Friday, October 16, 2020

Who Counts?

       Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 

-Matthew 10:29-31 (NIV)

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2020 Census could end on Friday. The effort to count every person in the country, required by the Constitution, had already been delayed by the pandemic. The new deadline, set for October 31st, was deemed too late for the Commerce Department to deliver the results to the President by the deadline required by law, so the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., ordered the deadline moved to September 30. After legal challenges, the Supreme Court ordered the count stopped at the end of this week.

     The Census, of course, is essential for determining representation in Congress and the distribution of government funds. Many experts worry that ending the count early could cause “irreversible damage to efforts to achieve a fair and accurate census.” Justice Sotomayor, the lone dissenter in the Supreme Court decision, wrote, “the harms associated with an inaccurate census are avoidable and intolerable.”

     The problem is that it takes a while to count everyone. It’s possible to respond to the Census online, by phone, or by mail, but not everyone does. So Census workers go out into neighborhoods and knock on doors and ring bells to fill in the gaps. Many of the people who the Census could most help — racial minority groups, poor people and young people — are underrepresented in the mail, phone, and online responses. Immigrants who are out-of-status don’t show up sometimes, whether by their choice or by being overlooked. So the need for an adequate timetable. 

     While the Census Bureau claims that they’ve counted 99.9% of households, most experts outside the Bureau seem to dispute that number. It does not represent the number of households that have competed the form. It probably takes into account any household checked off the list, even if it’s just on the word of neighbors about who lives at a particular address. The fact that the administration has already announced that it would try to exclude those who are out of status from the final count makes it additionally questionable that the report is actually intended to represent the actual number of people living in the United States.

     I don’t know, maybe you think that’s as it should be. I don’t, personally. One of the important things that I think living in this country should mean is that, quite literally, everyone counts. We haven’t always lived up to that ideal, of course. In our early years, only white men counted. Black men were eventually counted as ⅗ of a person, and in 1868 were finally told they counted as whole people. Women finally counted enough to be allowed to vote in 1920. It wasn’t until 1964, almost in my lifetime, that Federal Law finally came to reflect the ideal that everyone should count, whatever their race, gender, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. And, of course, the fact that laws are on the books doesn’t mean that, every day, people don’t still get the message that they don’t count. We can, and should, do better. The Census should be one means of doing better, a strictly data-driven, non-partisan exercise to make sure that people are counted so that the government can, hopefully, do a more effective job of governing. 

     My conviction about people counting doesn’t come from my being an American, though. It comes from my being a Christian.

     People count with God. 

     I wonder if the group of enslaved people concentrated in Goshen, in Egypt, had been counted on the most recent Egyptian census before God told Pharaoh to let his people go?

     I wonder how the Babylonians counted the people they forcibly captured from Israel and dispersed in their cities? I wonder if they bothered to count them at all? Whether they did or not, God counted them and knew their number when he brought them home. He knew who didn’t make it, too.

     I wonder if Jesus was counted in a census? I wonder if the census-takers got the news that a baby boy had been born to Mary and Joseph? I don’t know if he counted to the Romans at his birth, or even to his countrymen. Yet God said “This is my Son.”

     I know at his death he counted only as a troublemaker, one more pretender king to be dealt with as ruthlessly and efficiently as possible. Only the few disciples and family members present at the cross seemed to care much about his death. Yet God raised him up.

     People count with God. Even the people who aren’t counted by anyone else. Especially them.

     Jesus, of course, pointed out that if God takes care of the birds, he certainly knows and takes care of us. “Every hair on your head is numbered,” he said. God knows us. We count with him, however unimportant the world might tell us that we are. He knows our failures, he knows our shortcomings, he knows the things no one else wants to know. And he chooses to love us and to be faithful and generous to us.

     I want you to know that because there are a lot of ways in this world that we can get the impression that we don’t count. Sometimes it’s because of the people we elect to represent us. Sometimes it’s because we don’t measure up in some way or the other to what everyone else seems to think matters. Sometimes the people we’re closest to give us the impression what we don’t count, and sometimes we even convince ourselves of it. But I want you to know, if you don’t already or if you need reminding of it, that you count with God. Whatever your skin color is, whatever your gender (and whether or not you feel confident about that), wherever you’re from, whatever your bank balance says, wherever you live, whatever you wear, whatever your sexual orientation or political party or church affiliation (or lack of one). To God, you count. You matter. He cares about you: what you’re going through, where you’ve been, where you’d like in your wildest dreams to go.  

