At a local rally against racism, speakers encouraged us to contact government leaders and urge them to speak out unequivocally against the hate parading in our streets.
What about our pastors? Shouldn’t we be asking them to do the same? And if they’re not, shouldn’t we be asking them why?
This applies whether you’re a churchgoer or not. The pulpit is a powerful platform that can be used to promote love or hate or indifference. It’s a huge part of this entire discussion.
If you attend a church, pay close attention to what’s being said and how it’s said. If you don’t participate in a faith community, pay attention to the message coming from various clergy, especially those who have a big pulpit because of their ties to the White House.
What are they telling everyone?
One of the many jarring aspects of the Civil Rights movement is how so many white churches endorsed and encouraged hatred. Some clergy condemned the marches for equality, while others tacitly supported white supremacists by refusing to talk about what was happening in the streets just outside their doors.
Some church leaders were segregationists who used cherry-picked Bible verses to try to justify their racism. Others were sympathetic to the Civil Rights movement, but afraid to speak out because they might be ostracized.
Silent behind stained glass
Also, they knew they could become targets of the racists who lynched civil rights leaders and bombed not only black churches but the homes of black clergy. They could be next. They might end up having to carry that cross, too, and they were reluctant to do so.
Some white church leaders settled for addressing hate in muted terms that wouldn’t offend the white supremacists sitting in their pews. In fact, the pastors’ refusal to criticize racism directly was seen as an endorsement from God.
Of course, not all white clergy and churches cowered. A great many had the courage of their faith to stand up and lock arms in the fight for equality. They were willing to pay the price for preaching the gospel that everyone must be treated as an equally beloved child of God.
Many are doing so as well today, but many others are not.
One of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s most famous works is his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which was prompted by public opposition from eight white clergymen. The Rev. King was discouraged by the way so many white church leaders refused to join the movement for love and justice.
“I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies,” he wrote. “Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders. All too often many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”
So, what about your faith community?
Has your pastor addressed the events of Charlottesville directly? Did they say that the racism and white supremacy are evil and contrary to everything that Jesus taught and lived?
Pulling a Pilate
Or did they reference the events with a brief, generalized prayer for the nation and move on? Did they talk about Charlottesville as some other place, implying that racism doesn’t need to be addressed right here as well?
Did your pastor pull a Pilate and try to wash their hands of the responsibility for addressing this deep sinfulness in our society? Or did they address it head-on?
Jesus’ God-filled life and teachings are direct, unequivocal, challenging and unpopular, both then and now. He didn’t hesitate to speak up for love and speak out against injustice, even when it cost him many followers.
What about your pastor? Are they speaking up against hate? If they are, make sure that you thank them for their prophetic courage.
If they’re not, this is the perfect time to ask them why.