Are We In This Together Or Not? The Church and the Gaping Hole Called Racism

18 07 2013

As I am still trying to think and process the events from the Zimmerman verdict this past Saturday, I keep reflecting on Sunday.

Sunday morning I went to the church I have been attending for the past two months, First A.M.E. Church in Pasadena. Although I was going primarily to worship God, I knew that they would address the injustice that had just taken place, and I knew that it would be a good place to process the myriad of emotions I was feeling in the midst of a community of brothers and sisters. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. Right after the Call to Worship, we all stood and sang “We Shall Overcome” while holding hands. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief that here we are in 2013, and we still have a need to sing this song. We have a long way to go indeed…

The minister then prayed a special prayer for everyone involved in the case. Later, there was a special altar call to address injustice, and the pastor took a few moments just to encourage the congregation to hold on and “not grow weary in well doing” in the midst of the disappointment that the not guilty verdict had brought. After the service, they had a Q&A session where people were given an opportunity to voice their frustrations and to follow them up with specific action items that we can adopt as a community to help try and make things better. In this moment, I was happy to be back in the black church. It was a reminder for me that this institution has been fighting for social justice issues since its inception, and it has continued to do so even as I wandered away from it that past few years. But let me tell you about the rest of my Sunday…

I left the Q&A session feeling excited about the definitive avenues to get involved. A friend of mine was preaching at a church in Culver City, so I headed down there to hear him speak. A small church plant that meets in the park, I was the only African American person in the group, but my friend, a white male came over, gave me a hug and introduced me to his friends. One of the first questions he asked me was how was I doing in light of the events that had happened over the weekend. I was able to share my frustrations with him regarding the Zimmerman verdict as well as another tragedy that happened over the weekend, the death of one of my favorite actors, Cory Monteith from Glee. With that simple act of concern and sharing, I felt completely at home with this group of white brothers and sisters in Christ. And even though they did not call Trayvon’s name as they did in the previous service I had attended, they did pray for justice, for peace, and for love.

I bring up these stories because I know that there were some churches who did not even mention what happened with Trayvon Martin during their services at all this weekend. There were some churches who did not even know who Trayvon Martin was, that he died, and that there was a major trial that has been happening for the past few weeks. Are black people the only ones mourning this among the body of Christ? This should not be. If we’re truly going to be a united church, we cannot mourn alone.

As I reflect on the possibilities of racial reconciliation within the church, I see more and more the disparities that exist when it comes to tackling topics like Trayvon Martin. Whether congregations avoided the topic because it was controversial or out of ignorance, churches seeking true diversity and racial healing cannot afford to use either as an excuse because doing so can alienate the very groups the church is trying to include. I know of several African Americans who either “took the day off” from their white congregations this past Sunday, or were deeply pained by the lack of mention of a case that has so many implications for the lives of African Americans, and African American men in particular. Not allowing these people the space to process events like the Trayvon case in a community of believers can easily create distance and discord even among a diverse congregation.

I understand that there are varying opinions about this particular case. However, as believers we are called to love one another and share one another’s burdens. Therefore, at the very least, compassion needs to be a standard within the body of Christ among blacks and whites. After all, who wants to be part of a church community in which they cannot feel comforted? We need each other to lean on during times like this.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks regarding race in this country. If we really want diversity in our churches, there needs to be a serious attempt at staying informed and acknowledging when our brothers and sisters hurt. This is all of our problem as brothers and sisters. Racial injustice is very real in this country. I never did believe in a post-racial America, but I believe that the Zimmerman verdict has uncovered the reality that America still has a gaping hole in its side and it’s called racism and it won’t go away by ignoring it. I still do believe that the church can be a major catalyst in helping to heal this wound, but it doesn’t start without open, honest conversations and sharing one another’s burdens.

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