     I want you to know as well that because you count with God, you count with me. Oh, I’m not going to be perfect at that, I’m fairly sure. Still, that’s my aspiration. It’s the church’s aspiration too, and sometimes we even get it right. We want to reflect the way God cares about people in the way we care about people. We don't think we deserve any credit for that — it’s just what God expects of us. 

     May you always count, and always know that you count, in the eyes of the people who matter most to you.

     And may you always know that you count with God.

     And may we as God’s people always show those we know and come in contact with that they count. That they matter. That they’re seen and heard, that God knows them and cares about them, that he’s shown it in Jesus and through his church.

     Whether our government acknowledges that all people count or not, we know what God thinks.

Friday, October 2, 2020

All Things to All People

      Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law  (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

-1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)

A friend shared with me this week a document he put together for his church on systemic racism. 

     My friend, Greg, is a husband and father of adult children. He’s a former Marine helicopter pilot. He retired a couple of years ago from a career as an executive of a Fortune 500 corporation. He was an elder at the church I serve. For his next act, he intends to begin formal study of the Bible so he can more effectively help people come to know Jesus. 

     And he would hate it that I just felt compelled to list his qualifications so maybe you’d listen to what he says.

     Because that’s part of the problem: Black people and other people of color are often required to demonstrate that they’re “one of the good ones” before their voices are heard when it comes to racism. Greg related to me in a conversation we had recently that seemingly innocuous questions that they were asked as they visited churches trying to find a home after their move — “What do you ?” “Where do you live?” — can for people of color carry with them  a subtext — “Are you one of us?”

     That’s something I don’t think I’ve consciously intended when I’ve asked those questions — though, maybe, sometimes. Usually, in that situation, I’m wondering if this person lives in the neighborhood and therefore might potentially come to be a part of my church. And so I relate to the question you might be thinking right now: “Well how would I know that? How would I know how someone else might hear that question?” 

     The answer, of course, is that Greg just told us. 

     See, white people like me tend to get defensive when we hear someone talk about systemic racism. We come at it thinking we have to defend our own record on racism. We come at it feeling like we have to defend our country, or our race. At worst, we accuse our accusers of being racists themselves because they bring up the subject to begin with. At best, we throw up our hands in frustration and ask how we’re supposed to fix the problem if we don’t even see it. We need to stop it. When Blacks and other people of color tell us about their experiences of racism, they don’t need us to fix it or tell them why they’re mistaken. They need us to listen, sympathize, show compassion, and do better.

     Greg pointed out in the document how Black people in our world are “always on guard” and “always understanding vs. being understood.” Think about that for a moment. At work, at school, at a store, taking a walk in your neighborhood, even at church — think about having to always be on guard because of your skin color, knowing that someone might be watching you, wondering about you, questioning your qualifications to be there, maybe even with their hand in a pocket on a phone with the “9” and “1” already dialed. 

     Imagine always having to work to understand other people and behave in ways that will steer you around conflicts, with no confidence that those same people understand you.

     Earlier, I shared Greg’s “qualifications” in part because I want you to understand that this is a guy who has worked hard, served his country, been educated, was successful in his career, has a strong family, and has shepherded a church. He’s a guy who seems to have a big chunk of the American Dream. Still, he sees the racism that’s deeply entangled in our American Dream.

     This is why he sympathizes with athletes who kneel during the National Anthem, knowing that it isn’t about the military but about those for whom the promise of America is still denied. That’s why he points out that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” should be affirmed by all, without qualification — and that to push back against it without trying to understand where it comes from is part of the systemic racism that it challenges. 

     Greg writes: “Fifty-two years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched with black sanitation workers holding signs that read, I Am A Man. Did that mean that white men were not men? Of course not, but racism was preventing the sanitation workers from living their version of the American Dream.”

