By Dan Crain; Pastor, trainer and connector for REMERGE
Church, it’s time to suffer together
It feels as if I have been doing a lot of suffering lately, particularly with my brothers and sisters of color who follow Jesus. I’ve been on this journey of racial reconciliation for over ten years now. I remember clearly when I first heard Pastor Marvin Williams share at our all white church 12 years ago about being called “boy” at a restaurant in Grand Rapids, MI. That set me on a journey to understand what he was referring to and why we would live a country that these sorts of things happen.
Pastor Reggie Smith, an African-American pastor and adjunct professor was gracious enough to begin to mentor me and listen to my questions. He exposed me to Divided by Faith, a book written by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith out of research done to understand what has and continues to divide the white and black church.
This year a group of brothers in Christ and myself have dug deep into this conversation using a curriculum by Be the Bridge. It’s a Christ-centered discussion based training on understanding systemic racism, what whiteness is, and telling the truth about what has and continues to divide us.
I will be honest, it’s been challenging to me. Session Two is on Acknowledgement and Lament. I’ve read a lot, have had many discussions, been mentored by leaders and pastors of color and have had been with friends of color while I’ve personally witnessed what racial profiling and whiteness looks like.
Despite all this Awareness (which incidentally is Session One), I don’t know if I’ve ever truly lamented. I have seen the pain from a-far, but I don’t know if I’ve ever truly entered into that pain. This year I have and it’s changed me, deeply.
A few years ago a white, Southern Baptist Church in Louisiana invited me to preach. I knew at one point in the message Christ me wanted to share about racism and what I’ve learned. I honestly had no idea how to share about race and so as the Spirit of Jesus always does, he provides a way.
This is what I shared at the One Race-One Day event put on by the One Race Movement, which Pastor Arthur Breeland and myself were invited to share about the pastors and ministry leaders group we are co-leading in the southeast region of Atlanta.
God gave me this illustration; (of course every illustration breaks down, so bear with me),
I said I wanted to share my heart as a white farm boy from Bumpville, PA about what I’ve learned about racism. I said I have no political agenda and so let’s keep politics out of this. I said let’s keep this conversation in the body of Christ.
Imagine if we were to break down the history of the white and black church in our country into tens. So, we’ve been together in this country for roughly four-hundred years and this equals to forty years.
For forty years we’ve been “married” together as the bride of Christ.
Let’s imagine that for thirty-eight of those forty years our brothers and sisters of color are abused physically, sexually and emotionally by whiteness. They are beaten to death, imprisoned and have had horrors committed to them that only leads us to tears.
Dominique Gilliard in his paper, Recapitulation, states this; “In light of this, the theological question becomes, how can one believe that God loves oppressed people in a society that has been predicated, defined, and financially stabilized by four hundred years of racism and institutional justice? The 400 year reign of white supremacy for African Americans involves 248 years of legalized slavery, 25 years of sharecropping, 50 years of lynching at its climax, 47 years under the thumb of Jim/Jane Crow, and 32 years under the siege of the governmentally declared “war of drugs.”
At year 38 the white spouse realizes that this is wrong and needs to do something about it, all the while another force is at work saying that it’s not that big of a deal, let’s just move on, and also continuing this form of oppression.
Are we not going to be dealing with 38 of those 40 years of pain here and now?
There is a deep pain in the black community that needs to be embraced. This pain is not just in the black community. It’s in any community that doesn’t have white skin because whiteness has done and continues to do painful things, from Starbucks in Philadelphia, PA to the shooting in Charleston, SC. As a good friend in Christ that has taught me much about racism in America said recently, “whiteness is doing more than inconveniencing black people.”
Recently I had the honor of listening to Tamara Kenon, an African-American leader in the REMERGE community. She said this at a Bible study; “Christians should feel what others feel because we have Christ inside of us and he feels the pain that others feel. have the indwelling life of Christ.”
White church, it’s time to enter into the pain and stories of our brothers and sisters of color and to understand what white supremacy has done and how it still affects our siblings. We have the indwelling life of Christ living in us that allows us to enter deeply into that pain and lament.
Christ is coming to redeem, restore and renew all things. His prayer from John 17 is, “My prayer is not for them alone: I pray also for those will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Likewise, Christ’s great apostle and our teacher in the faith Paul, states a clear challenge in 1 Corinthians 12: “If one member suffers, all suffer together”.
We are headed towards being one in Christ. If that’s where we’re going as the bride of Christ, it’s time that we learn to suffer together.
After all, according to Jesus, this is how the world will know that we are his disciples; by the way we love one another.
Come, let us suffer together around systemic racism and the affects it has had within the church and in our country.