A willingness to confess? Probably not.

I suspected subtle racism in my church when I was young. I was raised in an evangelical church that was a friendly place.  I used to ask questions of adults who worked with our youth department and received only silent, pained looks. Examples: “Why doesn’t Mr. Tom (the black custodian) come to worship services?” “Why don’t we have any black people in our church?” “Can we go visit a black church?” The more I read, the more I realize that our history of racism was much worse than I’d suspected.

Reading Frederick Douglass has helped me realize how the blight of racism has injured the Christian Church deeply in lasting ways. The Church, as an institution, has never honestly faced and confessed her sins and complicity in racism. This failure limits her effectiveness today. There is a need for cleansing, but I don’t see any signs of interest in admitting wrongdoing.

A good portion of my life aligns with the arc of gradual change toward freedom for the races in spite of the Church’s resistance to that change. It hurts to say, but when I read the words of Frederick Douglass, I feel the urge to reject the Church’s flawed message in its entirety. Douglass was a complicated character, but continued to practice his faith, often using Biblical imagery in his “sermons” against slavery.

“I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, – a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, – a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, – and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of the slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”  ~ Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

I guess we Christians, especially southern evangelicals, should be careful what we read. ~Kindly

One thought on “A willingness to confess? Probably not.

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  1. Spot on!  I asked those same questions:  “Why can’t Lou (our housekeeper) come to our church?”  “Why can’t we drink from that fountain? Use that bathroom?”  “Why do black people have their own schools?”  I got the same evasive answers and pained looks…or a graphic description of how dirty, immoral, and offensive black people were (a neighbor who was a deacon of the church and passionately open and unapologetic racist). I often wondered when the black children who were “precious in Jesus’ sight”, according to the song, became unworthy if His and our love and friendship in Chirst: 10, 12, 16, 18, 21??? While they were entrenched in the hypocrisy of the institutional bias of their organized faith, I am comforted that our parents treated our African-American friends, acquaintances, employees, and even people on the street, with kindness and compassion. It did not take reading Douglass for me to reject the flawed and hypocritical message of the institution in which I was raised.  My relationship with the infinite source of all things is now personal and private.   Thank you for speaking out.

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