On my vacation, I spent 3 weeks not on Facebook or Twitter, and it was glorious. Just great. I chose to read the Harry Potter books, so my mind has been filled Quidditch and Hogwarts and teenagers yelling “Stupefy” more than any other news source. Which has also been simply delightful.
But as I was coming back to work this week, I started to pay a bit more attention to the news on the weekend. And I saw something about a Nazi/KKK/white supremacist rally in the States as they protested a city taking down a Confederate statue, and someone driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. And then I logged into Facebook and Twitter, and I said, “Oh… I need to pay attention to this.”
I know a lot of words have been said about this, but I will do my best to tailor this to us here at Grace (if you’re reading this and don’t know me, I’m the associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, Manitoba).
And, I’ll start by building on Mel’s words from 2 weeks ago on Ephesians 6. He talked about the belt of truth, and how us speaking the truth is more than us not telling lies, but us being aware of and naming the realities in front of us.
I can start by naming some of the truth of race and skin colour in my own life.
I am white. I am half-Mennonite, with that side of my family coming from Russia to Steinbach in the late 1800’s. I am half-French, with that side of my family coming to Canada from France to fight the English in the mid-1700’s (we should really screen those violent immigrants a bit better, eh?).
Most of my family is white. Most my friends are white. My ultimate team and curling teams are all white, and most of us here at Grace Mennonite Church are white.
I can name that. My world is pretty white. Naming reality is part of what it means to wear the belt of truth.
I’m also going to share with you some of the stories and experiences I have with skin colour, racism, and me being white.
Truth #1 – Harvard Implicit Association Test
Years ago, Phil Campbell-Enns, the Associate Pastor here before me, told us about the Harvard Implicit Association test. It’s an online test that measures how quickly you associate positive or negative words while looking at faces of different skin colours. And it turns, I have a slight preference for white people. Yes. Your pastor prefers white people over black people. I’m a bit of a racist.
Now, that sounds terrible, right? I like to think I’m not racist and that I treat everyone the same, and I have family and friends and people in my church who aren’t white that I love with all my heart… But for whatever, whether it was who I grew up where, or where I grew up, or where I live, or the skin colour of my family, what this test means is that unconsciously, I prefer white people.
Now, by myself, that might not make a difference. But what happens if there are 100 of us here in this building who all have an slight unconscious preference for white people? What happens if 10,000 of us in Steinbach? 15 million of us in Canada?
Me knowing that I have a slight, unconscious preference for white people is a really important truth to name. And it helps me dismiss any notions that racism isn’t alive and well. It helps me remember that just because I’m not carrying a torch yelling things, it doesn’t mean I’m not part of the problem (or the solution). It helps me repent of the racism both in our society and in ourselves.
Truth #2 – White Privilege
In my late teen years, I spent a year with MCC’s Serving and Learning Together program in Zimbabwe. When we were in Akron, Pennsylvania for our training, MCC brought in their anti-racism staff. And they showed us a video.
They took a white man and a black man, both who had similar education, similar job experience, similar family statuses, lived in the same neighbourhood. They sent them separately to do 3 ordinary tasks: Buy a car, buy some insurance, and rent an apartment. And of course they followed them with a hidden camera (which, back in the day, would have been a suitcase with a hole cut into it for the lens).
They went to the same car salesman, and he was going to sell the car to the white man for several hundred dollars cheaper than the black man.
They went to insurance agent, and it was the same deal. The exact same insurance was going to cost them different amounts.
The black man tried renting an apartment, and he was told there were no vacancies. The white man walked in immediately after, and was offered an apartment.
Now, in all of these situations, if there wasn’t a hidden camera, THE WHITE MAN WOULD NOT HAVE KNOWN THAT WE HAS BEING TREATED BETTER THAN THE BLACK MAN!
We were taught that is called white privilege.
White privilege is the idea that a white person will receive benefits in society that other skin colour will not.
