they picked. The guides’ presentations were filled with misconceptions and inaccuracies, and at the conclusion of the tour, they even gave us the chance to pick some cotton ourselves. Black students. Picking cotton.” 

What’s Your Response?

Two groups of students had experienced the same tour, but each group had a different response or reaction. The Black students were angry, but the white students were confused. As they climbed onto the bus to journey to the next destination, the conversation quickly moved beyond superficial niceties. 

The students took turns speaking into a microphone at the front of the bus. The Black students were livid at the romanticism displayed at the plantation. The white students listened politely and seemed unmoved at the weight of the information they had received.  

Brown writes, “They responded with questions like ‘What about the Holocaust or the potato famine? Don’t most people groups have some trauma in their history?’ We did our best to correct the misconceptions, but the tour had driven a wedge in the group.” 

The History of Lynching

The next stop on the journey was a museum with only one exhibit: a history of lynching. Brown tells the story, “Every wall was filled with photographs of dark-skinned human beings swinging by their necks. A mother and son hanging over a bridge. Burned bodies swinging over dying fires. White children staring in wide-eyed wonder while their parents proudly point to the mutilated body behind them. 

The cruel smiles of white faces testifying to the joy of the occasion. We came across newspaper stories that advertised lynchings as community events. In another case we saw a postcard. On the front was a photo of a mutilated man still hanging from a rope. On the other side, a handwritten note: “Sorry we missed you at the barbecue.” 

Brown says that when they climbed back on the bus all that could be heard were sniffles. She says the emotion was thick. She writes, “It was as if no time had passed between the generation in the pictures and the one sitting on that bus. It was all so real.” 

What’s Your Response? – Take 2

The first students to break the silence were white. “I didn’t know this even happened.” “It’s not my fault; I wasn’t there.” They reached for anything that would distance themselves from the pain and anger of the moment; anything to ward off the guilt and shame, the shock and devastation. 

The Black students had passed beyond any need to appear polite. They shared personal stories of pain. Stories of lynchings that had happened in their own families. 

Brown writes, “A tall Black woman, a senior that year, peered at us all as she spoke evenly, almost disarmingly in the heat of the moment. ‘I just want to say that I’m having a hard time even being mad at you white people anymore. I think I’ve just been convinced that white people are innately evil. You can’t help it. You steal and kill; you enslave and lynch. You are just evil.’ 

Then she handed the microphone back to the next person and calmly took her seat. The white students didn’t appreciate her words, but the Black students on the bus could have kissed her feet. She had done what social convention and respectability politics said not to do, she had spoken her truth even if it meant hurting the feelings of every white person on that bus.” 

Doing Nothing is No Longer An Option

The tension intensified among the students. The White students defended their family histories while the Black students tried to express what it felt like to stare at their history in the photos from the museum. 

Just as the bus pulled into the parking lot for lunch, another white student stood to speak. But instead of her variation on “Please don’t make me responsible for this,” she took a deep breath and gave in to the emotion of it all. “I don’t know what to do with what I’ve learned,” she said. “I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism.” 

Brown writes, “And then she said nine words that I’ve never forgotten: ‘Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.’” 

The Fabric of Racism

This story illustrates several characteristics of the racism woven into the fabric of our culture.  Because of space and time, I want to mention only two in which I know I have been involved. 

Whitewashing

One way we continue to perpetuate racism is by romanticizing, or “whitewashing” our history. Over the past several weeks I have tried to remember what I was taught in high school regarding racial injustices like slavery, voter suppression, or gerrymandering. 

To be fair, I might have had teachers who talked about lynchings, the dignity of human beings, and civil rights for all people.  But I don’t remember ever having those conversations. It was not until I was a junior in college, when my history professor said, “You need to know the difference between the truth of history and the “whitewashed” versions we perpetuate.”

