The White Church Must Repent

I’m angry. I’m angry and sad and frustrated and feel like I can’t look at my Twitter feed because of the constant influx of updates about the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m angry that we even have to remind people to call this terrorism. I’m upset that white progressives have to be reminded that the black church even exists. I’m frustrated that it’s 2015 and this is the second time within my short life that major terrorist acts have been perpetrated against black churches in the south.

I already see the attempts to sanitize, to bleach out the fact that this black church even exists because of the white supremacist legacy of the American church. We are separate creatures, functioning in parallel but untouched lives, one side painfully aware of the history that created it and the other studiously engaged in ignoring their own complicity.

The people of Emanuel did not worship a white, male God. They did not worship the God of White Flight, the God who blames black people for racial strife and dismisses racism as a “sin of society.” They did not worship the God who presides over two white men discussing the good things God can do for racial strife in the American church.

The God of white suburbia and the God of the black church in America might as well be two completely different deities. White pastors will be proclaiming lament on Sunday, for we all worship the same God, when on Monday they will go back to paternalistic, white supremacist respectability politics and proclaiming that James Cone centered his blackness too much.

Racism is the sin of others, the sin of the man holding the gun – never the sin of the white pastor dismissing black theologies because, in the end, they are too black for him.

The white church in America exists. That this even needs to be argued is a frustration as well. Whiteness is the default; blackness is Other. And yet, point out the invisible defaults, the division created by white supremacy, and you’re the “real racist.”

But let me repeat again: the white church in America exists and is dependent upon the oppression of black people for its very existence. Racial reconciliation is an impossibility until the white church recognizes that its sins are now, that its racism is still here. We are not apologizing and reconciling for the sins of our fathers; we are apologizing for the sins of our selves.

The church must be engaged in lament. As my friend Rev. Broderick Greer says, we leap over the terror of Good Friday to Easter. We cannot do this any longer.

White churches cannot simply pretend that race does not impact their theology or their lives. We can no longer pretend that our dismissal of theology not done by white men is merely a pure pursuit of intellectual honesty. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking we are somehow not complicit in the terror that faced a dozen people in a church in South Carolina during a Wednesday night Bible study. We cannot pretend to understand the struggle until we recognize our own role in perpetrating it.

Until then, our laments will merely cover the surface; our language about brotherhood will be papering over the wounds of centuries. These brothers and sisters in Christ are only family to you if they do not challenge your white worldview. That is the heart of the divide in the church and that must be dealt with. It will require your work, your heart, your grace, and your willingness to set aside yourself to grieve with your family.

This is all there is. This is all that remains. We are standing on Good Friday. Do not skip to Sunday.