The racist massacre in Charleston, South Carolina this past week highlights our need as a nation to overcome white supremacy with solidarity. African American Pastor David Greenidge of Tigard Covenant Church in Tigard, Oregon shared with me Saturday that the media has drawn significant attention to the horror of white supremacy and its victims in this tragedy, but more needs to be said about the need for solidarity in our communities across the nation.
We will only be able to move forward as we move beyond “mine” and “yours” to “ours.” Whether or not we realize it, something in each of us as Americans died with these African American victims. We who are white Americans need to come to the point of believing that when a white person shoots African Americans, one is shooting at us, too; we must stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. Moreover, we need to cultivate the kind of relational infrastructure that helps us move forward together rather than apart from one another whenever such tragedies occur.
African American Pastor Clifford Chappell of St. Johns All Nations Church of God in Christ in Portland, Oregon shared with me Sunday morning that it is time for us as Americans to live into our creed as one nation under God. The same goes for the Christian church and for other communities of faith. White Americans such as myself should reach out in person and over the phone and in writing to their African American associates and friends to express their grief and sense of solidarity. We need to find ways to share life with African Americans in our communities, town, and cities. Here are some additional examples of how to connect:
Pray together. My pastor, an African American, Phil Berlin led us in a time of prayer yesterday morning in church that helped us lift our hearts to God over these recent racist slayings.
Share life and meals together as friends and colleagues. The leadership team of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins that I direct at Multnomah University is made up of leaders of diverse ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans. Several of us met together this weekend for an annual retreat; the tragedy in Charleston was on our minds and in our prayers and conversations and strategic planning initiatives throughout our time together.
Live and die together. We who are white Americans need to come to the point of seeing that our very existence is bound up with our African American brothers and sisters, and that we cannot and must not pull out from their stories when the going gets tough. We have the luxury as white Americans of putting our best foot forward when it is convenient for us, and pulling it back as soon as the heat is on. Pray that God makes it impossible for us to pull out, but rather that we press in intentionally and relationally with our African American friends for the long haul. We need to take to heart their pain and suffering and share in their struggle. With this in mind, we need to do serious soul searching and address their questions with blood, sweat, and tears: “It is an American atrocity to think that we have to relive the pain of Selma today in the year 2015. Was hatred so deep and alive in that young man that he couldn’t witness God in any of the victims’ faces? Where are we as a nation?” (Gloria Young, African American friend and leader in the San Francisco Bay Area) Their struggle must become our struggle. Jon Stewart is one white American who engaged in such honest soul searching recently on The Daily Show (Refer to this link for the video of his remarks embedded in a New York Times article on the subject of his reflections).
All of us can learn a great deal from the profound and moving responses of the family members who grieved the tragic loss of their loved ones in Charleston. Though marked by generation after generation of suffering the horrors of racism, they are resilient. Even though colonizing white forces stole their ancestors from African soil to slave away on American soil, even though they still suffer inequities in our society, and even though their enemy stole their loved ones’ lives after he received their hospitality at the Bible study in their church, their love expressed through forgiveness overcame the white murderers’ hate. May it also overcome our white indifference. May their extreme sorrow become our sorrow and may their radical love become our love so that we no longer live out the horrors of white privilege, fear, prejudice, and isolation.