Romanticizing History

One of those “romanticized” versions of history come around Confederate monuments. Most of those moments were built in periods of racial conflict. For example, when Jim Crow laws were being introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries or during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. I agree the monuments are part of our history, but let’s be honest. They were not built as memorials but as means of intimidating Black Americans and reaffirming white supremacy. 

Jane Elliot says, “Human beings created racism. Anything you create you can destroy. We can destroy racism.” Like no other time in our history, we have the opportunity to address and put an end to the evil of racism. The question is, “Will we?” The time has come when doing nothing is no longer an option.

Denying the Truth of Racism

Another way we continue to perpetuate racism is by denying the truth of racism. Too often we try to distance ourselves from the pain and anger by pleading ignorance. We try to shield ourselves from the guilt, shame, shock and devastation by telling ourselves we would never do such things.  

We can say, “I didn’t know this even happened,” or “It’s not my fault; I wasn’t there.” You truly might not know. But not knowing is not an excuse. Jane Elliott says, “People who are racist aren’t stupid, they’re ignorant. And the answer to ignorance is education.” 

When Did You Learn?

I was in college before I learned of the Tulsa Massacre (known then as the Tulsa Race Riots), the Thibodaux massacre, and the Atlanta Massacre. Three major events in the history of our country that were not in my high school history books. 

We are still living in the culture of those events. My college history professor discussed the injustice and devastation created by white supremacy which fed into the civil rights demonstrations in the days of my childhood. What I was learning from the public news media and what I was learning in my history courses did not match. 

Lynching

One of the places we plead ignorance is regarding the public killings of Black men and women.  In our history, we have called these killings, lynchings. It is a term for a punishment without a trial. 

Did you know that we have no federal laws against lynching? There were 200 anti-lynching bills introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century. Between 1890 and 1952, seven Presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching. 

Between 1920 and 1940, the House of Representatives passed three strong anti-lynching measures. Protection against lynching was the minimum and most basic of Federal responsibilities. Despite repeated requests by civil rights groups, Presidents, and House of Representatives, the Senate failed to enact anti-lynching legislation. 

Public Lynchings Today

I heard this mentioned in a recent conversation. The response was, “Do we need such laws today? We don’t have public lynchings today?” Yes, we do. 

We have watched the twenty-first century lynchings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, LaQuan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, to name only a few. 

Black Lives Matter

Their deaths were not by hanging but were public killings of Black human beings. The act of lynching is rooted in the idea that Black people are less important than White people, that Black people are more violent than White people, and that Black people are not as advanced as White people. Pleading ignorance is not a response. Black Lives Matter. The time has come when doing nothing is no longer an option. 

Austin Channing Brown writes, “Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation?” 

Step Up and Lead

We are way past the time to educate ourselves and to address the complex, emotional, and significant evil of racism. It is time to step up and lead like you have never had to lead before. 

The time is right, the opportunity is now, for open conversation, education, and transformation. As a leader, you have the responsibility to do the hard work of questioning our history of racism and to name the reality and ramifications of our sin.

You can engage people in open conversation. The very conversations that once were held behind closed doors are now public conversations.   

Tell the Truth

By God’s grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we can survive honest discussions about slavery, discrimination, and mass incarceration. 

By the power of the Risen Christ, we can address the harmful politics of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and policies that disproportionately affect people of color. 

As courageous leaders, we can make a difference in dismantling the systemic racism that continues to inform the decision making in our governmental institutions as well as our schools and churches. As Christians, we can lament and mourn. You and I can be livid and enraged. We can be honest. We can tell the truth. Only by being truthful about how we got here can we begin to imagine another way out of here.