      A couple thousand years ago, a guy named Paul wrote, “I have become all things to all people.” He wrote those words in a world in which the big racial divide was between Jew and Gentile. The church of his day was divided as well, between the Jews — through whom Jesus came, and through whom God had initially revealed himself through the Scriptures and through the Law — and the Gentiles, who were coming to Christ at an increasing rate and who might not have the same inborn reverence for the Scriptures. Jewish people were the early leaders. There was discrimination against the Gentiles. But Paul, a Jew, said he would become “like one not having the Law” in order to help the Gentiles hear the gospel of Jesus. He’d go out of his way to understand them. Listen to them, hear them. Sympathize with them. Speak up for them with the leaders of the church. He didn’t do this because he had suddenly developed an ambivalence toward his own people. He did it because that what was necessary for the gospel to he heard, for healing to begin, for God’s work to be done in the world. 

     What is necessary for God’s work to be done in the world today isn’t any different. We — the church, especially — need to hear what Black people and other people of color in and outside of the church are saying to us about racism. We need to respond to this moment in history in the right way. We don’t need to be defending ourselves, our country’s history, our political system, or our churches’ records. That doesn’t get the work of God done in the world. That doesn’t communicate the love of Jesus or open our communities, our nation, or ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

     Instead, may we commit ourselves to being “slave[s] to everyone, to win as many as possible” — not to our politics, or our way of seeing the world, or to our way of thinking, but to the gospel. May we bend over backward to hear what people of color are saying about justice. May we listen carefully to those who don’t have the confidence in the rule of law that we might have. May we listen with compassion when Black people talk about the times they’ve been made to feel weak and powerless, and may we lift our voices with them.

     If we can’t do that, why would anyone want to hear the gospel from us? 

     If we can’t do that, why would anyone believe words about the love of Jesus from our lips? 

     They wouldn’t, and they shouldn’t.

     May the church always be a place where no one has to be on guard because they’re safe in Christ. May the church always be a place where every race can know they’re understood because God knows them.

     And may we, finally, share together in all the blessings of the gospel.

Friday, September 25, 2020


     Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted. 

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled. 

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, 

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, 

for they will be called children of God. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

-Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)

There are a couple of houses in my neighborhood, in the next block over, that have looked like the houses to be at this summer. They’re twin houses, built side-by-side on what used to be a single lot. Young families have moved into both of them, and this summer the front yards of those houses, and the apartment building next door, have been filled with kids.

     I walked by there today and counted 10 kids running around these small city lots. Two were on a swing suspended from a tree. A few were playing hopscotch or something on the sidewalk. A couple of boys were chasing each other with water guns. A group of older girls were standing around giggling about something. Three parents lounged on the front porches, talking and loosely supervising. 

     What it looks like is that these parents, facing a long summer of social distancing and working from home, decided just to turn their houses into an informal summer camp. Every time I walked by there this summer, the kids were out playing. The parents were talking. In the absence of other demands, other appointments, they were all taking the time to get to know each other, enjoy being together — to, surprisingly enough, have fun.

     While many of us will remember 2020 as a long slog through uncertain times, I think those kids — and maybe even their parents — will remember a summer spent enjoying sunny days and good friends. 

     They’ll remember that they were blessed.

     Funny thing about blessings: they often seem to come when you’re not looking for them, in the places you don’t expect to find them. Maybe that’s because blessing and expectation seem to be inversely proportional. By definition, blessings are unanticipated. The more we look for them, the more we try to organize our lives to produce them, the more they elude us. Even when good things might happen, they don’t feel so much like blessings. Just the expected outcome.

     Maybe that’s why Jesus said that, in the kingdom of God, blessedness is for the poor in spirit, or the grieving, or those who have no standing to advocate for their own interests, or those who need justice so badly that they can taste it. Blessedness is for those who care enough about others’ hurt to feel compassion, the uncomplicated who want nothing more than to see God’s face, and those who work hard for peace but who aren’t surprised or deterred when for their efforts they get insults, violence, and rejection. None of the people he mentions to open his Sermon on the Mount about life in God’s kingdom are looking for blessedness. None of them are expecting it in their current circumstances. Yet, he says they’re blessed.