3 examples of white privilege in my own life.
- When my non-white friend and I were teenagers, and we split up in a store, whom do you think the staff people followed?
- When I was working landscaping in Winnipeg, my boss was… not the greatest. We were working on a house that belonged to an East Indian family, and he told us that he quoted them $1000 more than he would have if they were white. The family didn’t know they were charged more, or the white family we went to next didn’t know they were getting charged less, but there was a definite price difference.
- And thirdly, one of my friends was flying from Toronto to Philadelphia, and the customs folk ended up taking her to a different room for extra questioning. As she was waiting in the side room for her turn to be questioned, one of the security guards look at her and asked, “What are you doing here? You’re white!” And she looked around, and sure enough, she was the only white person in the room.
White privilege is real. It’s not something that most of us white want to receive intentionally, or something that we expect, or something that we want, but it is real. And that’s the truth.
Truth #3 – “Where are you?”
Last year on my Sabbatical, Ashley and I went to a conference called Why Christian, and it featured, women, people of colour, and LGBTQ speakers, and they were all trying to address the question of why they were still Christian when the church had long given them reason to leave. As it was in Chicago, they invited a few African American women from Chicago to speak, and let me tell you, they dragged us pre-dominantly white folk into black church with them for the weekend.
And one of the questions that was asked was: “White Christians, where are you?” She said, “Sisters and Brothers, we are literally dying because of racism. We have been for hundreds of years, and we still are. Slavery. Lynching. Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights movement. Black Lives Matter. The industrial-prison complex. Our people are literally dying because of racism. Where are you, our brothers and sisters? I know what we’re talking about in our churches. What are you talking about in your churches?” And then she walked up and down the aisles of the church calling out all the name of the unarmed black men who had been shot by the police that year.
If we begin to understand that:
1) Many of us have unconscious biases towards our own skin colour, 2) What white privilege is, and 3) That some of our sisters and brothers are asking, “Where are you? We are dying.” Then I think that’s a pretty good start in naming some of the truth of racism.
So let’s try to bring this to us here at Grace this morning.
When Paul is talking to the church in Ephesus about the armor of God, he says that “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.”
Our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the dark powers and spiritual forces of evil.
I’ve been sitting with this phrase this week.
What does it mean when our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against dark power and evil?
Well, on one hand, it can be really easy. We can name racism as evil, as a dark power, as contrary to God’s will, and how discriminating against someone because of their skin colour is not something followers of Jesus do. We can name this, we can preach this, we can teach our children this. Racism is evil.
We can acknowledge how sometimes we makes mistakes, that we’re part of big systems and histories that have benefited white people for year. We can acknowledge how we might unconsciously prefer people of our own skin colour. We can name these and repent of them and do our best to work for equality.
We can also name nationalism as a dark power, as evil idolatry. Any thought, conversation, Facebook page or meme that says “Canada first” or “America first” is idolatrous to us Christians. We seek the Kingdom of God first. God is for everybody, not just some of us. Not Canada first, not white people first, but for everybody. And that means that we can like Canada, but our country is NOT first, because if it’s put our country first, then we have made our country into an idol.
We can do these things. We can name racism and nationalism as dark powers and as evil. We can name them over and over again and repent where we fail and work hard at this.
But what does it mean that our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood when we see people carrying torches and nazi flags?
Can we punch them? Can we punch a Nazi?
When some of the things that we have named as evil, as idolatrous, are being promoted, lived out, and acted upon by flesh and blood, what do we do? We know we’re probably not supposed to kill them, but can we at least punch them so they can’t spread their hate as easily?
Well, if we’re into punching Nazis and white supremacists, I think we risk becoming what we hate. Can you condemn violence with violence? We don’t want to fuel their violent rhetoric, or give them a reason to think their violence is justified.
