I have struggled with what exactly to write this month. We continue to walk a challenging journey through life in 2020 and amidst the backdrop of a life-threatening pandemic that still exists and has not diminished we are faced with the addressing racism in our society after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by white police officers. We read the memes, posts, and articles on social media. We listen to news anchors, academia professionals, and lawmakers who provided analyses and positions on different sides of the issue. We hear terms used like “systemic” or “institutionalized racism” and “antiracist” or “white privilege” and “white supremacy” and feel a variety of emotions from anger to indignation and contrition to despair along with a variety of others that escape me in the moment. In the end we find ourselves asking a simple question. Just what does God expect me to do about racism? What does God expect the church to do about racism?
I think the answer might start with Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 12. It begins with transformation, or metanoia in the Greek. Here’s what he says in the first two verses from The Message, a translation of the Bible by pastor and scholar Eu-gene Peterson.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, al-ways dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
So when it comes to the issue of racism, as a white, educated, upper middle class, cis-gender, heterosexual, male I need to ask myself, “How have I become so well-adjusted to a culture where I fit into it without even thinking how others who are not like me are faced with struggles, challenges, and even life-threatening situations that never cross my mind?” Even more so, if that same culture that I benefit from is also oppressing others and I say nothing, then am I not also complicit in com-mitting acts of racism, elitism, classism, gender discrimination, and sexism?
As a Lutheran Christian I confess that I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and that means “God created me together with all that exists” (Luther’s Small Catechism). God doesn’t make distinctions with respect to skin color, gender identification, sexual orientation, education, income level, or any other “boxes” we sinful creatures con-tinue to put people in and define as “less than” because they are not like me, or more so the dominant culture. Instead, if I take my ordinary life and place it before God as an offering I will be changed from the inside out. I will begin to see the culture I live in differently. I’ll see it more from God’s point of view rather than the view of the dominant culture in power.
Maybe that’s where we need to begin any discussion on the various topics and events of our day that truly seem to be divid-ing our society into a variety of camps. Maybe by beginning with the question, “What does God want from me this day – with the gifts and abilities and opportunities that are available to me – to reveal God’s love and hope for the world that God created, with all its diversity and different kinds of people who live in it?”
For me this transformation began five years ago after the murder of the nine pastors and parishioners gathered for bible study at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston SC by an ELCA parishioner, Dylann Roof. Since then I’ve been reading books about racism, white privilege, and now antiracism and how to become an antiracist. I’ve visited the National Muse-um of African-American History and Culture in Washington D.C., which I highly recommend once it reopens to the public after the pandemic is past. I’ve become a member of the NJ Synod’s “Transforming White Privilege” team that leads a workshop by the same title for congregations that want to begin or expand their journey to address racism in their own lives and congregations. I’ve begun to speak more openly about these same topics in pubic and on social media, despite the backlash that often results when some believe pastors shouldn’t be dealing in political matters. For the record, I’m not deal-ing in political matters. I’m speaking about and striving for justice and peace issues related to a humanity created by God that I and anyone else who has affirmed their baptism in the Lutheran Church did on their confirmation day.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your atten-tion on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. As we journey in these challenging and possibly perilous times we need to remember Jesus never told his disciples that following him would be easy or comfortable. He said pick up your cross and follow me. Follow me to a way of life, God’s way of life, that truly is worth living; one that is filled with joy and an abundance of life. Okay then God, let my life be an offering to you this day and every day, and forgive me when I stray from the path. Amen.