     Blessed because God himself will comfort them. Blessed because they’ll receive his unexpected reward. Blessed because they’ll see the justice they hunger for, they’ll receive the mercy they offer, and because they’ll see God and be recognized as his children. They’re blessed because, as Jesus says twice in these verses, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

     He doesn’t mean that they just need to hang in there because they’ll go to heaven when they die. By “kingdom of heaven,” Matthew means what the other Gospel writers mean when they say “kingdom of God.” They’re blessed, Jesus says, because when God reigns, when his will is done on earth as in heaven, then they will receive what’s lacking and experience the blessedness of God. Of course, there’s a sense in which God’s will won’t be done on earth as in heaven until Jesus returns. Until then, there’s always an element of anticipation to our faith. We’ll always have a “looking-forward” orientation.

     But there’s also a sense in which God’s kingdom has already come. His second coming will complete God’s reign, but his first coming inaugurated it. That was his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” When we obey Jesus and turn our attention to the things of God, then he reigns in our lives. His will is done — imperfectly, inconsistently, in fits and starts — in the part of the world we inhabit and influence. As Jesus takes shape in our lives, so does the kingdom of God. 

     And with it, the blessedness of the kingdom.

     That’s what the church is — people in whom the kingdom of God is taking shape. And, together, as we treat each other as the King requires and get busy with the King’s business, the kingdom takes on more definitive outlines. Christ creates in us a community of people in which those who mourn are comforted, the meek are honored, those desperate for justice are satisfied, mercy is given and received, God is visible, and God’s children live together in peace.

    In times like these, our world doesn’t need another institution. It needs what my neighbors have created: ad hoc groups of people that live by the rules of the kingdom of God and offer its blessedness to all who happen by. In a world mourning the deaths of many in a pandemic, our churches can be communities of comfort. In a world fractured by political, ethnic, racial, and ideological conflict, our churches ought to be communities of peace. In a world where skin pigment and the chances of poverty, disease, going to prison, and dying early and violently are directly proportional, our churches ought to be communities of justice. Because of Jesus, we can create communities that are islands of joy, hope, and love.

    It isn’t child’s play. The work we have to do shouldn’t be trivialized. It requires swimming against the current. But we can do it, and in doing it make a difference in our neighborhoods and ultimately, the world.   

     In troubling times, may we be the place everyone wants to be.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Casting Off

      If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,

Lord, who could stand? 

But with you there is forgiveness, 

so that we can, with reverence, serve you. 

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, 

and in his word I put my hope.

I wait for the Lord 

more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning. 

Israel, put your hope in the LORD,

for with the LORD is unfailing love 

and with him is full redemption. 

-Psalm 130:3-7 (NIV)

This weekend, Jewish people the world over are celebrating Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah begins the “High Holy Days” of the Jewish calendar. It’s considered New Year’s Day for civil purposes (the name literally means “head of the year”). 

    The way 2020 has gone, between you and me I’m thinking that celebrating the beginning of a new year beside our Jewish cousins might not be a bad idea. Maybe it’s time for a hard reset.

     I discovered this week that one of the customs of Rosh Hashanah, at least in some Jewish communities, is a ritual called Tashlikh, or “casting off.” The custom comes from Micah 7, in which the prophet promises that God will “cast your sins into the depths of the sea.” Jews that practice Tashlikh usually do so on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. They gather by a natural body of flowing water to pray and symbolically throw the sins of the previous year into the water. Some symbolize this by tossing in small pebbles or pieces of bread. 

     The psalm above, 130, is one of the readings from Scripture that are often recited at Tashlikh. The psalm reminds us that, though none of us could “stand”  before God if he demanded an accounting of our sins, “with the LORD is unfailing love and…full redemption.” We remember from this psalm that God offers forgiveness.

     Notice, though, that there’s a purpose for this forgiveness. The NIV says, “so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” That’s actually a stretch of a translation: more literally, it says “that you may be feared.” The psalmist wants God’s generous forgiveness to awaken in us, not a sense of entitlement or a casualness about sin, but a sense of reverence, awe, and, yes, fear. “In his word I put my hope,” the psalmist says, because God is the most terrifying thing on the block. There’s nothing that ought to be quite as awe-inspiring as a holy God who knows our sins and yet doesn’t keep track of them, who could rightly visit judgement on every one of us and who instead disposes of our sins forever and comes to us with forgiveness, love and redemption that never fail.