An Invitation

I am grateful that you have come this far with me on this journey. Because you are still with me means you are ready to put an end to racism. There is more to come in future blogs, but here is what you can do now:

  1.  Pray – Stay connected to God and grounded in who God has created you to be and who has created the people around you to be. We are all God’s beloved children.
  2.  Read – Racists are not stupid. Racists are ignorant. Two resources that have had a powerful impact upon me are, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown and How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi. There are many good resources for learning about racism and for becoming an antiracist. I have posted a list of resources in two blogs: “Overcoming Racism” and “Putting An End To Racism.
  3. Commit – Engage in a conversation with a Black man or woman. Develop a relationship of trust. Listen to what is said. Be honest with yourself and with them.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Ask him or her to help you become an antiracist.
  4.  Join a group conversation about racism and antiracism. Here is one way you can participate. 

We have come to the time when doing nothing is no longer an option. Let’s take another step toward putting an end to racism. 

Like no other time in history, you have the opportunity to shape a future without racism.  To fight this disease that threatens the lives and dignity of so many of our sisters and brothers, you must become the courageous leader God has gifted you to be.  Antiracist work is hard and exhausting, but you have been created to lead for such a time as this.  As a leader, you have the opportunity to literally change the world. 

Our country, our communities, our churches need leaders who are willing to help us face the reality of systemic racism that is rooted in the soul and fabric of our culture. For the first time in my life, people are waking up and recognizing that we know better.  The question is, will we do better?

Will We Do Better?

Jane Elliot, a third-grade teacher from Iowa, who on the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, felt compelled to teach her students about discrimination.  She told the children that brown-eyed people were superior to blue-eyed people. She watched as the students turned on each other. Then, the next day, she reversed the script. The exercise highlighted the arbitrary and irrational basis of prejudice, an issue that we, in the United States, continue to grapple with more than 50 years later.

Since that day, Elliot has worked to fight racist ideas, challenged textbooks that teach false or incomplete history, and has emphasized the common ancestry of all human beings that makes us members of the same race, the human race.

This is what she says,

“Human beings created racism. Anything you create you can destroy. We can destroy racism.”

-Jane Elliot

Like no other time in our history, we have the opportunity to address and put an end to the evil of racism. The question is, “Will we?”

An Invitation to Be Honest With Yourself

If you are ready and willing to put an end to racism, then join me in getting a clearer understanding of racism and our participation in and benefit from it. The following is for you and your reflection. You need to be honest with your thoughts and own your feelings. Your reflection is a necessary step in gaining a clear understanding of how your life has been shaped by racist ideas and policies. This is for you and you only. All I ask is that you be honest with yourself.  

Unapologetically admit that you are ignorant and complicit in the racist ideas, power and policies of our culture and country.  

Racist ideas make people of color think less of themselves, which makes them more vulnerable to racist ideas. Racist ideas make White people think more of themselves, which makes racist ideas more attractive.

This kind of racism has us seeing people as the problem. To protect ourselves and our beliefs, we design and participate in policies that elevate White people and degrade Black people. Although it is true that “All Lives Matter,” it is in our uninformed dehumanizing of Black men and women that we deflect and redirect our awareness regarding “Black Lives Matter.”

We are complicit when we dismiss violent crimes as “black on black” crime without addressing the systems that give birth to such crimes.

It is easier to blame people than it is to design systems.

It is easier to reject people than it is to actively develop policies that help people out of poverty or homelessness.

It is easier to offer “thoughts and prayers” than it is to tackle the root causes of drug addiction, unemployment, and violent crime.

It is easier to feel blessed than it is to provide the blessing of health care and human development.

Of course, the systems in place to address such issues are designed to get the results they are getting. Are you aware that you participate in such systems?

Now, if you are feeling offended by what I have written, then multiply that feeling by 400+ years of hatred and dehumanizing treatment and you might begin to feel a little of the pain our Black sisters and brothers continually experience. Don’t you agree that it is time to put an end to racist ideas and policies? 

Learn what it means to benefit from “white privilege.”

Most people I know are offended by the term “white privilege.” It is the word “privilege” that gets in the way.  Privilege is usually associated with affluence. Although affluence might be part of it, the privilege refers to being protected by laws, benefiting from systems, having an advantage, which means you don’t have to look over your shoulder.

