Dear White Christians,
We have failed Jesus Christ.
Part of this White Christian was tempted to post a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote and call it a day. Then, I realized that I was tempted to do what legions of White Christians do every day, quickly absolve myself of further responsibility. Not today, Satan…
We as White Christians have modeled our reality on Pontius Pilate. As a governing representative of the Roman state, Pilate did exhibit some mild reluctance at sentencing an obviously innocent Jesus to death. After offering the crowd the opportunity to release Jesus, Barrabas was selected instead by the crowd. Pontius then declares in Matthew 27: 24, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” To review, the man that is literally sending Jesus to his bloody, tortuous death is saying that there is nothing else he could have done.
Is there nothing else we could have done for George Floyd? Amaud Arbery? Breonna Taylor? Tamir Rice? Sandra Brown? Oscar Grant? Philando Castille? Trayvon Martin? Countless others?
We could have looked to Jesus.
Jesus stood truth to power EVERY SINGLE TIME. He had a special way of eviscerating the Pharisees and smug religious types who somehow felt they could use the Law to their advantage in the ongoing exclusion of everyone else. When the Pharisee asked whom was his neighbor in Luke 10: 29, he is essentially asking Jesus to give some boundaries around who can be the recipient of God’s love. Surprise, surprise…not only does Jesus not take the bait but he eviscerates 1st century propriety by talking about the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans, to be blunt, were essentially considered Jewish half-breeds who were reviled by mainstream Jewish society. It is challenging to find a Samaritan equivalent in a modern context but it would be someone like a brown transgendered woman from a “shithole” country. This parable has been reduced time and time again to a be kind to others adage; when in reality it was a provocative testament to the fact that Jesus felt the most oppressed and marginalized populations in society were the actual harbingers of God’s truth.
The Franklin Grahams and other mega-church pastors model their reality on the Pharisees. Blinded by the prosperity gospel and the access to power, they openly endorsed Donald Trump in the name of Christianity. Their blatant hypocrisy might be laughable if they hadn’t proved such capable foot soldiers in Trump’s desecration of basic human empathy. Joel Osteen kept his Lakewood Church’s doors closed when desperate Hurricane Harvey evacuees needed shelter in his own city. Jesus wasn’t subtle in his subtle in his condemnations, “Woe to you who are rich, you have received your consolation…woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6: 24-25). Conversely when Jesus says , “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6: 20) it isn’t some cute Hallmark card masquerading as a Jesus platitude. It means that Jesus intimately knows and came to reveal that the oppressed, the people of color, the dispossessed, the uninsured and unemployed, and the marginalized are all the people of God.
Lest you think my own faith tradition gets a pass, I will also express my righteous anger at those in Catholic leadership. On May 29, The USCCB did publish statement in the wake of the death of George Floyd. There were even some palatable words in that critique of racism,
Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.
However, this is from the same group of Bishops who attended an April 25 conference call with Donald Trump. The purpose of the call was supposedly to advocate for Catholic schools in light of COVID-19. Perhaps, that would have been believable in Cardinal Timothy Dolan hadn’t made an appearance on Fox & Friends in the following days praising the president. Meanwhile, most of the Catholic media landscape blandly twiddled their thumbs at these events, not bothering to raise the ethical questions involved.
For all the White Christians who claim they don’t want to get into “partisan” politics, there are many topics that are not inherently partisan. Racist insults: Donald Trump frequently critiques and debases African-Americans, specifically women, as being “low intelligence.” Sexual Assault: Donald Trump came to office having been publicly taped bragging about sexual assault and having had multiple credible accusations of assault against him. Child Abuse: Donald’s Trump administration is so xenophobic that their policies placed children in cages, and in some cases tore breastfeeding infants away from their mothers. Inciting violence: “looters and shooters” leaves nothing to the imagination. These are not partisan issues, they are symptoms of moral depravity. Constantly excusing them is a sign of profound moral weakness.
White Christians, what preeminent title will you choose? Christian? White? Being an actual follower of Jesus, isn’t glamorous or even particularly safe. Jesus’ own crucifixion and the countless experiences of a myriad of Christian martyrs who followed him to the point of death should alleviate us of any illusions otherwise.
We, as White Christians, have rarely used our words to echo the teaching of Jesus since the point enslaved Africans arrived on the shore of this land. White Christians will only earn the right to again speak when we fully align ourselves in solidarity with our brother and sisters of color, and in doing so align ourselves with “the way, the truth and the life” of Jesus Christ.
We need to devote our hearts, our thoughts and our actions to detangling the systemic tentacles of racism, America’s original sin. If not, we will pay for our sins, if not in this life, then in the next.
-Janelle Peregoy, 6/02/20