From the Heart

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Matthew 15: 10-20

Transcript

Victors write the history books. To my knowledge this is true with one notable exception. The Confederate States of America lost the Civil War, and yet their Generals stand erect as statues and the Stars and Bars fly with impunity. Why is this? Why is the Antebellum South, also known as the Plantation Era, romanticized even though it was a time and place of extreme human cruelty? How is it, in the worlds of James Baldwin, that “We’ve made a legend out of a massacre”?[1]

It appears to me, these statues and that flag is a point of pride because the Confederacy, while defeated, and slavery, while abolished, contained the spirit of the day. In philosophy and literature, the term is zeitgeist, and it is the dominant set of ideals and beliefs that motivate the actions of the members of a society in a particular period in time. The spirit of the day behind systemic racism; the zeitgeist at the foundation of succession is the ideology of white supremacy.

Please allow me to define the term: white supremacy. It is the ideology of racial bigotry directed toward people of color. It is a system of belief whereby God ordained and created white people with superiority, and thereby, white people are responsible to rule over all other races. Whether or not white supremacy is evil is a subjective judgment; however, white supremacy is objectively anti-Christ. Jesus was a person of color who taught us to love and to serve our neighbors, even neighbors of different ethnicities. Christianity has long promoted the doctrine of imago dei, which says all human beings are made in the image of God. The ideology of white supremacy cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of imago dei. It cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, a person can be a white supremacist, and a person can be a Christian. What a person cannot be is a “Christian white supremacist.”

So, despite having fought a war over the enslavement of black people, the superiority of white men continued to rule in both the north and the south. Upon Reconstruction’s failure, slavery took the new form of sharecropping, and soon thereafter Jim Crow moved to town. Once white supremacy adapted to life without slavery, monuments were erected to tell of its glorious past.

It is significant to note the reasons why human beings build statues in the first place. From an anthropological standpoint, our modern cultures build statues much like our ancient cultures built idols. These public works of art are not tools of history as much as they are reminders to cultural identity. Like idols, we look upon statues and they call to us. They elicit us to follow in their example.

Therefore, I ask, what imitation does a treasonous, defeated Generals of the Confederacy speak? So too, what imitation do the flags of the Confederacy evoke? They call forth a specific response.

In my opinion, when we appeal to these vestiges of the Confederacy, and say as our President Donald Trump said this week, that their history and culture is “beautiful,” we are either 1) mourning the passing of, or 2) conjoining of return of the zeitgeist of our nation’s past.

By any objective measure, these statues and that flag do not tell the story of a defeat in the Civil War. They do not speak of the evils of slavery. Instead, they make a “legend out of a massacre.” They honor and serve the god of white supremacy.

In the case of the Confederacy the losers wrote the history, but now white supremacy is finding a more difficult enemy in the 21st century multicultural America, where more than 50% of children are people of color. The zeitgeist of our nation’s past is being replaced, but it is not going down without a fight.

My hope is that we will remember history. It’ll be studied far and wide. It will include monuments and memorials and museums. But how our history will be written, in my opinion, must be more akin to the way Germany and Jewish people across the globe remember Nazism. Let us remember the sins of white supremacy, and say never again.

So, what can we do? What can you do?

We can listen deeply. Listen to those who know tell the story of our nation’s past from the perspective of the oppressed. Then examine our hearts, and be open to change.

[I’ll get to how this applies to our selected scripture in just a moment, but first a few more terms to define and a personal confession.]

Christianity identifies the personal sin known within the ideology of white supremacy as racial bigotry. Bigotry in general is to practice intolerance, even hatred toward someone who is different than you. Therefore, racial bigotry is to be intolerant, even violent toward someone of a different skin color than you.

Racism is societal systems and structures of white supremacy constructed and supported wherever racial bigotry retains power. Power is the key term. The civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael illustrated this perfectly when he said, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”[2]

In the context of our country, being a “racist” then is to practice explicit or implicit support of racism. Again, racism is the white supremacist systems and structures existent within culture, politics, and economy. There are people of color who practice racial bigotry, but don’t get me wrong. There is no such thing as “reverse racism,” because racism is about power. In our context, white supremacy has always held the power.

