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Racism in America: Why Can’t We Get Rid of It?

With the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, many wanted to claim that racism in America had been defeated. We thought we had achieved something great. Blacks and Whites of good will were filled with pride.

That pride brought us a sense of accomplishment. And we took time to relax and enjoy the victory. During the Obama Presidency, we’ve celebrated other milestones that reinforce our supposed triumph over racism in America.

Racism in America: Celebrating AccomplishmentIn the past decade or so, and for a few more years, every great accomplishment of the Civil Rights Movement turns 50 years old. There have been numerous commemorations and televised specials. There will be countless more. In 2018, I’m certain many will speak of how much we’ve accomplished since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Country will celebrate his sacrifice with pomp and circumstance. Whoever the President is will host a big affair, and the King children will pretend to get along long enough to bask in their father’s glory.

Yet, the reality is that racism in America is not dead

The recent massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, and the burning of Black Churches across the Nation remind us of this fact. America was comfortable with the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Kajime Powell, Eric Garner, Rumain Brisbon, et al, because some could say there were two sides to the story. There was a “justifiable” reason for those killings. There was a way for many in America to blame the victims.

No such reasoning is possible with Emmanuel AME Church. There is no way to blame the victims here. Even the effort at suggesting the Church should have had armed security is theologically reprehensible. The undeniable fact is that there’s still a tremendous problem with racism in America. That this horrifying terrorist attack could inspire even more racially motivated violence is even more evidence of our problem.

We can’t seem to escape racism in America

Why is that? Why is it that no matter how much we think we’ve overcome, we come right back to this familiar place? That is the question I explore in this sermon:

Message to the White House: Mr. President We Need You to Consider…

The outbreak of racial violence in recent years, culminating – to this point – in the massacre of nine people while studying the Word of the Lord at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC makes it clear that Black people in America haven’t gotten anything lasting from having a Black man in the White House. I’d imagine he’s feeling that now as well…as he’s winding down his tenure in the White House. And if it’s this bad while President Obama is still in office, imagine what things will be like in the White Backlash that always seems to follow anything White Society views as racial encroachments upon White superiority.

White House and RacismWe have six months before the full-on backlash. The GOP is chomping at the bit with 28 candidates and counting, determined to “take the Country back,” repelling the attacks on White superiority. That’s why we need to press the President to honor the Presidential History of Illinois (i.e. Abraham Lincoln) and move to establish the Confederate Flag as a flag of treason against the United States.

How is is possible that you can be both a Patriot and a Confederate?

How can you support secession and union? How can you celebrate the heritage of a people who tried to overthrow the Union and be supportive of the Union you wish had been overthrown?

It is impossible to be both.

If we really want the flag to come down, across the Nation, we better do it while a Black man is in the White House. Whether you are White or Black reading this: do you really believe that this issue will stand a chance of being addressed once a White man/woman retakes the White House in January 2016? Do you think Hilary Clinton will fight to have the flag come down across the Nation? Certainly, none on the GOP side would fight for that.

Yet so long as we accept the confederate flag and it’s accompanying culture, the Civil War is not over. The South can still rise again.

So long as there is a culture that glorifies treason, there is the potential for sons and daughters of the confederacy to take up the original cause. Maybe it’s a lone-wolf attack now. Maybe later it’s a coordinated attack. Would that be better?

With every incident of racial violence we’ve seen recently, attention has waned without much getting done. We’re left in a position of hoping the attention will last.

White House Stance on TreasonWe have a chance to end the Civil War once and for all: to compel America to confront the deep vestiges of White Supremacy that remain part of our Society. Taking down the Confederate Flag is not simply a singular act. It is a critical act because it is so polarizing. It is our diamond in coal: it looks like a simple, insignificant or meaningless act, but it contains great riches!

Do you think this is something @POTUS should consider. Let him know you understand the importance of this moment to the strength of our Nation.

David and Goliath: Will Racism Overthrow America?

Are you familiar with the biblical story of David and Goliath?

