By: The Rev. Dr. Rodney W. Kennedy
While I was on vacation, the horror that unfolded at the University of Virginia, has stayed on my mind. I will not soon recover from the images of white people marching with torches, Nazi flags, and the Confederate flag in support of bigotry, hatred, and violence. I will not overcome the embarrassment that one of the leaders of this atrocity was a Louisianan named David Duke. I feel a deep need to make sure that you know that racism is an entrenched enemy that we never accept.
Racism is spreading – a gangrene on the conscience of America. Now it includes our treatment of Muslims, immigrants, the poor of all races, gays, and European socialists, especially if they are French. There’s a spooky quality about this mysterious time zone in which we are lost: Confederate soldiers, barefoot, starving, marching in ragged lines rise out of the fog. Long lines of shackled slaves cry out across the bloody landscape. Jim Crow keeps returning, dressed in different costumes and making different speeches but is still the same monster. The KKK rises and falls and rises again from the primordial muck of human hatred. After all, it hasn’t been quite a century since the KKK held one of its largest rallies at the fairgrounds in Dayton, Ohio, and at one time, had 400,000 members in Ohio (From research by William Trollinger, University of Dayton history professor).
Race is a virus artificially implanted in our civilization at the dawn of modernity, and it is so pernicious and so persistent that it shows back up in every generation in a different strain. Like a flu shot that can’t account for all the variations of the flu, there’s no one antidote that can eliminate racism. If we could ever overcome our fears, we could actually do something about racism as a church. We could become a multi-racial congregation, but our efforts would be stymied by those who would reassure us that African Americans have their own worship and white people have their own worship. It’s a flimsy excuse, but it makes American churches the most segregated institutions in the nation.
We admit that racists have gotten smarter, smoother, more sophisticated, and more dangerous. White supremacists and Nazis are grumbling and marching for “white rights” because these whiners want us to swallow the lie that they are being deprived and facing discrimination. Like conservative Christians, they even think they are being persecuted. Racism has a cartoonish but deadly serious caricature: his name is Jim Crow, and like a Zombie he is hard to kill. If ever there was an illegal alien in this country, his name is Jim Crow. He should be deported to hell! Maybe we could get the cops from the movie “Men in Black” to send Jim Crow to alien hell.
Will Campbell said we would make no progress on race until we realized it was a theological problem. Campbell believed the race problem had more to do with the universality of human sinfulness and the sovereignty of God than with the secular politics of the day. Will thought the integrationists and segregationists needed repentance. Well, I think Will would have delighted in J. Cameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account. Carter argues that it was the Christian mistreatment of the Jews that created the metaphorical construct called race. Christian theology became anti-Semitic and biologized itself so as to racialize itself. This gave birth to the notion of white supremacy. As a result, Christianity became the cultural property of the West, the religious ground of white supremacy, and global control by colonialism, empire-building, slavery, genocide, and discrimination. A host of demons followed in the white wake and don’t forget the missionaries blessing the entire evil system. In short, Christianity and colonialism became the Siamese twins of racism. This is how the Great Commission of Matthew 28 became the biblical mandate to spread racism around the globe in the disguise of missionary work. The so-called race problem is a theological problem involving us.
As Christians with theological memories we know what to do: confession, repentance, and reconciliation. This is Theology 101. It doesn’t get any more basic than this. We need to go on asking African-Americans for forgiveness and go on repenting of the unacceptable presence of racism in our nation.