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By Guest Editorial Pastor Kathy Neary
Goldendale United Methodist Church 

Applying our Christian faith to the question of racism

 

February 28, 2018



Last year at Goldendale United Methodist Church, we were shocked to discover that our pastor had experienced racist incidents while she was here. My appointment to the church in July of 2017 was in part to help the congregation understand what had happened and to find ways of addressing racism within ourselves, our church family, and the wider community.

When a Christian congregation faces a problem, the first instinct is to go to the Christian Bible to see what wisdom it may impart on the subject. However, for understanding racism, the Bible is not very helpful. The very concept of “race” as it applies to human beings wasn’t invented until the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe, which is much later than the books of the Bible were written. The authors of the Bible didn’t understand the idea of race the way we do now. In addition, there are some passages in the Bible that support the institution of slavery. But if we look at the overarching message of the Bible—that God’s love is inclusive of all—that gives us a baseline from which to address racism. The commandment found in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament to “love our neighbors as ourselves” also tells us that anything that harms another person or group of people is not in keeping with God’s will. Those are good places to start a discussion.

So, rather than just rely on the Bible, the congregation and I came to the conclusion that we needed to educate ourselves about racism. We have committed ourselves to having six two-hour discussions on this topic. We began, not by learning about racism, but by learning about what it means to be White in America. Often people classified as White don’t think they have a distinctive culture because “White culture” is so dominant in America. It’s like asking a fish to describe water: the fish wouldn’t even understand the question! We have learned that we impose our own cultural values on other groups because we can, and because we think our values are the right values for everyone. Next, we learned how the idea of race was actually constructed for the purpose of giving Europeans a moral, religious, and legal justification for colonizing non-European lands and sometimes giving them justification for acts of genocides. Then we looked at the history of the U.S. and learned that all of our institutions, like governments, schools, economic, and social institutions, like churches, were established with the purpose of serving White people’s needs. Until the 1960s, the U.S. practiced legal segregation and discrimination. It has only been in the last fifty years that we have begun to recover from this legacy of racism, and we have far to go.

We now plan to look closely at how our everyday lives are impacted by living in a country that has this long history of racism. I imagine we will find that race is a factor in shaping almost every experience we have.

There is already a consensus in the group that we don’t want to continue living within a culture that is so dominated by racism. We wonder what we might do to change ourselves and our world. This leads us back to our faith. In our church we seek to become more like Christ, every day. That is our life’s work. We trust that by putting in the effort to understand racism, we will encounter Christ along the way, and Christ will show us the path to dismantling racism. With God’s help, anything is possible.

 

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