And when we read about the armor of God in Ephesians 6, about struggling against evil, we notice that almost all the pieces of armor Paul names are actually defensive – shield, breastplate, shoes, belt, and helmet. The only one that’s offensive is the sword, which Paul says is the word of God. And as Anabaptist Christians we believe the word of God made flesh is Jesus.
And then Paul reminds his readers that in all occasions, they should pray. For everything. With all kinds of requests. And from there it’s not a big step to connect praying for everything and remembering Jesus’s words on praying for our enemies.
I’ve been pondering what prayer and enemy love looks like this week in the face of Nazis and the KKK. It’s a probably a similar question that people were asking in the Civil Rights movement. It’s a probably a question many of our older folk here were asking during World War 2. What does enemy love look like when dealing with flesh and blood people who are advocating and spreading evil and hatred?
There is no easy one answer, here, obviously. We’re not going to solve racial violence or discrimination or hatred in an hour of church in August (although one good Facebook post just might do it :).
But I’m going to offer a few ways forward, and quite specifically for us at Grace.
In the face of such overt threats and violence against minorities, like we saw last weekend, maybe it’s not the immediate responsibility for minorities to love their enemies. Maybe their immediate responsibility is to survive. I hope we can all be open to what reconciliation looks like in the long term, but if the KKK are chanting “Death to Jews”, I think survival becomes a first response for African Americans and Jewish folks.
But what about those of us who are white and Christian? Men? Those of us who aren’t the direct targets of hate?
Maybe one of our immediate responsibilities is to pray for our enemies.
And long term, I wonder – Can we love the Nazi out of people? Can we love the racism out of them? Can we create communities and relationships that don’t further ostracize and marginalize angry men? Can we create communities where they can come home?
To expect an African American to create a redemptive relationship with the KKK is unfair and dangerous. But engaging racists is something we can do, isn’t it? (And if we don’t know any KKK members, I’m sure we can find someone in our circle of influence who is unaware of the Harvard Implicit Association test and white privilege).
Can we create off-ramps so people can leave the high way of racism and violence? Places where we can love the Nazi out of them? (Thanks Hilary Watson from www.gatheringthestones.com for this, and everything else you write).
Can we offer Nazis something other than punches? What does it look like to offer hospitality towards those whom believe things that we despise?
I’ll end with a story, and then, our course, prayer. (On a side note, I told someone that my sermon title was “Can I punch a Nazi?”, and they responded “You’re gonna make us pray for them, aren’t you?” Yes. Yes I will.)
10 years ago, I was talking to an older man who was born in Germany. I asked when he moved to Canada, and he said after World War 2. I said, “Wow, you were in Germany during World War 2? Tell me about that.”
“Kyle, I was a teenager then. I was in Hitler’s youth brigade. I loved Hitler. We all did. Even after the war, we all still loved Hitler. And then I met my wife and moved to Canada, and Kyle, let me tell you, I still loved Hitler. For years. I couldn’t say anything publically, but I thought Nazi Germany was great.”
23-year old Kyle sat in silence for a while. That doesn’t happen too often.
I finally asked: “So what made you change?”
He smiled. “God. My wife. My church. Love.”
Below is a prayer I learned from Richard Rohr that helps us find ways to pray for people we struggle with.
I’d invite you to sit a comfortable position and put your hands out like you are receiving a gift.
As you close your eyes, take a few breaths. Notice your breathing.
Begin by finding the place of loving kindness inside your heart, the place where God’s love and affirmation for you is as real as it can be.
Drawing upon this source of love, bring to mind someone you deeply care about, and send loving kindness toward them.
Now direct this love toward a casual friend or colleague, someone just beyond your inner circle.
Continue drawing from your inner source of loving kindness and let it flow toward someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent, a stranger.
Remember someone who has hurt you or someone you struggle to like. Bless them. Send them your love.
Gather all these people and yourself into the stream of love and hold them here for a few moments.
Finally, let the flow of loving kindness widen to encompass all beings in the universe. Imagine God’s love reaching into every corner and crevice of the universe.