A towering giant had been taunting the entire army of the Israelites for 40 days, making them cower in fear. Along comes a shepherd boy. He decides to challenge the giant, but turns down the option to use armor and sophisticated weaponry. He preferred to use a sling.

David and Goliath in RacismDavid knocked Goliath unconscious with a stone from his sling. He then killed the giant and cut of his head. Having won victory, the rest of the Israelites were instantly encouraged and chased the Philistines, killing them all.

We see this story as a miracle. We tell it as a miracle. A small shepherd boy was able to defeat a champion fighter of the Philistine people. And, this shepherd boy defeated the giant with a sling and stone. How crazy is that?!

In our telling, David and Goliath has become a source of hope to the underdog. When the odds are stacked against us, we tend to turn to this story of triumph over adversity. Yet, is David really an underdog?

In preparation for his book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell recorded a TEDTalk trying to take a different perspective from the common underdog perspective. He saw the problem with this view, but overcompensated by making David a skilled warrior in his own right. He then tried to portray Goliath as slow and lumbering. Gladwell acknowledges that it doesn’t make sense to continue viewing this story as one of an underdog as we typically think. Yet, the biblical narrative is clear: David is a shepherd; Goliath is the champion of the Philistines.

There must be a better explanation for David and Goliath

Gladwell is right to move from the underdog narrative, because there is nothing miraculous about the story. Is it a miracle that someone went into battle, armed with the Spirit of the Lord and came out victorious? David was walking in the Spirit of the Lord: the miracle would have been if Goliath had somehow defeated David.

What we miss in our analogy of the underdog is perspective. When we champion an underdog story, it is usually with hopes of overcoming incredible odds bro our own purposes. We might want to get a promotion. We might hope to defeat an illness. We might be going against the best team in the league. We might be socially awkward, hoping to charm someone “out of our league.” Whether serious or trivial, they all miss the point of the story.

David wasn’t blessed by God so that he could be rewarded. He was blessed by God so that he could defeat the enemy of God. Goliath had mocked God, so he had to be defeated. All David did was present himself to be used by God.

This weekend, we’ve been reminded of our own David and Goliath story. #BlackLivesMatter and the recent racial terrorism of the massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC have shown us that the Goliath of racism is alive and well, taunting us.

There’s a message in the story of David and Goliath for our Society. And, it’s one I try to relay in this message:

The Confederate Flag and American Salvation

Watching the taping of The Daily Show from last night, I found myself inconsolable from sadness. I was crying for the state of our humanity and specifically for the human crisis in our Country. I found myself crying for America.

Despite my wrestling with this Country, this is the only Country I know. I didn’t choose my Country. That was chosen by God. And if God ordained that this should be my Country, then I am compelled to love my Country. And so I share this with love, in love and through love.

And that love is expressed by sorrow. My sorrow is for America. My sorrow is for Dylan Roof. My sorrow is for all the countless millions who think like him.

Charleston Confederate Shooting VictimsBut that same love is also expressed by joy. My joy for the life of the martyrs. My joy is for the life of Cynthia Hurd, for Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, for Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev. Bro. Clementa Pinckney, for Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sheronda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

My love is here expressed by joy because the grace of God has granted them worthy of being passion-bearers. They have been seen fit to enter that sacred tradition and history of Black people in this Country being killed for daring to worship the Lord and while in worship. The victims of this hateful and terrorizing attack join their ranks amongst those countless Black people from slavery through the present killed for praying or while praying. They truly bear witness to the Passion of Christ, having been killed while watching and praying over their souls. May you and I be found so worthy by God as to leave this life in a prayerful state!

This incident is part of a tradition of White terror at houses of worship and times of prayer. The bombing of Four Little Girls in Birmingham, Alabamba is probably the most notable instance. But that was not an isolated incident. It was a planned strategy.

White supremacists throughout American history often saw these churches as threats, making them prime targets for those who wanted to terrorize and maintain control of black communities and enforce slavery and segregation. 

Dr. Christina Greer laid it out on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: in the past few months Black people in America have been reminded that we can’t be in our homes, in our cars, in parks, on the street, or use the pool. Now, we’re being reminded that their violence and hatred isn’t even constrained by the Church. And that’s the terroristic goal.