Missy Elliot writes, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you personally.”

I think of it this way. I don’t worry about being stopped, questioned, or shot while jogging through the neighborhoods around my house. I have never worried for my life when I have been stopped for a traffic violation. The one time I unknowingly used a counterfeit $10 bill, I did not worry about being arrested, handcuffed, or even questioned by police. It never crossed my mind to have the “talk” with my son regarding being stopped and questioned by police for any reason.

I have never had anything other than a credit check when buying a car or a house. Since I was 20 years old, I have had health care, a pension to look forward to, and a salary to meet my needs. I grew up with both parents present in my life while living in the same house. As a teenager, I worked to have my own spending money and never thought I needed to give money to my mother, grandmother, or my aunt to pay monthly bills. I never questioned whether I should or could get a quality college education.

I did relatively little to bring about what I listed above.  I was born into a system, participated in a system, and benefitted from a system that was designed for my advantage. I don’t feel guilty about it, but I now understand that I have been complicit in my participation in a system that has elevated White people and degraded Black people. Are you aware that you have benefitted from such systems? 

 Confront your racism and become an antiracist.

When we are confronted with our racist ideas or with racist policies, we usually deny that we are racist. Denial is the heartbeat of racism. Now, this might not be how it works with you, but for most of us it works this way.  Even when we point out racist ideas or identify racist systems, we usually deny that we perpetuate such ideas or participate in such systems. We become defensive and deflect or redirect.

Part of our racism is revealed in our understanding of the word “racist” as a derogatory term. The truth is the word “racist” is a descriptive term. When we see it as a derogatory term we seek to protect ourselves by being neural. So we self-identity as “not racist.” When it comes to racism, there is no neutral ground. Racist is a descriptive term. If you are not antiracist, then you are racist.

Racism is so interwoven into the fabric of our lives we have been taught not to see color. The problem of not seeing color is that we don’t see the discrimination or the injustace of our systems. Because we aren’t having a problem with things the way things are, we don’t understand why others are having problems. So we justify ourselves by saying “they bring it on themselves.”

Recognize Racism in Daily Life

Racism is so interwoven into the fabric of our lives, we become timid and afraid to even use the word racism.  I recently read a post on social media where the person referred to racism as the “r” word. The comment was something like this: “The “r” word is a problem…How about teaching the words of Jesus?”

One response to the post was: “This comment is exactly why we need to hear the r word from our pulpits, study it together, and prepare to take action. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot do that if we continue to be part of the problem by not even being open to studying how racism applies to us.”

The response continued, “I believe pastors of predominantly white churches are at the fork in the road. Will they lead our congregations toward a path of action, or will they enable us to continue to believe the r word has nothing to do with us or Jesus’ commandment to love? What an opportunity for all of us.”

Can You Name Racism?

Friends, if you can’t name it, then you don’t see it. And if you don’t see it, then you are part of the problem. Are you able to see that you can help put and end to racism? 

My point is not to shame you, make you feel guilty, make you angry, or put you on the defensive. My point is, until we face the reality of our participation in racist ideas and policies we will not take action to change them.

We are way past the time to educate ourselves and to address the complex, emotional, and significant evil of racism. It is time to step up and lead like you have never had to lead before. The time is right, the opportunity is now, for open conversation, education, and transformation. As a leader, you have the responsibility to do the hard work of questioning our history of racism and to name the reality and ramifications of our sin. You have the opportunity to engage people in open conversation. The very conversations that once were held behind closed doors are now public conversations.  

I know that ultimately the transformation needed in our lives, in our country, and in our churches will come when we truly live as God created us to live.  I believe that comes through God’s love in Jesus Christ. I am committed to that transformation. 

But let me be clear. I’m not talking about a shallow, “What the world needs now is love sweet love.” That is a good song, but it is not about putting an end to racism. I am talking about love and justice. What the world needs now is people who treat one another justly, as human beings, as God’s beloved children. Until we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will not have justice. And, until we work for restorative justice, bathed in God’s mercy and grace, we will not love our neighbors as ourselves. To have a loving society we need a just society. 

