Why Do We Act Surprised
A Response To Racism
Over the past several days I have been asking myself the question, “Why do we act surprised that racism still exists?”
I don’t want racism to exist, but I live in a culture that cultivates it. Where I grew up, racism was present. I graduated from high school with it. Although I have worked my entire ministry to fight it, at the moment I feel I have had very little impact in ridding the world of it. I have not ignored its existence but every time racism raises its despicable head I feel myself from deep within react with “Not again! I thought we were beyond this.”
We have been through too many Charlottesville events over the past several years. Whether a gathering of white supremacists demonstrating their right to hate, a massacre in a Charleston church, a young black man shot on the street in Cincinnati, the beating, shooting, harassing of black men and women not only on the street, but in their cars, in police “paddy” wagons, in classrooms, courtrooms, and office rooms.
Why do we act surprised?
In conversation with some of you, I have been reminded again of institutional racism. Whether it is our educational classrooms, massive incarceration, the gap between the richest and the poorest, health and environmental justice, unemployment, mortgage lending, church systems, the list goes on. When racism, whether blatant or subtle, raises its head, why do we act surprised? It is woven into the fabric of our culture. It has made us who we are. What can and will we do to address it?
One of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. sermons is, “The Answer to a Perplexing Question” based on Matthew 17:19, “Why couldn’t we cast him out?” In the sermon, King says, “The problem that has always hampered man has been his inability to conquer evil by his own power. In pathetic amazement, he asks, ‘Why can I not cast it out? Why can I not remove this evil from my life?’”
Why Can’t We Stop Racism?
The question in regard to the racism we continue to experience is, “Why can’t we stop it?” We want to stop it. We try, in our own ways, to stop it. Why can’t we stop the racism? Why don’t we change the political environment that cultivates the racism? King says we have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and to save the world. I would say the same in regard to the ongoing racism in our culture.
- The first is that we try to remove the evil of racism through our own power and ingenuity. It is a strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, we will conquer the “nagging forces of evil.”
- The second idea for removing the evil of racism from the world is based upon that if we wait submissively upon the Lord, in God’s own good time, God alone will redeem the world.
King asks, “What then is the answer to life’s perplexing question? How can evil be cast out of our individual and collective lives? If the world is not to be purified by God alone nor by man alone, who will do it?” If we want to move beyond the rhetoric of simply asking the perplexing question to live the answer perhaps we need to pursue a third way.
A Third Way
King answers the question this way, “The answer is found in an idea which is distinctly different from the two we have discussed, for neither God nor man will individually bring the world’s salvation.” King says that it will take a partnership between God and humanity. What does a partnership between God and humanity entail? Much more and much less than you might suspect.
King notes, “…both man and God, made one in a marvelous unity of purpose through an overflowing love as the free gift of himself on the part of God and by perfect obedience and receptivity on the part of man, can transform the old into the new and drive out the deadly cancer of sin.”
For Dr. King, faith opens the door for God to work through us. The disciples lacked faith when they desperately tried to remove the nagging evil from the body of the sick child (Matthew 17:14-23). Jesus points out what may now appear obvious: they had been attempting to do by themselves what could only be done with God. When our lives become open receptacles for God’s strength to be freely poured, faith leads us into a partnership with God.
We Cannot Do It Alone
From King’s sermon, I am reminded that you and I cannot remove the evil of racism by mere resolution nor by simply calling on God to do the job for us. Only as we surrender ourselves in partnership with God and become instruments of God’s peace. Then we will be delivered from the accumulated weight of the evil of racism. King says, “…only when we permit the energy of God to come into our souls.”
Here is where King notes we can find the answer to our perplexing question. Racism can be cast out, but we cannot do it alone. And God is not going to do it for us. Racism will be cast out as we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter in. To the church of the twenty-first century, the invitation remains:
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” –Revelation 3:20
A Prayer for the Day
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness. Joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
-Francis of Assisi
We might start with “our” institulized Church. Becoming a racist is a learned behavior that once it’s fed desires a response. Victims respond, carriers of the evil ramp up their assault, “good” people remain silent and try to remain in a comfortable place. Sadly that place is their church. A place that speaks to racism but too often reflects it. I also ” “fought the good fight” but cannot let evil win. Perhaps weekly invocation should be an offering up of the evil of racism by every man woman, child and clergy. Perhaps those homes that still pray together should offer up individual racism. Same for those who teach and preach and are sent to reach new souls for Christ. The last place it seems equipped to take racism on is the Church of and for Jesus Christ. I pray for the days we can quote members of congregations. Young and old and not just MLK.