(click below to hear audio of the sermon)
When I was in Australia recently, I was taken aback once again at how they start meetings there. I had forgotten that when there is a large gathering of people in Australia, it is a common practice to begin, not with their pledge of allegiance or their national anthem, but with what’s called, an acknowledgement of country.
A leader addresses the gathered people by saying “I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the (for instance, Ngarro) people, and pay my respect to their elders both past and present.”
When I first encountered this, I thought it was amazing and maybe something just the women’s group I was about to address had decided to do – but when I spoke to some Australians afterward, I learned that no, this was a common practice in Australia and I told them that I literally could not imagine this happening with any regularity in America. They asked why – and after a moment of thought, I said “because our countries started out differently – like you know how that joke goes – You know why America got the Puritans and Australians got the convicts – because Australia had first pick” In other words, the difference is that our country started with the doctrine of manifest destiny, the doctrine of discovery and the belief that slavery was God’s will. In other words, this country I love and which has given me (as a White Christian) so much protection and opportunity and education and wealth – was able to do so because of the belief that God has ordained Christian White people to claim as our own any land we so-called “discovered”. If Native people (who were brown and not Christian) were already here for thousands of years when Christian white people arrived, God wanted the White Christians to own the land. And this country I love and which has given me (as a White Christian) so much protection and opportunity and education and wealth – was also able to do so because of the belief that God had ordained Christian White people to sail to the shores of other countries and steal black human bodies. The belief that slavery was not a sin and was not only morally reprehensible it was taught as a Christian idea – slave-masters quoted scripture at their slaves to prove to them that the institution of slavery was the will of God. So why is it possible for Australians to acknowledge whose land they are on – to give honor to the elders of that land past and present? Because while they have their own problematic history around immigration and race relations, their country was not established with Christian doctrines of white supremacy.
Now, some of us were raised in homes in which racism was overtly condemned and some were raised in homes where racism was overtly condoned.
Dick and Peggy spoke often about the sin of racism. I was raised to believe that all human beings are equal in the eyes of God. But my daughter was raised to believe that her body is perfect and she is powerful and yet every time she turns on the TV and every time she looks at a magazine or walks out the front door she is bombarded with messages otherwise. So while I believe racism is wrong – and while I was taught that all people are equal in the eyes of God, the society in which I was raised bombards me with messages otherwise: and those messages are that I am superior by accident of birth. And since it feels super easy to just point our outraged fingers at the overtly racist groups like the ones who marched yesterday in Charlotesville, perhaps church should be a place where we dig deeper than that.
So, since the only leadership I know how to undertake is a form of leadership I call, “screw it, I’ll go first” – Here are 3 examples of how I’ve benefitted from white supremacy :
- African americans and whites use drugs at the same rate and yet the incarceration rate for African Americans for drug related crimes is 6x that of whites. As a former drug user – if I were black I’d be 6x more likely to have been arrested and thrown in prison, and yet not 6x more likely to have broken the law. Slavery was a cash cow for white folks as are private prisons today.
That is white supremacy.
- Redlining was a common practice a generation ago where African Americans could not get loans to buy homes. As a white person I am significantly more likely to have parents and grandparents who owned their own homes – which means I am more likely to inherit money – which means I am more likely to own a home which means my children are more likely to inherit money.
This is White Supremacy.
- When I see a police officer I assume they are there to serve and protect me. When my black friends see a police officer they assume they are there to harm them.
This is white Supremacy and I condemn it and yet I have benefitted from it every day of my life in ways that society tries to keep hidden from me so that I can keep believing that I deserve the life I have and so does everyone else – good or bad
This is white supremacy and I have benefitted from it every day of my life even though I smile at black folks,
and even though I have never worn a swastika
and even though I have never marched holding a tiki torch
and even though I never owned slaves
and even though my parents taught me that everyone is equal in the eyes of God.
Not only that, but the roots of White Supremacy took hold in this country through the mis-use of the Bible and in the name of a religion I am a representative of.
And what do I do with that? How do I fight against something I hate and yet which has loved me back my whole life?
Because let’s be honest – white guilt does nothing. White guilt makes us look for exoneration. White guilt leads to changes of only optics in which people of color are the object and not the subject. Once again. White guilt leads to me trying to figure out how to relieve my white guilt and once again it’s all about me. So let’s let White Guilt go. It doesn’t work.
And yet I believe that it is the will of God that as the Prophet Amos wrote – that justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never ending stream. And I believe that Jesus desires his name be associated only with love and mercy and justice and kindness….and I believe the Lord has sent us out in these waters
But I just don’t think I can trust myself to navigate this storm.
Like the disciples, we are in a small boat in a stormy sea and I hope to God that figure I see on the horizon is Jesus and not a Ghost.
And the reason I hope it is Jesus is because it is in his name that Christians must speak and act to name and dismantle that which was demonically established in his same name.
So I know it’s stormy right now, but let’s take a minute and look at this Gospel reading for today.
Jesus sends the disciples out in a boat and then there is a terrible storm and the wind is against them and they are scared. I don’t think the failure of the disciples was that they found a storm at sea to be terrifying because that shit is scary. I think their failure was not unlike ours: they didn’t trust that God would make it possible for them to do what was asked of them….meaning Jesus was the one who sent them in that boat – he wasn’t going to send them out just to sit by and let them drown. If he sent them he would shield them – not from danger but from failure.
It’s stormy and we are scared and Jesus walks toward us saying Take heart, I am here, do not be afraid.
So people of God, I believe that Jesus sends us out in these little boats of ours to be agents of justice and love and reconciliation and mercy. But he does not send you out on perilous waters and not also provide you with what is needed to do his work.
This isn’t a test of faith.
Because reaching for God and saying Lord save us – that IS faith. Like, that’s on a basic level, what it means to be in right relationship to God – knowing that God is God and we are they who are in need of God. And if we are not in need of God when it comes to racial justice in America then where are we?
In all these years of showing up at marches and trying to root out the sin of racism in my own heart and attempting to call a thing what it is when it comes to white supremacy, it feels like trying to do the impossible – it feels like walking on water and only drowning and in all these years I must confess this: I don’t know that I have just called on the name of God. So here today I say this, Lord save me.
Let us pray,
God whose name was called upon by Moses and Miriam and Martin Luther King Jr and Sojourner Truth,
God whose name has been used to enslave those who bear your image, God whose name has been used to steal this land and kill those who bear your image,
God who came to us as the Prince of Peace, God who raised up poets to speak truth to power and prophets to speak truth to stupid,
We call on your name to bring your fierce mercy upon us and remove our complacency and our complicity.
We call on your name to heal. We are drowning Lord. And yet we believe that the true name of God is stronger than what has been done in God’s name. So we call on you. Come to us in the storm.
Lord save us. Amen.