Take the Next Step

I am grateful that you have come this far with me on this journey. Because you are still with me means you are ready to put an end to racism. There is more to come in future blogs, but here is what you can do now:

  1.  Pray – Stay connected to God and grounded in who God has created you to be and who has created the people around you to be. We are all God’s beloved children.
  2. Read – Racists are not stupid. Racists are ignorant. I posted a list of resources in the blog titled, “Overcoming Racism.” You might start there. There are more than enough resources.  In fact, here are a few more.
  1. Commit – Engage in a conversation with a Black man or woman. Develop a relationship of trust. Be honest with yourself and with them.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Ask him or her to help you become an antiracist.
  2. Join a group conversation about racism and antiracism. Click here to participate.

It is past time to get started.  Let’s take another step toward changing the world by putting an end to racism. 

How are you?

I’m not being perfunctory. I really want to know. You are leading during a time like no other time in history. You have been navigating a pandemic, balancing work responsibilities at home with family life, and now, trying to make sense of the recurring evil of racism.

If you tell me you are tired, I understand. You may want to tell me you are ready for things to go back to the way they were. I get it.  If you tell me that you feel helpless regarding making a difference in anything you are facing at the moment, I want you to stop, take a deep breath, and walk with me for a few minutes.

As a leader, you can change the world.

Like no other time in history, you have the opportunity to shape a future without racism. To fight this disease that threatens the lives and dignity of so many of our sisters and brothers, you must become the courageous leader God has gifted you to be. Antiracist work is hard and exhausting, but you have been created to lead for such a time as this.

If you are willing, walk with me a little further. I’m going to ask three questions. They are for you and your reflection. I don’t need to know the answers. All I ask is that you be honest with yourself.

 1. Are you a racist or an antiracist?

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, in his book How to Be an Antiracist, writes “A racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy by their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.” He says that “racist” and “antiracist” are labels like nametags. They are not permanent. They are placed and replaced based upon what you might be doing or not doing, supporting, or expressing at any given moment.   

What is interesting is, there is no “not racist” category. Not racist claims neutrality. The opposite of racist is antiracist. You either agree that some racial groups are better and should be on top of a scale of education, employment, opportunities, etc. or you are working for racial equality.  Here’s another choice: You either believe problems are rooted in groups of people or the problems are rooted in power and policies. You either allow racial inequities to persevere or you confront racial inequities. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” In fact, “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.

Have you ever heard someone say, regarding recognizing the differences of people, “I’m color blind”?  This statement is related to the idea of being “not racist.” This sounds harsh, but color-blind individuals, by failing to see race, fail to see racism and fall into racist passivity. Saying “I don’t see color” or “I’m color blind” is a mask for racism.

Before you get angry and walk away, both the ideas of “not racist” and “I’m color blind” are interwoven into the fabric of our culture.  In 1896, United States Supreme Court Justice John Harlan proclaimed in the case that legalized Jim Crow segregation, “Our Constitution is color-blind. The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage.” A color-blind Constitution for a White-supremacist America.

2. Are you willing to struggle with your humanity and the humanity of others? 

Being a racist or an antiracist are not fixed identities. You can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What you say about race, in each moment, determines what you are not who you are. The movement from racist to antiracist is always going on. It requires knowledge and understanding.  It requires the intentional work of turning away from racism based upon biology, ethnicity, body, culture, behavior, color, and class. And beyond that, it means standing ready to fight at racism’s intersections with other bigotries.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi writes, “No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. We can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

Are you willing to enter the struggle? Many of us don’t want to be in the racist category because there is shame attached to it.  No one want to be labeled “racist.” But we don’t want to be in the antiracist category because there is so much work attached to it.

Here’s one of many challenges: we know how to be racist. We know how to pretend to be not racist. The question is, are you ready and willing to be antiracist?