This isn’t an AME thing.

Don’t get me wrong: my love goes out to the people of Emmanuel AME Church. Yet, this is no isolated incident. This may have happened in South Carolina, but we’ve seen that it can happen anywhere. The seed of hate is present everywhere in America. Dylan Roof didn’t care that this was an AME church. He cared that it was a Black Church that dared to give hope to those he believes hope is wasted on. His goal, as is the goal of these acts throughout America’s history, is to shake Black people from their Faith. His goal, and the goal of racialized terror, is to scare Black people into faithlessness.

We cannot allow that to happen. And so I have a hopeful joy for the families of those who died while in praise and for the entire family of believers in Jesus Christ. May their offering and sacrifice be lifted up and sanctified to the glory of God!

Some may debate the place of confederate flag in American Society

Confederate Flag SC CapitolThis incident has opened a discussion on taking down the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina State Capitol. And people are lining up on different sides.

Most Blacks see it as a sign of terrorism and treason. Terrorism against Black people and treason against the Country we love. Most Black people just want the flag to come down. They feel the flag bears responsibility for the hatred.

Many Whites see the confederate flag as heritage. They see it as representing the beauty of the antebellum South. Many of them will vehemently reject the idea that the flag or the culture are racist symbols.

I’ll concede this: all White people who embrace the confederate flag might not embrace racial violence. But, for some reason, it seems as if all White people who embrace racial violence also embrace the confederate flag.

The Confederate Flag is a Stumbling Block

Maybe it doesn’t cause you a problem. Maybe you’re immune to the vitriol. Maybe somehow you’ve compartmentalized the history of the confederacy such that you can celebrate the heritage and disavow the hate. Yet, you must at least concede that the confederate flag and confederate culture offer a narrative and an opportunity for growing the sin of hatred.

The ancient Fathers of the Church would say there are three stages of sin. They are listed in various ways, yet I will list them as temptation, deliberation and consent.

  • In temptation, a sinful act is suggested to your subconscious.
  • In deliberation, you begin to consider the sinful act that had been suggested to you.
  • In consent, you agree to act out the sinful act you’ve just considered.

confederate trainingConfederate culture certainly conforms to this trifold model. Confederate culture and everywhere the flag can be found, provide countless opportunities to encounter a tempting suggestion to racial violence. Some are so comfortable with having confederate symbols around that you can find them almost everywhere: in churches and adored by priests and pastors, on state capitols and flags, defended by prominent politicians, on cars, for sale as clothing…everywhere. Streets and buildings are names after confederate leaders. Some states even have holidays dedicated to the confederacy. And despite what heritage may exist, it still carries a stain that continuously suggests unloving acts that occasionally show up as heinous terrorism.

These unloving suggestions are made in an environment that makes space for their deliberation. Dylan Roof would make racist jokes regularly and told his friends he was planning some sort of massacre of Black people for months. Yet, we don’t get the sense that anyone close enough to him felt the need to stop him or loved him enough to intervene.

“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.”

John Mullins, high school student with Dylan Roof

And that’s confederate culture. It creates safe space for people to lay out their racist thoughts and get feedback from potential peers and mentors. It makes space for people to consider their sinful/racist thoughts out loud. Understanding that we become more comfortable with things when we can say them, confederate culture provides an environment where potential racists can become more comfortable with racist thoughts and ideas.

Confederate KKKOnce people have tested out their racist thoughts within the safety of confederate culture, they are emboldened to act. They want to be part of that history. They want to add to that history. They want to be celebrated as part of that history. And so they must do something that will stand out and set them apart from those who simply remember the “good ol’ days.”

Now, we have Dylan Roof consenting to the thoughts that he had been considering after they were suggested by the glorification of confederate culture. Because of his consent to those suggested thoughts: nine Americans are dead.

Confederate culture joins well with this model of sin and it ultimately prevents too many Whites from receiving their salvation. The culture has truly become a “stumbling block” in the Christian sense of the word.

