If one of the main problems of influenza is that it attacks the body’s respiratory system, leading to pneumonia and other pulmonary issues which ultimately cause death, it would seem that America, under this president, is on life support, unable to breathe. This president and his administration have shown us our disease and instead of leading us to ways to heal it, is ignoring everything that would “make America right again.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pneumonia is one of the most common and serious complications of the flu. Pneumonia caused by the flu can be viral or bacterial, but both can be deadly and in fact, do cause many deaths. (https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/index.html)
America’s racism has been its chronic illness – its flu, if you will – since its inception; English people came here to escape British oppression, but also to make this “New World” a land created by white people for white people. They immediately began to oppress Native Americans and soon, black people. They declared Native Americans as being savages and brutes and justified their treatment of them on those beliefs about them. Racist ideology was included in nearly everything that these very religious people did from the 1600s on and was built into the United States Constitution.
Black and other oppressed people have fought the racism and sexism, anti-Semitism and many other “isms” for generations. Gains have historically been made and are then lost because angry white people have risen up and worked to undo the gains made by the oppressed groups, almost always violently.
Under this administration, the white backlash is serious and toxic; the venom of white nationalism is filling the lungs of America’s capacity to breathe in “liberty and justice for all,” while simultaneously breathing out racism, sexism, Xenophobia and all other forms of oppression.
Whenever blacks have made gains and fought racism, whites have done everything they could to undo those gains, furious that the federal government has at times supported the quest for freedom, justice, and dignity of people who are just as American as are whites.
America’s influenza – its racism – has not only been toxic but contagious. We are seeing white nationalists boldly declaring and boasting about their racism; Steve Bannon the other day said that whites should wear the badge of “racist” proudly. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/steve-bannon-racist-label-is-a-badge-of-honor) while the GOP-controlled Congress and Senate sit idly by and let the president do and say what he wants, as well as his followers. There is no outrage about the violence being perpetrated by White Nationalists; there are no efforts to stem the tide.
America’s capacity to be a just nation – a place where there is true “liberty and justice for all” – is being hindered by her lungs filling up with the deadly bacteria which causes cultural pneumonia. The safeguards of liberty and justice, morality, and goodness do not apply in the minds of those who believe that this nation should be a nation of white people. Our very plurality – something which other nations have celebrated – is what the White Nationalists abhor, and neither the US Constitution nor the Holy Bible or the religion called Christianity protect those who are attacked and discriminated against simply because of who they are.
Historian Forrest G. Wood in his book The Arrogance of Faith notes that Christianity has been “fundamentally racist in its ideology, organization, and practice.” Christian idealism apparently means that the dominant ethnicity or race of this country must be homogeneous and puritanical, Wood says.
To hear and to watch this country backslide into a blatantly racist and sexist “norm” is disheartening, but worse, it is ominous because pneumonia damages the lungs and makes it impossible for a person – or in this case, a nation – to breathe. Empires fall. America, the Empire, is in the intensive care unit and its lungs, filled with the bacteria of hatred, are getting more and more weak.
A nation which despises, ignores, and casts aside “the least of these” is destined for death.
A candid observation …
God of all humanity, come. In thanking You for this very moment of life, we acknowledge that You alone are holy. It is to Your very holiness that we come this morning. In creating the earth and everything in it, You created different races, genders, and ethnicities. You made it so that physically, all of us are just …human. Physiologically and biologically, we are the same. You made humankind …and You created the phenomenon called ethnicity. It was Your desire to have some “creativity” in the world, and so you made people of different hues. You made it such that people who are the same physiologically, have the same vocal cords anatomically speak different languages, people have different qualities of hair and skin color. You did that. O Lord, how excellent! We all belong to You; You created us all like we are on purpose. Why then, God, can’t or won’t so many white people get over their belief – which they put on You – that white people in general and white men in particular are superior to all other races and ethnicities? God, white supremacy is a scourge in our existence as human beings. It is a stain on the tapestry of humanity which You created – on purpose. It is not Your will that people of color be oppressed and repressed; it is not Your will that people of color get the worst jobs, be taken advantage of and used to make “the other race” flourish. It is not Your will that women be oppressed, discriminated against, abused and molested just because they are women. You cannot be happy that poor children of all races suffer unduly because of white supremacy, especially children of color. You cannot be pleased that the toxic beliefs of too many white people contribute to living conditions of poor children that damage their mental and physical health. White supremacy is a stain not only in America but all over the world. It is against Your will – unless we who believe in You are wrong in our thinking that You made all humanity and that all of us matter to You. We do not think we are wrong. We believe in You, sovereign God. You are the same God who made “the earth and everything in it.” You are pleased with what You have created; white supremacists are not, though they, too, say they believe in You. God, help there be a radical shaking out of the evil inherent in white supremacy. Help us to stop treating each other badly because of race or sex…or sexuality or physical condition …God of all humanity, come. Please come.
Several years ago, I took my choir to Africa to participate in a choir competition. We were excited. We were to sing at several locations in Ghana, and among the places on our itinerary was Elmina, formerly known as the Gold Coast. We were slated to sing in a church and at the slave castle there.
The Elmina Slave castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina Castle. To walk within its walls was an eerie experience; it was as though – for me – I could hear the cries and moans of our ancestors, holed up in dark, cold dungeons awaiting to go through the “Door of No Return,” never to get to their beloved land again.
We toured the castle during the day and in the evening, did a concert. We were placed alongside one of the dungeons used to hold Africans before they made their way toward the ships that forced them into conditions no human should ever endure. My very soul shook as I thought about it.