If you are still with me, I know you are ready, have been ready, and are already working to be the courageous leader needed to navigate and lead through this time in history. Let’s take one more step.

3. Where did I learn this thinking or feeling?

Racism is complicated. It is woven into the politics and power of our government, the policies of our schools, the practices of our public safety systems, and the politics and practices of our churches. The truth is racism is woven into everything we hold near and dear.  One of the steps we must take to be antiracist is to recognize our own participation in racism and how we continue to perpetuate it.

I have one more question for your reflection. It is in relationship to different forms of racism.  As you read each form, ask yourself this question, “Where did I learn this thinking or feeling?” I will remind you of the question after each category.

 Biological Racist

  • One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully different in their biology and that these differences create a hierarchy of value.

Biological racial difference is one of those widely held racist beliefs that few people realize they hold. They do not realize that those beliefs are rooted in racist ideas.

We often see and remember the race and not the individual. So, we place all people into certain and selected color-marked categories. He acted that way because he is Black. She acted that way because she is Asian.

Biological Antiracist

  • One who is expressing the idea that the races are meaningfully the same in their biology and there are no genetic racial differences.

An antiracist treats and remembers individuals as individuals. “She acted that way, not because she is White but because she is racist.”

Here’s a Question to Consider:

  • When I think and feel that that non-white people are biologically inferior to white people, where did I learn this thinking or feeling?”

Bodily Racist

  • One who is perceiving certain bodies as more animal-like and violent than others.

The research reveals that Americans today see a Black body as larger, more threatening, more potentially harmful, and more likely to require force to control than a similarly sized White body.  No wonder a Black body had to be lynched by the thousands, deported by the tens of thousands, incarcerated by the millions, segregated by the tens of millions.

Over the years, we have taught ourselves and our children that the violence in America has a Black face. In fact, as far back as the 1600’s the Black body was demonized as being a beast and less than human.

Bodily Antiracist

  • “One who is humanizing, deracializing, and individualizing nonviolent and violent behavior.”

The research reveals a stronger more prevalent correlation between violent crime and unemployment than violent crime and race. If Black people are violent demons, then the violent-crime levels would be relatively the same no matter where Black people live.  But Black upper-middle-income and middle-income neighborhoods tend to have less violent crime than low-income neighborhoods.  The research reveals that low-income neighborhoods struggle with unemployment and poverty and their typical by-product is violent crime.

Here’s a Question to Consider:

When I feel afraid of a Black man or woman or feel uneasy driving through a “Black” neighborhood,” where did I learn this thinking or feeling?”

There are other forms of racists like ethnicity, culture, behavior, class, gender, sexuality, etc. The question is, “where did I learn my thinking and feeling toward people who are different?”

I am grateful that you have been willing to walk with me to this point.  We will take another step in another blog. I am also grateful that you can see that your leadership is needed to grow a new generation of antiracists.

You can find more information about being an antiracist by reading the book How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi.  You can also find a list of resources on an earlier blog titled, “Overcoming Racism.”

Sara Thomas and I are leading a group discussion regarding racism and antiracism.  Click here to register your interest in participating.

In April 1968, Jane Elliott was a third-grade teacher in the small town of Riceville, Iowa. On the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, she felt compelled to shift her lesson plans. She decided to teach her young white students about discrimination by telling the children that brown-eyed people were superior to their blue-eyed peers. She watched as the students turned on each other. Then, the next day, she reversed the script. 

The exercise highlighted the arbitrary and irrational basis of prejudice, an issue that we, in the United States, continue to grapple with more than five decades later. 

Race and Racism

In the early 1990’s, I invited Jane to come to Clarksburg, West Virginia where I served as pastor of the Duff Street United Methodist Church. We had invited community leaders, educators, health care administrators, pastors, and congregational leaders to come together for a diversity training workshop.  