     The fact that we’ve kind of forgotten this might have something to do with the reasons we struggle with the same sins new year after new year. We put our hope in many things. There are a lot of things, quite frankly, that most of us fear more than we fear God. We turn our attention to trying to stave off those things we fear, and to do so we put our hope in politicians and political parties, or money, or career, or education, or the numbing effect of any number of addictions and obsessions. Instead of beginning our years by remembering God’s love, forgiveness, and redemption, we begin them by manufacturing joy and resolving that this year is going to be so much better than last because we’re finally going to stop this thing or start that one.

     For the psalmist, though, the only hope is to “wait for the LORD.” God promises that forgiveness, love, and redemption are the default settings for his dealing with human beings. It may not always look that way, but that’s why we have to wait. Not with fingers crossed, though, hoping against reasonable hope for a miracle — we wait knowing that God will keep his word and intervene on our behalf. We wait with expectation. We wait with awe and faith and, sure, a healthy dash of fear. 

     Paul writes in Ephesians that believers in Jesus have been taught a new way of seeing themselves, others, and the world around them. He reminds the church in Ephesus that they have learned in Christ to “cast off the old person” and to “put on” the new by the work of Jesus in our lives. Paul argues that Jesus is our tashlikh, our “casting off.” It’s in Jesus, uniquely, that the psalmist’s hopes for God’s forgiveness and redemption have been fulfilled. It’s in Jesus, uniquely, that his promise of God’s unfailing love is kept. It’s in him that our sins are disposed of, once and for all, but it’s also in him that we can see that our only valid response is to fear God above everything else and serve him with all our hearts.

     Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah commemorates God’s creation of human beings. That is, on the first days of their year, Jews remember that human beings have a special place in God’s work in the world. We all know, of course, that human beings didn’t exactly live up to the high aspirations God had for us. But, as Christians, we believe that through Jesus God is making us fit for the place in the world he has created us for. He’s making us new people, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

     Whatever this current year has done to us, and whatever it has in store for us, we know that God is faithful. In Christ he is creating new men and women every day, new men and women who are able to walk in the world and do God’s work with faith, courage, conviction, and love. In Christ, through his death and resurrection, he has “cast off” everything that makes us afraid, everything that compromises our witness to the gospel, and everything that makes us hope in what will inevitably disappoint. He asks us just to trust him, to do some “casting off” of our own, to get rid of those last scraps and rags of our old lives so that we can live as the new people he has created us to be in Jesus. 

     We don’t need a new year to do that, to be those new people. We have what we need for that in Jesus. We can’t control what 2020 has brought us, and we won’t be able to control whatever may happen when we do cross into 2021. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that, in Christ, God has cast away our sins and is making us into human beings who will fill our world — whatever may come — with the knowledge of God’s glory.

     So maybe we should join our Jewish kin by the water this weekend, or by the water of our own baptism, as we recall that God has cast away our sins in Jesus. Let’s consider what we may need still to cast off from our old life in order to be the people he has made us to be.

     And may our lives be a new year, a new dawn full of hope in the Lord.

Friday, September 11, 2020

When Racists Write Our Worship Songs

      God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

-Romans 6:3-11 (NIV)

Rachel Martin has written a really interesting post for Oxford American called “Hoods in My Hymnal.” She writes about a Southern gospel music festival she attended last year in a little town in Tennessee, Lawrenceburg, whose claim to fame in the Southern gospel world was that it was the town where James D. Vaughan built a music-publishing business and pretty much invented Southern gospel music in the process. 

     By most accounts, Vaughan was a man of deep faith, good works, and constant prayer. His songwriting or publishing credits include God Holds the Future in His Hands, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, and He’s My King, among others. Martin hoped to get, as she puts it, “a nostalgic essay,” out of her weekend. It was definitely not what she expected when, at the local library to get some information on Vaughan, the librarian casually mentioned, “I’ve always suspected James D. Vaughan ran the local Klan.” 

     “So much for my fun, easy story,” she wrote.

     The evidence certainly does show that Vaughan had some association with the Ku Klux Klan. In addition to the Southern gospel music for which he became known, Vaughan’s name appears on such ditties as “Wake Up, America, and Kluk, Kluk, Kluk,” which features such lyrics as “the right will surely win, we’re winning day by day, Each night thirty thousand put on the K.K.K.” She discovered that Vaughan moderated Klan rallies, that his quartets sang at them, and that he broadcast them on a radio station he owned. Several other songwriters’ names are on Klan-supportive songs that Vaughan published.

