We all enter the Church broken. We have prejudices and problems. We bring with us the faults of the society in which we are raised and it is a process to shed it. People often use the analogy that a church is like a hospital, pointing out that it is for the sick. What people miss is that like patients in a hospital, we aren't supposed to stay sick forever. We're supposed to grow and heal in Christ, and as we grow and heal we become the doctors that help heal others. Of course, in order to heal someone, we also have to identify the wound.
How to Treat a Wound
If I were to go to the hospital with a large gash in my arm, the staff would quickly move to stop the bleeding. They would clean the wound and they would stitch it up. After the fact they may give me instructions such as to refrain from using that arm for some length of time to allow it to heal. These steps are crucial to the healing process and also represent how we have to heal as a Church (and a nation).
Stop the Bleeding
The first step with anything is to identify the problem. You have to cut off the source of the injury before you can treat it. If I'm being assaulted, you can't stitch me up until you stop my assailant from attacking. Once you stop the assailant, you have to identify where I'm hurt. You can't heal me from a head injury if you only look at my arm. The same thing is true in our Church. We can't heal as a body or help an individual to heal if we don't stop the attack and address the hurt.
In the previous post I discussed the fact that Southern Baptist Church didn't admit it was wrong for supporting slavery until 1995—that is more than 100 years after the end of slavery. However, they didn't try to rectify the situation until 2015, another 20 years later. Baptists aren't the only ones with this issue, though. I currently attend a 7th Day Adventist Church. In Florida, there are two conferences for the church—one for black churches and one for predominately white churches. Like the Baptist and the Methodist, it is because the church followed society's racial standards instead of God's. Digging around in their history, you'll find the particularly atrocious crime they committed against Lucy Byard. Ms. Byard was a black woman who arrived in critical condition at an Adventist hospital in the 1940s. When they discovered she was black they refused to treat her because it was a white only hospital. Instead they made her wait until they could transport her to the black hospital. They didn't bother to use an ambulance. She died.
Do you really think Christ would have turned this woman away from the hospital because of the color of her skin?
White Christians have to admit that the "Christianity" trolled out by Europe was more like the scribes and pharisees than like Christ. No Church that is actually in relationship with God would behave the way churches in the U.S. behaved. In many cases, the assailant for black Christians is the church itself. So the first step is openly admitting to past wrongs.
Clean the Wound
When I was a kid, I hated when my grandmother was the one to treat my scrapes and bruises. As soon as she saw blood, she'd pour alcohol on it. She said it wasn't just enough to rinse out the dirt, but that we had to really clean and sterilize the wound. If you've ever done this you know it burns something terrible. Often putting the alcohol on the wound hurt more than the scrape itself. Despite all the pain, I am indebted to her because most of the scrapes she treated didn't leave a mark. In contrast the ones I lazily addressed without proper cleaning left visible scars that will never go away. The biggest danger of not properly cleaning a wound, however, is that bacteria can fester and cause an infection.
Admitting that you've done something wrong is hard, and it can hurt. Forgiving someone who has wronged you is hard, and it can hurt. Bluntly speaking out is hard, and it can hurt. I imagine there are a lot of churches in which a pastor would lose his job if he went before the congregation and said #blacklivesmatter. There are people with repressed memories they don't want to dig up—it's easier to pretend like nothing happened than to confront someone about how they've hurt you and risk them not caring. Having an open conversation to clean out the wounds inflicted on blacks (and other minorities) by the church will be painful for everyone involved. Unfortunately, most churches skip this step. They simply declare themselves post-racial and colorblind (note, no one wants you to be colorblind, we just want you to appreciate and respect the colors you see). This is a lazy way of cleaning and guarantees a permanent scar. Confrontation of racism (conscious and unconscious) in the church has to happen before proper healing can take place.
Stitch Up the Hole
After cleaning the wound, you have to do something to protect and help it heal—maybe you need stitches, or maybe you need a bandaid. There has to be an action, some sort of resolution to ensure the same thing won't happen again. Sometimes this looks like policies (think Brown v. Board of Education), but in the Church, this should be relationships. This should be an active attempt to win over those you've hurt.
From the time blacks were brought to America, we have suffered at the hands of white people who claimed to be Christians. The KKK claims to be a Christian organization. White slave owners who beat and raped their slaves, claimed to be Christian. Segregationists claimed to be Christian. Most of my white Christian friends have been silent after every single case of police brutality.
We have no reason to trust you!
The onus of repairing the relationship is on you—yes we have to accept the olive branch, but you have to offer it. In a time like this, white Christians should be showing "how far they've come" by leading the protest. These are the moments when you have the opportunity to be the older brother who stops the bully from harassing his younger brother. These are the moments when you can protect your brothers and sisters in Christ from reliving pain. When you are silent, we have even less reason to trust you and the wound is reopened.
Things don't heal overnight. It takes time. No one expects someone with a broken leg to go run a marathon—we expect them to need crutches for a while. In some cases, people require physical therapy to resume normal function. Part of the Body of Christ is hurt; we need support. You cannot expect us to operate at full capacity when we are wounded. You have to create or be the crutches that help us move forward until we are fully healed.
23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
In the last post, I shared a lot of racial experiences I had in the church, not to throw Methodists and Baptists under the bus, but to show the pattern of hurt. I'm only 31 years old, and those weren't all the experiences I've had with racism. Can you imagine what my dad would tell you? My grandfather? It's hard to relive moments like that. It's hard knowing that at the very least, white Christians aren't teaching their children to be anti-racist and at worst they're teaching them to be racist. So you don't think about it. It's hard to focus on God and remember not to hold the sins of that person against the next person. So you don't think about it. This is what I meant when I said the healing has to hurt. The list of events I shared yesterday, I haven't even spoken with other black people about. My cousins and I don't talk about the fact that we all got suspended from riding the bus at some point because someone dropped the n-word on us. It hurts. But I'm telling you so that you know what it looks like. I'm telling you in the hopes that you'll raise your kids to be anti-racist instead of letting them pick up racist behavior from society. I'm telling you so we can start healing as a Church.
The next post in this series will discuss subliminal ways white supremacy and Euro-centric ideals have infected Christianity.
Other Posts in This Series
- Cleran Hollancid. "Seventh-Day Adventists and ‘Race’ Relations in the U.S.: The Case of Black-White Structural Segregation". Western Michigan University. 2016
- Jason A. Hines, JD, MA, PHD. "Black History Month: Lucy Byard". AdventHealth University. February 27, 2017