Now a personal confession: as a result of the time and place of my existence in human history, the bigotry I have learned is mostly racial bigotry. Much like an addict, I am a recovering racist. Explicit thoughts of racial bigotry have entered my mind, and I have had to learn to capture these thoughts, process these thoughts, and repent of these thoughts. And I confess, I have and continue to participate in implicit support of racism.

My friends, it pains that in our economy the average wealth for white families is seven times higher than the average wealth of black families. This disparity exists for a reason. How would my family have fared in an agrarian economy if owning land was prohibited? What would your education have been like if your family could only purchase a home in the neighborhood with the least funded schools? And how would you feel if your grandmother’s house, and the equity and sentimental value of which your parents had planned to inherit, was bulldozed along with a big swath right in the middle of the historic African American neighborhood to make way for Interstate 235? These are not excuses. They are history, and the way I’m telling it is an attempt to inspire empathy.

White supremacy is evil. It is sin. Racism was wrong when its systems and structures included slavery, and it is wrong when its systems and structures includes economic disparity. And specific to this week, in rebuke of my President, honoring the history and culture of people who fought a war to preserve slavery by calling it “beautiful” is wrong. It is sin.

The great New Testament ethicist of the last century, Stanley Hauerwas (albeit his conclusions are often more conservative than my own) concerning our text this morning, Matthew 15:10-20, writes: “Jesus is no diplomat when he deals with hypocrites.”[3]

The Pharisees are highly influential people. They are respected by the populace, they are good religious leaders in the community, and Jesus has just spoken against them. The disciples are concerned that Jesus has gone too far. He has shamed, even insulted the influential rather than reach out to them; therefore, the disciples attempt to reign him in.

“Do you know that the Pharisees took offense to what you said?”

“Let them alone,” Jesus replies, but this does not carry a positive connotation. Rather, this is more akin to what Jesus says earlier in Matthew: “Don’t waste your pearls on swine.”[4] I paraphrase Jesus’ response to the concerns of the disciples as: “They’ve heard what I have to say, leave them alone. The people will see them for who they are, and they will destroy themselves.”

Then Jesus provides his definition of profanity, and it is not cursing. “Evil thoughts,” he says, come from the heart, and here are some examples of the actions that stem from evil thoughts: murder, adultery and sexual sins, thefts, lying, and slandering, which is to speak false, defamatory statements.

In Psalm 19, we’re taught to pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”[5]

My friends, I ask you to examine the condition of your hearts.

And because our hearts are often unknown to ourselves, I invite you to investigate your thoughts. Are you filled with anger—with murderous rage? Do your thoughts wander toward adultery or treating another human being as a mere sexual object? Have you been considering how to get ahead by cutting corners or taking what you have not earned? Is lying becoming second nature to telling the truth? Are you considering how best to disparage the character of another, maybe you’re quick to assign misrepresented intent to someone’s actions?

Or are you and me alike? Have you learned racial bigotry like I have?

As the old adage goes: yes, the church is full of hypocrites. We’re hypocrites confessing our hypocrisy; praying for transformation.

My friends, I would say the same thing to the President of the United States as I say to you this morning, to those who are like me and Donald Trump struggling with profanity, with “evil thoughts” from the heart, there is good news!

In the word of 1 John, “If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[6]

Beyond wherever the Spirit of God might be prompting transformation from any personal profanity, I invite you to consider confession from the profane history and culture of white supremacy upon which our country was founded, and within which systems and structures of racism exist still today.

Let us listen and understand, what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and it is defiles a person.

“O Lord, we confess evil thoughts, and the actions from which they stem. Forgive us. Cleanse us. Transform us. Make us into Christ’s reconciling agents in this world. For through Christ, we pray. Amen.”

 

[1] James Baldwin. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings. pg. 92.

[2] This is a rather popular quote of Stokely Carmichael, who later changed his name to Kwame Ture. He continues the thought by saying, “Racism gets its power from capitalism. Thus, if you’re anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.”

[3] Stanley Hauerwas. Matthew. (Brazos, 2006) pg. 142.

[4] Matthew 7:6

[5] Psalm 19:14

[6] 1 John 1:9