We were about to sing “Many Rains Ago,” which was sung in the movie Roots. I had lifted my hands, ready to begin directing the song when I looked up …and there, slightly to my right, on top of that dungeon which held human beings captive and caused them undue suffering, there was a church – complete with a steeple. I was so taken by what seemed to be not only a contraction of God’s love but an insult to God as well, that I could not begin directing. Tears streamed down my face. I was angry. It was the first time I really thought about the complicity of the Christian church in the desecration of human beings. I was sickened.
In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, theologian James Cone lifts the words of Countee Cullen, the poet who wrote in his poem “Christ Recrucified,” these words: “
The South is crucifying Christ again
By all the laws of ancient rote and rule …
God’s people are still being lynched – by “good Christian people.” Lynching, Cone reminds us, comes in many forms – hanging, burning, beating, dragging and shooting. Our country has never stopped lynching people of color; they lynch with arrogance and impunity, knowing that they can do it and still get away with it.
There is tragedy in that fact, but there is greater tragedy in the fact that this dastardly act is done by people who say they love Jesus the Christ …and the acts are sanctioned by the silence of people who likewise say they love Jesus the Christ. If, as Matthew 25 says, that we harm or honor God by what we do and do not do for “the least of these,” then we cannot deny that our silence represents the presence in us of a deep fear of white supremacy. We are afraid of losing our jobs, our status, our friends and much more by speaking up and speaking out and daring the continued lynching of people. Instead of lifting up the cross as the blood-stained tree from which the Christ conquered death, we claim the Cross but run from it and what it requires of us. We allow the Christ, in the form of dispossessed and disowned people – to be crucified over and over. The nails are driven into the hands of the Christ over and over and over – so much so that his hands are mangled, with little skin, bone and muscle left to destroy.
We are supposed to be troubled by what “they” did to the Christ, but in distancing ourselves from “the least of these” for whom the Christ advocated and lost his life, we are making him carry that cross over and over and over. We can’t say we love the Christ and run from the cause of his death. We can’t ignore the cries of the oppressed and think that we are “good Christian people.” We cannot continue to worship the cultural Christ at the expense of the Biblical Christ. To do so makes a mockery of what Jesus did for us.
We can cry about the wrongness of racism and sexism and all of the other “isms,” but as we cry, we have to honor the death of the Christ and fight to make the “isms” go away. We can crave money or we can seek mercy. If God seems silent in the face of the “isms,” especially, in this country, racism, perhaps it is because there are not enough of us making the noise of and for justice. If we are unwilling to pay the cost of following the Christ, we are unclear about what his life was all about; we are ignoring his pain while trying to celebrate Jesus’ life and what it meant and means for those who are marginalized. And when we do that, when we forget what this walk is about, we recrucify the Christ we shout about.
That should not be the case. We have been through too much and survived, thanks to the Christ. Recrucifixion is not an option, any more than is silence. The church was not meant to be a continual place of torture of the Christ, but a place from which the spirit and words of the Christ permeate our very souls and help us to bring sanity to an insane and cruel world. If, as Walter White, national secretary of the NAACP said, that “it is exceedingly doubtful if lynching would possible exist under any other religion than Christianity,” then we have a problem – a problem which we should fix in honor of the Savior we say we love.
Amen and amen.
Litany Against Racism
Leader: We, Your people, come to You because there is a storm raging in the land.
People: There is a hurricane attacking the land and a hurricane attacking decency and dignity for all people.
Leader: The land cannot absorb the immense amount of water that will fall from the heavens; it is too much. The land will be flooded and the people will hurt.
People: The souls of the people cannot absorb the hurricane of hatred, racism and lawlessness which is coming from government; it is too much. Our souls are being attacked, and we are hurting.
Leader: Racism is not of You or from You. You created us all. There is no master race, and You do not sanction any race to assault another.
People: The souls of the people cannot absorb the hurricane of hatred, racism and lawlessness.
Leader: The people who rule this land say this is a nation of laws, but they ignore and break those laws when they want and twist those laws to make it all right to assault people of color.
People: Lord, hear us!
Leader: Leaders before our current president allowed laws to be broken and looked the other way as “the law” was used as the cover for abject and obvious acts of racial hatred.
People: Lord, hear us!
Leader: As the deer pants for streams of water, so do our souls pant for You, O God. We pant for the strength to fight against racism until we stomp it out.
People: Lord, hear us!
Leader: God, we wonder if You hear us? The prophet Nahum says you are slow to show Your anger but that You are great in power; the prophet says that You will in no way clear the guilty. (Nahum 1:3)
People: Lord, show us the way to stand against racism and lawlessness!
Leader: The prophet says Your way is in the whirlwind and storm; the prophet says You will make full end to Your adversaries. (Nahum 1:3b; 8)
People: God, show us what to do to end Your adversary, racism.
Leader: We need to hear from You. As African Americans were assaulted by racist lawmakers in the 60s in Alabama and in cities all over this country, brown people are being assaulted now.
People: God, show us what to do to destroy Your adversary, racism.
Leader: Help us not to shake our heads but do nothing; help us to rise up as Your people of many faiths and challenge the hatred and bigotry.
People: In order to save Your children, help us to rise up!
Leader: We have been called for such a time as this. Help us to be steadfast and immovable and determined to eradicate racism and protect each other.
People: Help us to resist the hurricane of hatred coming from government and people in power. Our souls are flooded with pain. We say “enough!”
Leader: No matter the cost, help us to rise up against racism and racist leaders!
ALL: Lord, in Your mercy, hear us and give us the strength to love and to act!