There is much to be said about that training experience, but one of the statements Jane made changed my life. She said, “Many people don’t recognize that race is a social concept. Race isn’t biological. Race does not run in our DNA. Race is how somebody somewhere hundreds of years ago decided to categorize the human race.” 

In a recent interview, I heard her say, “There has been a big increase in racism in America over the past five years. We were making progress in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, even in the ’90s, and then a black man in the White House made a whole lot of white folks really angry, because that said plainly to everyone, ‘A black man can get there and do it, and do it well. Now if that’s true, then maybe my white skin doesn’t automatically make me superior.’ And it knocked the socks off everyone who believed in the rightness of whiteness.” 

I have heard her say, as well as, quoted as saying, “People who are racist aren’t stupid, they’re ignorant. And the answer to ignorance is education.” If that is true, then maybe education will get us farther than “thoughts and prayers,” or “All lives matter,” or “police brutality,” or “black on black” crime. 

Say Their Names

I have written too many articles in response to the unnecessary deaths of black brothers and sisters who were at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. The list of innocent Black lives needlessly killed grows each day,

  • Eric Garner
  • Terrence Crutcher
  • Alton Sterling
  • Philando Castile
  • Samuel DuBose
  • Trayvon Martin
  • Michael Brown
  • Freddie Gray
  • Tamir Rice
  • LaQuan McDonald
  • Sandra Bland
  • Walter Scott
  • Ahmaud Arbery
  • George Floyd

As you know, there are many more names. And I understand that there are special circumstances with each killing. But justice for crimes committed is dealt with in courtrooms and not on city streets.

Deep Rooted Attitudes

So, maybe a little education will help us get past some of the deep-rooted attitudes and views we hold regarding people who are not white. I don’t intend to quote statistics, but I do intend on presenting a challenge regarding racism.   

What I have to offer is not a quick fix.  In fact, it might take a couple of generations before racism is rooted out and gone. It is obvious that we are late in getting started. But we have to start somewhere.  So, here are 3 ways to start changing our culture regarding racism. 

1. Name Current Reality

Let’s be honest about our history. It’s not pretty, it hurts, but it’s true. We will never be free from our history until we are honest about our history. Denial is our pathology, but the truth will set us free. 

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on the horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia.  It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of this country has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.  

It is time to recognize that in the same way that “slavery is a necessary evil” (Thomas Jefferson) as accepted in 1820, is the same as “separate but equal” as accepted in 1940. Choosing not to admit it and not condemn white nationalism is an overt act of racism in 2020. We have 400 years of history to face as we seek to reshape our future.

2. Focus on Educating Children

When you have a close relationship with a young person of color, make sure he/she knows how much you love them. Love and affirm the child and the relationship. Fredrick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” So, focus on children, adolescents, and young adults. Develop relationships of trust and become a mentor.  Encourage them to go to college where not everyone looks like them and shares their political, sociological, or religious views. Encourage them to study abroad or to participate in mission teams in other countries where they can experience the achievements and beauty of non-white cultures.

Here are books for younger children to read or for you to read to them. These books are inspirational and shape the minds, hearts, and imagination of all of us. These books help design a future without racism.

There are so many more books. Take time to educate your children. Teach them to be the leaders that will shape the future of the United States of America.  

2. Decolonize your bookshelf

Alley Henny offers four things to decolonize your bookshelf:

  • Add books written by black, brown, and indigenous people. For the next year, add at least one book from an author of color for every book written by a white person.
  • Purge books that are racist or written by problematic authors. The goal isn’t to run away from alternative viewpoints or ideas with which we disagree, but these should not be the dominant voices. There are some books that belong in university libraries and not in your personal collection.
  • Don’t pigeonhole authors of color. Black, brown, and indigenous people can do more than talk about race. Pick books from your favorite genre written by authors of color.
  • Don’t hold authors of color to a higher standard. Not every book written by a black, brown, or indigenous author will be great. That’s okay. Since you have mediocre books written by white authors, you can have some mediocre books from people of color too.

