As a teenager I learned that integrity is how we behave when no one is watching. Lately, I have come to realize that integrity is also how we behave when everyone is watching. When the whole world looks upon you, what will they see?
The intersection of racism and Christianity is well traveled in America. From the earliest days of our nation, Christians have sewn a legacy of racism. It was Christians who took the book of Exodus out of Bibles given to slaves. It was Christians who bought and sold these human beings as if they were no more than a table or a cart. The violent legacy of America is intertwined with the history of our faith. America has been indelibly shaped by the cultural forces of Christianity and Christians have been no strangers in government. In fact, an overwhelming majority of elected officials in our nation profess to be Christian, even as our nation becomes more and more diverse. America is a nation that has been heavily shaped by Christian influences, so when we see the racism of our nation we need to recognize that this is also the racism of the church staring back at us.
Church in America has always been racist. Sundays mornings are among the more segregated hours of the week everywhere. Even in churches that consider themselves diverse, most of the leadership and power, formal or informal, often lies in the hands of white members. Many of my white Christian friends have often said to me, “well Black people only go to church with Black people.” While this statement may appear to be a kernel of truth, it actually obscures some radically necessary honesty. There was a time when Black people went to church with white people and we were abused, disrespected, lied to, and cast out. A hard truth is that whiteness is dangerous to black lives and because white people sought to enforce segregation, even in faith, the church became one of the few places that was safe for Black people to gather. A place where we could plan, teach, share, and revel in the joy of our community. It was the one place where whiteness does not always cast its shadow over us. This is not the same as simply choosing to be separate.
There is more than one Christianity in America. I do not profess to share the faith of white Americans and white supremacists who act in ways that are contrary to my understanding of the Gospel. It is not possible that we know the same Jesus; not if one believes that our actions are a reflection of our belief.
At the same time that Christians were putting their lives and bodies on the line for the sake of freedom from oppression and tyranny, another group of Christians were bombing Black churches and the houses of Black leaders. If our works are the evidence of our faith then their faith is in violence and intimidation.
Similarly today, our actions denote our true beliefs. We would like to believe that there is a clear line between mainstream Christianity and white supremacy. The truth is that a great many white supremacists are radicalized in mainstream protestant churches. If one party bills itself as a Christian party, and their policies hold up oppression and white supremacy, one can only infer that they learned these values in the church. If a politician who is known as a good Christian promotes policies that produce racist outcomes and disadvantage, most people would infer that these policies must be Christian. The sad truth is that Christianity has been synonymous with white supremacy for a very long time and it seems that the church is just barely beginning to realize this reality. When white supremacy is the status quo, it does not require your intent. Well meaning white people everywhere, in churches and beyond participate in the banal mechanisms of white supremacy as a matter of daily practice.
If you want to be different, you must live differently. These days, being an anti-racist is less polarizing than ever before. While this may sound like progress on the surface, in reality it creates an environment where superficial platitudes pass for change. When this happens it changes nothing for Black people. If you want to know how to live in a world where white supremacists share the same faith as you, the answer lies in your actions. If you truly believe that your faith is different from theirs, then people should be able to tell the difference in your living. If you find that people cannot tell the difference between you and those you despise, consider what you have in common. This extends to institutions as well. If the mainline church were anti-racist then it would be reflected in their power structures and long held systems. If you want to know what you are, simply look at what you do.
I believe in the God of Love, the God of Liberation, and the God of the Oppressed. The basis of my faith extends from the Biblical example of a God that continually chooses to intercede on behalf of the oppressed. I do not claim to have the same faith as white supremacy because I do not. Your faith is not what you say it is, but how you live it out. What you do is who you are. So, who are you?
Pastor Malachi is a licensed local pastor in the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was born and raised in Bennettsville, South Carolina but he currently resides in Minneapolis. He attended undergrad at Francis Marion University and seminary at Candler School of Theology. Malachi is currently the pastor of North United Methodist Church (4350 Fremont Ave N.) He has a passion for people and justice. Pastor Malachi is also an author, poet and spoken word artist whose work often includes themes surrounding justice and/or mental health.