#BlackLivesMatter and The Legacy of Slavery

Much of what the “Black Lives Matter” movement is doing makes us uncomfortable, particularly those of us who are white. This is as it should be. If we’re comfortable where we are “at”, we won’t move, we won’t improve, we won’t change. If the injustices that exist are to be righted, we must be made uncomfortable. We must be made to see those things which are invisible to us because they’ve “always been that way” – working well for us, and so we ignore them or are unaware that they operate in our favor: that’s the very definition of “structural racism.” Yet, these same structural prejudices that are so deeply intertwined within our society and legal system do not work so favorably for others.

The first slaves arrive in Massachusetts on board the Desire, December 12, 1638.
The first slaves arrive in Massachusetts on board the Desire, December 12, 1638.

We often forget that slavery was everywhere in the US until the early 1800’s, and it was no prettier in Massachusetts, New York, or New Hampshire than it was in Texas, Delaware, or Virginia.

Some of the best known Blacks in U.S. History – such as Sojourner Truth, William Still, and Lucy Terry Prince – were born into slavery in the North, or were transported here as slaves from Africa.  Many of our most famous native sons here in New England (such as John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) sanctioned slavery.  Many of the wealthiest families of New England and New York in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries built their fortunes upon the slave trade.  And, we forget that slavery was very much present in places like Massachusetts for over 150 years.  In fact, with the sole exception of Vermont, slavery was not abolished in any Northern State until after the American Revolution, and was not fully abolished from all Northern States until 1865.

Another aspect of oppressive systems, such as slavery – and like any institution or behavior deeply embedded in any society or organization – is that its effects persist long after people even remember that it was there. You see this in how some churches keep on “chewing up” new Ministers, in how corruption keeps on toppling one political figure after another in certain communities, or in why we here in America drive on the right hand side of the road, or why we set the table with the fork on the left.

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Civil Disobedience and Gay Marriage?

shutterstock_124493413Todd Starnes, host of Fox News & Commentary on Fox radio, recently posted an article that supports a pledge recently signed by many Religious leaders, in which they commit to rising up with acts of “Civil Disobedience” to highlight their opposition to Gay Marriage.

I am puzzled by this: how could “Civil Disobedience” be exercised here? “Civil Disobedience” is the act of deliberately, nonviolently and publicly transgressing a law that prohibits you from exercising rights that others can exercise without a second thought – highlighting the inconsistencies inherent in allowing some people a right that is denied to others.  Further, such disobedience is done from a position of powerlessness and humility, allowing the “illegal” act you perform to speak for itself through confronting others with the pain and injustice you personally experience because of that unjust law. The point is never to directly hurt the other, but rather to force them to see the injustice they are participating-in or allowing to happen (and therefore are complicit in inflicting upon you).

Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to widen the legal definition of marriage, so that anyone can marry the person whom they love.  We all know and acknowledge this will be hard to accept for some.  I think it is right and proper – and compassionate – to be cognizant and understanding of this, even though we do not share their opinion, and are not called to set aside our own expanded sense of what is just and right for the purpose of alleviating that discomfort.

But, what law could those (who oppose such a change) disobey to show how their own liberties are being unjustly limited in this case?  Refusing to serve another because they are married to someone of the same sex doesn’t do it – the only person you’d be hurting is yourself (and perhaps those who depend on you) through the resulting loss of income.

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Sermon: Making Room

…when we walk out of this church, the question of whether we are going to face the issue of racism and race-based injustice is a choice we can make, because we are all white. And, unlike our black brethren, we can choose to forget about it. … King said “the time is always ripe to do right.” And so I say “yes, the time is always ripe; but are we willing to do right all the time?”

martin_luther_king_cover.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoMy self-image as a strong supporter of Civil Rights crashed in ruin one Sunday morning, in the Spring of 1996. At the time, I was a member of an African American church in Virginia, and their sound technician. (…But please don’t tell our worship team that!) That morning, as I was setting up, a young woman, maybe 16 years of age, came in with her friends, and sat down in front of me and my sound board. She then leaned forward in her chair, so that I could not miss what was printed on the back of her orange t-shirt in big block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL”.

I must apologize for even hinting at such language here. But it is important for this morning’s message to give you a good sense of what that moment was like.

Obviously, this is not one of my lighter sermons. So, let’s take a moment to pray…

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The Tale of Injustice

Back in the mid 1990’s I worked for a well known conservative Christian organization.  All employees of that organization were periodically required to spend a day ministering to those in need, in various ways.  My role in one of those efforts was to be part of a crew that distributed food to those in need.

One of the people that I encountered that day, a very slightly built black woman, lived several blocks away from the place where we were handing out our boxes of food.  The box I gave her was very heavy, so I offered to help her carry it back to her home.  She gratefully accepted.  She said it was only a block or two, so I didn’t worry about telling anyone what I was doing, since I figured I’d be back in just a few minutes.

We chatted as we walked along, she was quite an interesting person – but as we went on, I steadily became more and more nervous,  Here I was, getting further and further away from my team, several blocks, in fact, in the middle of a one of the worst neighborhoods in the Tidewater region of Virginia.  I was the only white anywhere in sight, and a red head at that!  I knew that no one would be looking out for me when it was time to pack up and head back.  So, I was likely to be stranded if I didn’t get back soon.  I felt conspicuous, I felt alone, and I was afraid.

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