     Martin writes that she was “shaken” by her discovery that some of her favorite music was now tinged by racism. “What should I do with this knowledge?” she asked. The rest of the article describes her attempts to work through the implications of it through conversations with several other people who have musical, cultural, and faith connections to Southern gospel music. I highly recommend reading the post, but I’ll include her own summary of her conclusions here:

     We can’t jump to solutions because we have yet to find the right questions. We can’t trust the answers our guts give us because all of our guts—every last one—have been acclimatized to a world of inequality and injustice. We must be more interested in learning about the silenced parts of our history than in writing a cohesive narrative, more anxious to listen than to speak, more eager to give grace than to cast judgment.

     Only then can we begin to disentangle the hoods from the relics in our attics, the laws written by our governments, the lessons taught in our schools, and the songs of worship canonized in our hymnals. 

     The conversations we’ve been having aren’t easy, are they? Statues and flags that expressly prop up the legacies of folks who were fighting a war against our country in support of slavery are one thing. It would be nice if the cancer were so easily excised by dismantling a few monuments. What we learn, though, as we pay attention to our history is that racism can’t be carved away like that. It runs too deep and has spread too widely. 

     Martin points out what we should have known: Southern gospel music is a tainted legacy. John Newton was a slave trader before he wrote Amazing Grace. Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings almost certainly influenced further anti-Semitism, including the kind practiced in Nazi Germany. Most denominations are touched in some way by racism. You don’t have to kick over many rocks to find it.  

     So what do we do about that? Do we “cancel” songs and songwriters when we discover the racism in their pasts? Do we simply shrug and say “They were a product of their time”? Do we only embrace those, like Newton, who acknowledged and repented of their racism? 

     I don’t think the “product of his time” argument holds up to close scrutiny. While many influential people in the South in Vaughan’s day were part of the Klan, many were not. “Everybody was doing it” wouldn’t have been a good excuse when you were a kid, and it isn’t for adults. We’re all influenced by the times we live in, but we’re all responsible for our choices. It’s too easy to let bad behavior slide by as a product of the time.

     But the speed with which we cancel the good work of those whose pasts hold some reprehensible acts sometimes seems too easy as well. It lets us feel good about being on the right side without asking the really tough questions about our world or ourselves. We might very well choose not to use some music because of the racist views or actions of their creators, but let it be a community decision made of careful thought, with acknowledgement that our own hands are hardly clean, either.

     So what then? What do we do when we discover that more of our worship music is written by racists, or misogynists, or whatever? What if we discover that one of the editors of our favorite Bible translation has used racial slurs, or that a respected author has disparaged Asians? 

     It seems to me that we — and by “we” I mean white Christians — often are asking the wrong questions in circumstances like this. We’re asking “Should I feel bad about this?” Or maybe we’re asking, “Why should I have to give up something I like?” Paul reminds us that there are better questions to ask. He says that God gives “greater honor to the parts that lacked it” in the church. That is, he wants those in the church who through no fault of their own are disregarded and discriminated against to receive special honor from the rest of the church (and not merely equal treatment). We should have “equal concern for each other.” Most to the point, I think, for this discussion: we should suffer when another part of the church suffers (instead of disregarding that suffering), and we should rejoice when they receive honor (instead of resenting it). 

     We should be, in all our churches, confronting the legacies of racism. Our ancestors’ sins are not ours, but they often have much to do with the pain our sisters and brothers of color feel. We should recognize that suffering and suffer with them, knowing that if healing doesn’t come easily for them, it shouldn’t for us either.

     So here’s my thought: White Christians, who throughout church history in most places and times have had most of the power and honor, should simply defer to their Black sisters and brothers on questions like this. If using a song causes even one of my brothers and sisters of color pain, then how could I possibly feel good about singing it? Why wouldn’t I share their pain and offer them the “greater honor” of hearing them and giving up something — even something important to me — for them?

     Martin is right, I think, when she says, “all of our guts—every last one—have been acclimatized to a world of inequality and injustice.” Not by our choice, perhaps, or not completely by our choice, but acclimatized nonetheless. It takes love to instead condition our guts to share in the suffering of others, and rejoice when they receive long-overdue honor.

     It takes love. Thankfully, we follow the one who loved us to the point of death.

     May we love in the way we ought to have learned from him.

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