A Letter of Lament and Resolve

My heart is broken these days.

I grew up in a town where I felt safe, where no one attacked or challenged me because of the color of my skin, and where the police were the good guys. But by the time I went to college, and increasingly as each year has passed, I knew that my experience wasn’t shared by everyone.

I grew up in a town in Southern California where “Sundown Laws” were enforced, even if they weren’t written. Black people could work there, but they better not be caught outdoors after sundown. In 1964, the good people of my hometown voted more than 3 to 1 to repeal a recent state law which made it illegal to discriminate in real estate transactions according to the buyer’s race. That law wasn’t fully repealed until 1974. It took until 1979 for the first African-American student to graduate from my high school, the same high school that had graduated both of my parents and one of my grandparents.

As I watch and listen to the anguish of my black brothers and sisters as they tell of their experiences growing up in this country, I’m aware that I knew a lot of the details already. That right there is the experiential definition of privilege: it doesn’t directly affect me, so I don’t really have to think about it very much. It doesn’t have to invade my consciousness every single minute. I can leave it alone to think about happier things. I can even grouse about the intense reactions of the victims, because it disturbs my peace and my sense of order.

That’s over now. Today I pledge these things:

I will work to make sure the issue of racism moves to the center of my expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. White Christians have been silent for too long about the persistent marginalization of people of color, and sinfully selective in the ways we share the love and acceptance offered to everyone through God’s saving work. No gospel is complete if leaves out any of the people Christ came to redeem.

I will listen not only to the multiple ways racism impacts its victims, but also how it debases and perverts the lives of those who actively support it or passively allow it to continue. The stories of racism in this country are violent and shocking and difficult to hear, and that’s precisely why they are necessary. We are broken and diminished when we look the other way, and in any case, it has never been the calling of the church to avoid issues of justice and peace and love.

I will choose to defer in public gatherings to speakers who are persons of color, who understand and have experienced racism first-hand. My role is to support those who are abused directly by words and institutions and systems that have kept them from full participation in this nation’s protections and opportunities.

My heart is broken these days, but I believe in a God who mends hearts, challenges minds, and strengthens the resolve of faithful disciples.

I’m counting on that God today. Join me.

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