Even paying homage to the confederate flag in history is questionable

Some people want to simply take down the confederate flag and display it in a museum. Even President Obama has called for confederate flags to be in museums. Yet, the only way memorializing the confederate flag can make sense is if that means fully telling the reality of confederate ideology for Black people.

Here’s some questions to bring this closer to home:

Does Germany pay homage to Nazism? I find it hard to imagine them holding reenactments of the holocaust. Can you imagine that?

Is the Nazi flag held in a favorable light? Are there any cities and states in Germany flying the flag officially? Is Nazism taught to German children as something to celebrate and honor? Are little Jewish children forced to draw pictures of Nazi flags because the flag flew over Germany at some time?

In fourth grade in Florida, my son was made to draw several iterations of the confederate flag. When I asked why, I was told it was because the flag flew over the state at one time.

Are there any churches in Germany flying the Nazi flag? Is there any German priest/pastor wearing a swastika on their belt buckle, or cap, or any other possession? There are churches with confederate flags in stained-glass windows. Other churches have confederate flags hanging in the sanctuary.

Is it popular to name German streets, public buildings, and businesses after Adolf Hitler or other Nazi leaders? The University of the South was founded to be the Harvard of the confederacy. Dormitories there are named after confederate generals. Countless streets throughout the South are named after confederate leaders. Communities and cities are named after plantations and called “plantation.” Could you imagine a new subdivision named “concentration cam hills?”

Does Germany separate Nazi Heritage from Nazi Hatred? Do we not admit Nazi heritage to be one of hatred? Don’t we consider hatred to be the heritage of Nazism?

It is the same for the confederate culture.

Is the propensity to sin worth the nostalgia? The confederate flag and confederate culture certainly creates an opportunity for hate to grow. Is holding onto that heritage worth it? Is the damage done to the soul of even one of your White sons and daughters worth your right to celebrate that heritage?

White American should Abandon the Confederate Flag!

It’s not Black people who are harmed by the flag. We are harmed by those who hold on to the racist sentiments of the confederate flag. It is White people who are harmed by the flag. Some of your sons and daughters who would otherwise grow up into the fulness of the Image of God are cast to the swine and thrown into the abyss because other Whites want to hold onto their right to celebrate confederate culture.

The Civil War ended long ago. But, is your love of confederate heritage so great that you are willing to continue sacrificing your sons and daughters on the battlefield of satan versus our God?

The confederate flag is a hindrance to the salvation of your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Abandon the flag and the confederate culture so that you might live.

Confederate Defeat & Black PerseveranceEmmanuel AME Church will live on. It has a long history in the struggle. There’s no reason to believe that will change. Black Americans have a long history of faithfulness in the face of terror and persecution.

The Goliath of racism has come out from among the Philistines that mock whatever noble aspirations exist for America. Are we like the Israelites who doubted the Power of the Spirit? Or, are we like David who didn’t care about his disadvantage because he knew he was covered by the Spirit of the Lord? Will we pray and work for a return to normalcy, allowing us to live like nothing is deathly wrong with our Society? Or will we stand up to the evil that is threatening to destroy us? Will we simply hold hands and sing songs of comfort? Or will we put on the full armor of God and go out to meet the beast?

Racism is a sin that is working to destroy us. And this giant beast is doing a phenomenal job mocking the Gospel. And unless we determine to uproot the culture that incubates hate and allows it to fester, we will forever be plagued by this violence and the Gospel would continue to be trampled on by those professing to love the Lord.

Taking Down the Confederate Flag is Not Enough

The removal of the flag everywhere in public life should be a given starting point. Taking the confederate flag out of churches should be a given starting point. There’s no way that displaying a swastika in any form would be considered as acceptable. So, there’s no way that displaying the stars & bars in any form is acceptable.

But beyond that, we must address the culture that makes apology for racial violence. We mustn’t be distracted by the fringe issues of mental health and guns, while ignoring the issue of unrepented racial sin. The original sin of America is still taunting us and preventing us from being the exceptional nation we claim to be. We must have the real conversation, for the sake of those who might otherwise meet destruction while thinking they’re being faithful to a noble cause and expressing their Southern Pride.