Books to read and add to your library:

Here is a list of books I have used in studies to help address racism:

Your Next Step

I know what I have shared is a bit overwhelming, but we have 400 years of history to learn, to face, and to overcome if we are to step into a future without racism. We have the responsibility and the ability to change things.

I have not given up hope, but I have decided writing words on a page or posting them on social media is not the answer.  So, I am asking you to join me in taking one step toward learning about and stopping racism in your community.

What is one thing you can and will do to learn about the racism in which you participate every day? If you say you are not participating in racism, I say you have some learning to do.  If you say you don’t know or have any ideas, I say I have given you more than enough options in the article.  If you say you don’t want to and that you are fine the way you are, I will say I am praying for you and for your soul.

It is past time to get started.  Now, will you join me? What one step will you take toward learning and stopping racism in your community?

Read Tim’s post from this weekend, Let Us Draw Our Breath

Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” ends with Hamlet saying, “In this harsh world, draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.”

When this harsh world continues to give us tragic, racially charged, and unnecessary deaths of black sisters and brothers, it is way past time to speak up, regardless of how painful or uncomfortable it might be. The list of Black lives who have been needlessly killed grows each day. The killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, are more chapters of the pervasive culture of racism and white privilege in our country. 

We have been fighting the pandemic of racism and white supremacy my entire lifetime. Whether you and I understand it or not, we are complicit in the racism that is ravaging our communities, our public institutions, our churches, and our families. Racism is deeply embedded in our white identity. 

Draw Our Breath to Speak

Today, I draw my breath in pain to name and condemn white nationalism.

We have 400 years of history to face if we are going to change our future. 

As we draw our breath to speak, we have a Word upon which to stand. If we are to change our future, we must stand upon this Word.  

  • It is a Word that claims every human being, regardless of color, gender, nationality, is a child of God. This is not rhetoric. We are of one family and we are responsible for one another. 
  • It is a Word that claims the unconditional embrace of each and every family member in the face of discrimination and exclusion based upon color or gender.
  • It is a Word that declares God’s unapologetic advocacy of and standing with our sisters and brothers who are oppressed and marginalized.
  • It is a Word that cries for God’s inescapable justice against embedded hatred and habitual violence. Regardless of what we call it, hatred has no place in our human family. 

Draw Our Breath to Acknowledge Racism

Now, let us draw our breath and acknowledge that racism is sin and a direct assault on the Word upon which we stand. Let us confess and renounce our own complicity. Let us stand against all expressions of racism and white supremacy, beginning with the racial, cultural, and class disparities in our country, our state, and our church.  

If we are to face our history of racism and to shape our future without racism, let us draw our breath to examine our own attitudes and actions.  Let us draw our breath as we vote for governmental leaders. Let us draw our breath as we fight the disease that threatens our ideals and the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of too many of our family members. Let us draw our breath to love each other regardless of our differences.

Draw Our Breath as Jesus Followers

Let us draw our breath to be followers of Jesus, who taught us how to live in relationship with God and with one another. Let us draw our breath with transformed hearts as we yield to the righteousness and love of God.  

I have not given up hope, but I have decided writing words on a page or posting them on social media is not the answer.  So, I am asking you to join me in taking one step toward learning about and stopping racism in your community.

What is one thing you can and will do to learn about the racism in which you participate every day? If you say you are not participating in racism, I say you have some learning to do.  If you say you don’t know or have any ideas, email me. I can and will give you some things you can do. If you say you don’t want to and that you are fine the way you are, I will say I am praying for you and for your soul. 

In the meantime, let us draw our breath in prayer.  Let us pray for the Floyd family, for the Arbery family, and the Taylor family as well as the many families whose lives are tragically altered or whose fears have been heightened as a result of these inexcusable tragedies. 

Know that I draw my breath to pray for you, for our church, and for our future as followers of Jesus and as citizens of the United States of America.